My high school coach used to call me Avis. He did this in an obvious play on one of my other nicknames, as one of his myriad ways of teasing me. At the time, all of his teasing fell into the same category for me: cruel. I was an overly sensitive teenage girl after all, so of course, I let it all get to me, in the wrong way. In hindsight (as it always happens) I see a lot more of the subtext to the seemingly harsh words Coach J had for me. I think I get it.
Or at least I thought I did.
My coach never gave me shit for coming in second unless he knew I should have won. In one sub par performance against Analy High School, a meet that mattered far more for team points than personal glory, I remember telling him that I had been the meet’s top scorer with my second place finish the 100 meter hurdles. He raised an eyebrow and said second was the first loser. I was outraged. But he was right. The girl who beat me was lame and the only reason she had beat me was that I had been all upset about Josh Ingalls not asking me to the prom and it was all I had been talking about for days. I remember being flabbergasted when Coach told me to get a prom date already and be done with it. He had known all along.
He mostly called me Avis during the basketball season. And I couldn’t stand it. Basketball teams are so small, and even if they are completely dysfunctional, they are tight-knit. Add to this that our group was really competitive in all the best and worst ways. So when he started adding the tagline to my nickname (you try harder!) I took it really personally, as if I had to try harder than the other girls because of some deficiency. It made me furious. Again, looking back, his tactics seem not only obvious, but effective. He knew I cared and that in fact I did try harder, and that I would always try harder regardless of, well, anything. He did not see this as pathetic, he saw it as tenacious, honorable, and a work ethic he could respect.
As a sixteen year-old, mired in the 80s where one could never be too rich or too thin (as Piaget borrowed Wallis Simpson’s famous quote over and over to remind us…) and the worst possible thing one could ever do was look like they were trying, I just hated it.
And what of it, being second best? What does it mean? I recently was given pause to consider this on a wholly new level. It was like being called Avis all over again. If you are someone’s second choice, does that make you second best?
Of course, my initial response to being relegated to second place is “Fuck you,” because I am klassy and tolerant like that. Like, really? I am a back up plan? But it comes back to that whole lens of subjectivity concept: why does the way I see myself have anything to do with the Avis-colored lenses of another? There is no harm in trying hard. Or harder. As long as this is not wholly to serve someone, or something, else. I am not going to try any harder to right this current situation by somehow suggesting that, in fact, I am far more likely to end up being the Hertz in this analogy. If that is the case it will become evident, and at that point, someone else may be behind the wheel.
I don’t mind being a little Avis-like. If it means you are nice, honorable and responsible, I am cool with that. I will be nice because I am, and I will not take people for granted, because I don’t. But I am not going to pander for your business. And if you decide that perhaps you made the wrong decision, someone else may have already figured that out. Most significantly, me.
Coach, I may have finally worked it out.
ps: Although, Coach, if you ever read this, the flies on dung simile never really made me feel all that much better. Just sayin’.