Last week part two of the Kevin Keller mini series was released, making it the fourth Archie comic I’ve ever bought and read in my life. Dan Parent succeeded in keeping the tone of the issue consistently good with the debut chapter and in fleshing out Kevin’s character in particular as well as the Keller family. Rather than comment on the entire issue I’d like to focus on one scene. Kevin has already come out of the closet at home and school and in this sequence a trio from the track team are verbally harrassing Kevin for trying out. Having a positive self-image, Kevin confronts the boys and challenges them to a race. Not long after the three boys collapse on the ground trying to catch their breath. Kevin gives them a dose of their own medicine when he says “If I’m such a girly man and you can’t keep up with me — wat does that make you?”
This flashback resonated for me because PE class in junior high and high school was torture for me. Back then I was gangly, socially inept (a nerd’s nerd), dressed in K-Mart blue light specials (at least they weren’t hand me downs since I was the oldest), and ridiculed for being gay years before I came out. I might as well have had a bull’s eye painted on me when it came to gym class and team sports. The only exception was track though unlike our fictional Kevin though, I refused to participate on the track team. Coach Seaman (I am not making the name up) and later Coach K (whose his Polish name was usually mangled) had little empathy for kids who weren’t players on a team, especially football. The worst though were those days when the coach shouted the words “dodge ball” at the beginning of the period! Those two words struck horror in me as I and every other unpopular kid knew we’d just become targets for all the jocks eager to hurl fast balls at us with ugly delight while the coach took it easy and turned his eye. Good times! Right. The stress gym class caused reached such a point that I somehow convinced the family doctor to get me out of it for the rest of high school.
Several years after high school was a different story. Internally I’d come to terms with being gay though it still wasn’t smart to come out in my rural hometown back in the late 70s. I’d developed a crush on a slightly older guy that I worked with and one day he brought up the idea of taking karate classes together and was I interested? I jumped at the idea, hoping it’d lead to something more with him. It did, but it was only friendship and the occasional practicing nunchaku kata, punches or kicks. The lessons stopped for him when he got serious with a woman while the adrenaline thrill (it was to me) of breaking boards with bare feet, double jump front kicks and sparring with farm boys kept me going back for another couple years.
And then one night I was shocked when two guys from my high school class walk in, jock footballer Bob Cody and John, whose last name I’Ve forgotten and will always remember for this story and being the one bully I actually fought in 6th grade till a teacher pulled us apart. There they were, wanting to take lessons! The next few days I debated about staying or leaving the class but decided to stay partly because I had a green belt (which isn’t all that much but I was proud) and I wasn’t going to be run off. Dojo philosphy was to be helpful so I was glad that I wasn’t asked to help them as they struggled to make their stiff legs do kicks or perfect their form in general, and I secretly celebrated when they gave up a couple months later.
More props to Dan Parent and a lot of encouragement from me to you if you’re dreaming of doing something outside your comfort zone! Find a way to do it and do it! And if you’ve ever had a similar experience I’d love to hear about it!