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Marisa Iati | Monday, October 7, 2013

When the stadium janitor in every Notre Dame student’s favorite movie tells Rudy Ruettiger he’s five-foot-nothing, I can relate.

The janitor may have been hyperbolizing about Rudy’s height, but I’m not exaggerating when I say I am literally five-foot-nothing. Luckily for me, I’m not trying to walk onto the Irish football team. 

Still, life from the low end of the height spectrum can be amusing. 

Someone dropped an earring between the dresser and the wall? Guess who has to crawl behind the bureau to get it? 

My local community theater is putting on “The Wizard of Oz”? It’s pretty predictable that I’m going to be cast as a munchkin. 

And you can bet my parents sometimes pretended I was three years younger than I actually was so as to avoid paying adult admission prices to amusement parks. 

Most of the results of being five-foot-nothing have been harmless. But sometimes, things that my short stature brings upon me are frustrating.

Well-meaning restaurant hosts brought me children’s menus long after I passed the 12-year-old cutoff. Blood boiling, I would proceed to make a big show of ordering a full-sized meal off the regular, adult menu. The waiters and waitresses were typically unfazed, but hey, at least I salvaged a tiny bit of pride, right?

Then there was the time two years ago when a man in a Cracker Barrel asked me how old I was. “I’m 19,” I told him truthfully. The man guffawed. “You’re not 19! There’s no way.” Um, thanks, sir. I beg to differ.

Other times, being super short is just awkward.

Let me tell you about my first slow dance: First of all, these occasions are uncomfortable enough in and of themselves. Then the level of discomfort builds because I am inherently awkward. Add another 50 or so awkwardness points due to my being five-foot-nothing, and you’ve got yourself just about the most hilariously embarrassing situation you can imagine. 

“Do you want to dance?”

“Um.” I glance around in search of someone who can intervene and save me from the discomfort that is about to descend upon me, but no one is paying attention. “Sure, I guess.”

Eloquent, I know.

We do the awkward maneuvers typical of people who have no idea how the heck to position their arms or where they’re supposed to look. 

I learn the answer to that second part when I find myself staring up at all six-foot-whatever of this boy, who finds himself staring down at all five-foot-nothing of me. I’m craning my neck way back as if I’m trying to stare at the spot directly above the top of my head. 

Predictably, the dance lasts about 30 seconds.

My eyes start shifting around – aimed at the floor, at the ceiling, at anyone in the vicinity who might be able to extricate me from the situation. I giggle nervously. Finally, I pretend to be fascinated by something my friend is doing on the other side of the room, and I make a break for it.

Let’s just say I haven’t found myself participating in a slow dance since then. 

On the bright side, some aspects of being small have served me well.

Like any logical five-foot-nothing female, I chose to adopt basketball as my sport of choice. For seven years, I played in a local recreational league. (Some of my teams weren’t half bad, but trust me, I claim credit for exactly none of our success.) 

After one hard-earned win, I walked over to the bleachers, where a teammate’s father intercepted me. “You know, I didn’t expect much when I saw you head out there because you’re so short,” he told me. “But you surprised me. You’re a speed demon.”

Darn straight, I thought. But I didn’t say that. I just thanked him and proceeded on my way. And if you question how proud I was in that moment, well, I remember it to this day, don’t I? 

Someone had doubted me, and I had proven him wrong. There may be no better feeling.

Eventually, I had to realize that I’m always going to be five-foot-nothing, and that won’t change, no matter how much milk I drink. (Sorry, Mom, but I no longer buy into the myth that I’ll grow if I get more Vitamin D.)

I’m always going to have to wear heels in order to see over the pulpit when I cantor at my home parish.

I’m always going to have to deal with the occasional instance of someone almost running me over because he couldn’t see me.

And I’m almost definitely going to avoid slow dances for the rest of my life.

I’m five-foot-nothing.

But I’m five-foot-nothing full of integrity, compassion and guts.

I mean, I guess I can live with that. 

Contact Marisa Iati at miati@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.