By Julia Redemske
On the day I popped out of my mother, I was 2 feet tall. Try squeezing that out between your legs. Now at 6 foot 3 inches, I have spent a lifetime towering over my peers. And no, I don’t play basketball.
Any attempts on the basketball court lately have been a complete disaster. Honestly. Luke Pemberton can testify to this. He was unlucky enough to witness my granny shots, traveling and atrocious footwork that looks like I have a couple of cement blocks strapped to the soles of my sneakers.
I did attend basketball camp years ago and was beaned with a basketball almost everyday, but I suppose a walking skyscraper is an easy target. Kids used to tease me for being different until I helped them to realize that picking on someone much taller than them was not the best idea.
A friendly game of basketball in my high school gym class became a fight for my life and limbs. “Go after the tall one,” my opponents said. “Break her! Get her off the court and we’ll have a chance.” Figures. My mother always told me that the tallest players are fouled the most. I asked her if I should be learning self-defense. She told me to work on my free throws.
I was over 6 feet tall by the ninth grade. When I walked into the high school Sports Night, where coaches recruited new students for their teams, it was like covering myself in raw meat and jumping into a pit of starved lions. My mom shielded me as though I were a pop star rushing through a crowd of hysterical “teeny-boppers” and paparazzi.
I’ve decided that when someone asks how tall you are on a daily basis, you have to start mixing up the responses. I once answered a person with “75 inches.” They raised an eyebrow and walked away. Perhaps that individual didn’t want to know my answer to the “Do you play basketball?” question.
My 6-foot-8-inch dad has always been fond of giving his height in meters. This was fun until he met a woman from Europe, where they use the metric system. So if you asked him now, he’d probably say “5 feet 20 inches” or “4 feet 32 inches.”
I think my dad has heard every tall joke in existence. People ask, “Hey how’s the weather up there?” so often, they must think he can scrape the ozone layer with his finger tips. And just imagine the nicknames he had growing up, one of which was “Stretch.”
I had a high school gym teacher who liked to call me “Stretch.” In fact, he insisted on calling me that name several times per sentence. “Hey, Stretch! How ya’ doing, Stretch? You don’t mind me calling you Stretch, do ya, Stretch?”
I’ve collected a wonderful array of nicknames since then, including “Big J,” “Xena,” “6-3” and of course, “The Amazon Woman.” I like these names just fine, because I love my height and insist on never slouching. People tell me I’m too tall, but I’m really just waiting for everyone else to catch up.
On the high school bus ramp one afternoon, I encountered just such a person. A girl was jumping up and down while pointing at me with her arm stretched to its farthest reach. She was crying out in shock and alarm, “Oh my God! Look how tall she is! Oh my God!” I slowly inched away, as her friends caught her before she fell to the ground. And she thought I was the strange one?
And that’s not all, folks. Wearing a big hoody sweatshirt, I have been mistaken from behind as a man. And I can tell you that standing in a bathroom and having some girl open the door right behind you and scream bloody murder so loud that your bones curl is not the most pleasant experience. Not to mention the awkward apology that came after I turned around and she could see, quite obviously, that I was female.
And of course, let’s not forget the clothing issue. Growing up was easy. I wore my older brother’s hand-me-downs and enjoyed the life of a tomboy. But as I got older, things changed. Someone once caught a glimpse of my shiny shin in high school and mockingly informed me that clothing lines do make “tall” sizes. I shrugged and informed her that I was wearing the “tall” size. Keep in mind, ladies and gents, that it’s a lot easier to take fabric away than it is to add it on.
My kicks are a size 12, and I’m damn proud of that. Even if it does cause problems, such as renting shoes at the bowling alley. My dad always said that it takes a large foundation to support a tall skyscraper. I always said that I’d be mighty popular with the ladies if I were a guy.
So yeah, I can reach the stuff on the top shelf. Or on top of the cabinets for that matter, which means that a whole other category of storage space is available to me. My strides are longer than the average pedestrian’s are, and full-grown members of society (yes, this includes most of you basketball players) don’t have to break their necks to look me in the eye.
The downside to being vertically endowed? I’ll never quite fit correctly in a roller coaster car. I wasn’t often allowed to romp around in the tunnels and tubes of the extravagant playgrounds at theme parks because, Heaven forbid, I might have gotten stuck. And my mom had to carry around a copy of my birth certificate because most people did not believe I was eligible for the “kids under 12” discounts.
And so, everything has its pros and cons. The point is to take in the bad with the good and to love the person who you are. The next time someone asks me to give them some of my height, I hope she stops to consider the ceiling fan that has never hit her in the head.
Remember, the higher up you are, the harder you fall on the basketball court. And it’s a long way down from up here.