3.3 Fall 2021

October 6, Haikyu!!

A few hours after lunch, Yana suddenly asked, “do you want to play volleyball?”

“In general or right now?”

“Right now.”

I had suspected this might come about when she surreptitiously mentioned volleyball only to never follow up.

I didn’t have any gym clothes, or rather, gym clothes appropriate for playing secret volleyball with the teachers on a Wednesday afternoon, so I offered to be the score keeper. There was an official stand with flippable numbers I called my own. Yana, decked out in track pants and a wrinkled green t-shirt, gathered the new 2-1 teacher on our way to the school gym.

“Oh! Hello!!!” the new, very young teacher said, with the enthusiasm that only the senior high schoolers show me.

We had to slide the curtain back, this event was a secret from the students and not in the best favor with the school faculty, and I was greeted with all the teachers in the school. Considering how small my travel school is, the number was ten.

I felt a tiny bit awkward standing there in my skirt but tried to help pick up balls while the enthusiastic 6-2 teacher, who has not followed up on the dinner invitation, coached Yana and the 2-1 teacher. Between practice hits, Yana confessed to me that she had to take a volleyball class in college.

“And I didn’t do well on the exam.”

By this point, I had told Yana and others several times that I’ve played volleyball once in my life. I don’t think reading Haikyu fanfiction counts as experience.

The head teacher, also the science teacher and author, called for the game to start. I had a few missteps in calculating points because everything I know about volleyball I learned from five episodes of a volleyball anime. The head teacher was quick to point it out, of course, and also tried to trick me into giving his team more points which would have been funny if I wasn’t already feeling creeping embarrassment about being the outsider.

I watched the head teacher and 6-2 transform into volleyball beasts and was reminded of the trauma of team sports. Suddenly every school event where I was picked last came crashing back and I remembered why I never enjoyed team sports much, my much younger and smaller self at the corner of a field desperately wanting to be valued but having no discernible skill.

But the teams cheered for Yana and 2-1 when they did well and keeping score kept me paying attention.

Compared to other team events I’ve had in Korea, this was much less painful for me, mostly because I’m better adjusted. I did have a creeping moment of insecurity where I felt that I was making everyone uncomfortable by being the foreign teacher, and therefore the representative of all their English trauma and fear. Would you call it crippling empathy? Or just anxiety?

I made myself feel better by looking at the aggressive spikes of the head teacher and thinking, “I used to eat men like you for breakfast.” Corporate life was useful for some things.

But the three sets ended, not five minutes before closing time, and 2-1 came over to gush. I asked her for her name.

“Um.. I don’t know my English name…” She said to Yana.

“You can just tell me your Korean name,” I said, feeling a weird sort of imperial shadow.

“Oh! It’s Jisoo.”

“Jisoo, nice to meet you.”

I laughed at Anthony, 6-2, for almost getting punched in the face with a ball before Yana and I headed to the door.

“Bye bye!” I called out.

“I love you!” yelled Jisoo in a sudden passion. I made a heart with my arms.

Yana told me everyone was really thankful that I kept score and the teachers want me to play next week.

“One teacher said you are tall. Taller than the head teacher actually.”

I felt a spark of revenge. I will beat you with my physical characteristics, sir! Realistically, I will probably either get a face full of volleyball or give someone an accidental face full of volleyball.

There was a brief tremor of my elementary self: can you really play? Won’t you just embarrass yourself? I mourned that she didn’t discover contact sports until much later. I think my young self would have really liked kicking people in competitions. But alas, team games are America’s choice for cheap physical education of children.

Yana wiped sweat from her brow and told me, “even though it’s hard, this is good for team building.” I thought back to the cheers from her team when she set up a nice spike and grudgingly accepted that not all team sports are trash.

I wish I had access to volleyballs and a court; maybe Jisoo and I could practice together to beat the overly competitive men. And maybe by now my years of weight lifting and the general increasing shamelessness that comes with age will make me a volleyball star.

Let’s just stay confident until next week.

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