03 May 2010

A Flawed Life

I remember getting into an argument with Mama Benchly when I was 7 or 8 years old and tantrums were the logical and normal choice of attack. The tantrum most likely occurred after Sisters #1 and 2 refused to include me in whatever it was they were doing at the time, as was their right and responsibility as older siblings. I pleaded with my mom for her to have one more child and to please make that child a boy. I wanted a brother to play with and my childhood thought process was able to gloss over the fact that such an age gap would have meant that I would have ended up being the one refusing to include a younger sibling in whatever it was I was doing. Mama Benchly’s response was simple: she and Papa Benchly had decided that all of the complications associated with my birth had meant that it would be greedy and dangerous for them to try for more.

Seven or eight years earlier, Mama Benchly was gardening in our family’s Champlain, NY yard one summer evening when her water broke. After rushing to the hospital 30 minutes away, and after a labor that lasted just 90 minutes, I entered the world. At first glance, it seems like the picture-perfect, normal delivery; however, a second glance shows that I gave them a scare by wrapping the umbilical cord around my neck as well as by having an irregular heartbeat. Add to that the fact that I was born with one less pectoral muscle than the normal baby, as well as the fact that a few short years later, two toes on each of my feet would have grown overlapping each other if it wasn’t for corrective surgery, and my parents understandably saw the warning signs written on their son’s pectoral-less flat chest: try for more and you might not be as lucky.

As you can imagine, considering how desperate adolescents are to fit in with the crowd by not sticking out of it, I had a difficult time coming to terms with my pectoral deformity. Though I always loved gym class, I dreaded changing into and out of my clothes in the locker room where I ran the risk of being exposed as a deformed imposter posing as a normal kid. (I’ve still mostly blocked out of my memory the times in gym when the instructor made our teams play “shirts and skins.”) And to be honest, finding peace and comfort with my deformity has been a lifelong struggle against which I often find myself losing. I’m still hesitant to remove my shirt in public, and while it took quite a bit of trust for me to reveal the deformity to past girlfriends (again, it speaks volumes about the kind of woman my future wife is, that I felt comfortable telling her about it on our third date), regardless of how much I’ve trusted my close friends, it’s 33 years after my birth and most of my readers (read: friends) will be hearing of it for the first time in this blog post. I imagine Sarah the L didn’t even know about it. So considering my age, it’s ironic to think that it took a juvenile insult thrown my way from an adult posing as an adolescent to help me come to terms with my deformity.

Like most kids in my generation who grew up loving baseball, trading baseball cards, and memorizing the statistics on the backs of said cards, I became an adult who finds pleasure in playing in a fantasy baseball league each year. And thanks to Mr. Extracurricular, I’ve had the pleasure of playing in a locally-based league for the past two years (complete with a live draft! [I know how this sounds, so don’t bother telling me]). We expanded the number of teams this year and in doing so we welcomed aboard a few friends and some friendly strangers. One of these strangers (for the sake of rhyming anonymity, I’ll call him Brat) beat a returning team in the first week of the season and then bragged about it on a message board (the fantasy baseball equivalent of trash talk). This week, after my team beat his team in what can only be described as a “thrashing,” I felt compelled to defend the aforementioned losing team’s honor by returning the trash-talking favor (word for word the way he had done so 4 weeks earlier). Brat responded by saying he wasn’t going to listen to someone who didn’t even have a pectoral muscle. Oh. (You see, evidently, Brat is friends with my exgirlfriend, she thought it appropriate to share this information with others, and Brat considers physical deformities as appropriate punchlines.)

Instantly, I was transported back to 8th grade swim class when one of my peers looked at my bare chest and asked me if a tractor trailer had plowed into it (I’ll give him retrospective points for his creativity). However, unlike that afternoon and all of the uneasy years that followed, after Brat's insult, I didn’t feel the urge to hide or be ashamed. Instead, I actually felt proud of my deformity because, 33 years into my life and I've finally realized that it’s my biggest flaw, and that rather than focus their attention on having one more deformity-free child, Mama and Papa Benchly instead raised someone incapable of poking fun at deformities; someone of whom they could be proud. I won't pretend that I'm flawless, or even close, but I'd like to think that thus far, I've lived a life of which my parents could be proud.

I emailed Brat a few minutes ago and mentioned that I thought his personal attack was uncalled for. I also wished him well this season and mentioned my envy at his foresight in adding a certain pitcher to his roster. I don’t know if he’ll respond but if he does, hopefully it’s to talk baseball. Isn’t that the normal thing to do?


That Guy said...

Wow, yeah for as many silly games as we played at my house or the church parking lot, I never knew this. I do, however, share the appreciation for your ability to move past superficial things and not worry about what "bullies" (as we would have called them in 8th grades, I believe at this point in our lives they are just "d-bags") say in their testosterone-fueled states. Good job restraining yourself though, I would have probably knocked him to the ground and rubbed my pectoral-less chest all over him.

Mr. Benchly said...

I restrained myself for the most part, though I did call him Brat.

Allison said...

I have a genetic flaw, too! Except mine is all over my face and as such fairly obvious, and obviously fair game judging by how many adults say stupid things to me about it. I don't think some of them realize what they are saying until it is out of their mouths, but this guy?!?! That was some graciously bestowed restraint.

Mr. Benchly said...

Allison, how many times do we have to tell you that a Boston accent is NOT a genetic flaw?! :)

Q said...

Luckily you weren't born lacking wit, soul, and creativity like this shallow, unclever Brat. Your DNA made the right choice. Thanks for sharing LB!