My Squirrel Days

July 02, 2019, 2:44 p.m. (ET)

Excerpted from My Squirrel Days: Tales from the Star of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and The Office by Ellie Kemper. Copyright © 2018 by Ellie Kemper. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


As preseason drew to a close, and late summer turned to early fall, I quickly learned that I would not be seeing much playing time. For the first few games, I held out hope; I assumed that it was just a matter of paying my dues, and that of course the upperclassmen should get first dibs. Kelly probably needed a strong leader on the bench to keep the team motivated, I told myself. I knew that a sports monster could wear all sorts of hats, even that of benchwarmer. Nonetheless, as September progressed and I continued to warm the bench, I started to worry. Every single other freshman began to see playing time. Sometimes it was only for five or six minutes, but it spoke volumes to me. I was clearly the worst player on the team! 

At first I was mad. On its very small and very specific level, this treatment was humiliating. You can still run fast, I would encourage myself. But you’re not as skilled as the other players, and your pubic hair is five times as long. Then, my anger turned into an obsession with watching sports movies: The Cutting Edge, A League of Their Own, Rudy. And it was during my dozenth or so viewing of Rudy that I made a decision. Just as Rudy finally got his chance to shine after nearly giving up, I decided to plead with my field hockey coach to give me some playing time.

And so, early one fall morning, as dawn broke over Nassau Street, I psyched myself up by doing a round of push-ups in the hall bathroom. (My roommate, Jo, was still sleeping and I didn’t want to wake her.) I got dressed and headed to Kelly Troy’s office. She wasn’t there, so I jogged around the gymnasium a couple of times. I did a few squats and started in on some burpees. The janitor asked me to leave just then, but I could see the light was now on in Troy’s lair. I thanked the janitor and got ready to make history.

Kelly Troy’s door was closed, and I knocked softly. She didn’t hear me, so I knocked again. “Come in!” she barked. “I already said, ‘Come in!’ ” I guess she had heard me the first time. Anyway, she was at her desk doing paperwork, still wearing her mirrored sunglasses. Only then did I realize that they must be prescription glasses. I wonder why she doesn’t get glasses that aren’t sunglasses, I thought. But I quickly regained my focus. I sat down, and Kelly removed her sunglasses. In that moment, I felt the exact same way as I do whenever I take off my socks: something about this was wrong. I had never seen Kelly’s eyes before, and I froze. Then I took a deep breath, and I looked the woman in the eye. I was able to get a sense of her soul.

I explained to Kelly that I was concerned about my progress on the team. I had noticed that I was the only player who had never played in a game, and I thought that might be a bad sign. Kelly leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. The knee of a thousand replacements was on full display. I wasn’t sure if this was a power move. “Ellie,” she said, in a voice that was kind but firm, “you have the tools.” She then turned to look out the window. “But you are having trouble building the house.” I should mention here that, above all else, Kelly Troy was a master of metaphor.