I couldn’t get back in the gym. Usually the door was cracked open and I could sneak in through the side entrance.

Not this time. A group of jocks on the other side of the door were pulling it shut. I had no chance. I was just a 105-pound wrestler. One of them was a giggling 200-pound tight end with a scholarship to UCLA. (He later caught a touchdown pass in a Rose Bowl game from Troy Aikman). I was just playtime. No coaching necessary.

The door was in a bit of a cubby. Didn’t matter. I couldn’t hide there. I still had to get back inside. I’d just watched a wrestler get the smackdown in the weight room. It was his birthday too. They caught him while he was benchpressing. They grabbed him, flipped him over. His sweats were yanked down and his ass was whipped with their bear-like hands. I remember his ass was beet red. There were tears in his eyes. The birthday-haze-hungry jocks laughed gleefully.

I don’t know what’s worse. A physical beating? Or this mental game I was suddenly thrown into? They had grabbed me two seconds after my shower and tossed me toward the ravenous teen wolves of my youth.

First bell.

Students began passing by.

They didn’t know this was the dream I’d had countless times. The only difference was I could usually fly in those nightmares. Not like Superman. Just a little air. Slowly rising. The air under my feet barely heated. I could flap my arms as if they were real wings. As if someone were playing that old video game “Joust” and pressing the flap button. Just enough to barely get me off the ground.

I wanted to fly.

In fact, I wanted to flap and fly and sail into the clouds and rest there a while. Right on a big cloudy bed where I could fall asleep and forget the world.

Students passed. They looked and laughed. They pointed.

I had no actual dignity at that moment. But I pretended to have some. I started walking around the gym toward the back entrance. I tried to blend in with the crowd. I pretended I was fully dressed.

Later that day I would be haunted time and again, “Weren’t you the guy in his underwear right after first period?”

Tighty-whitie underwear at that.

That was me. At school in my underwear. That had been the dream.

I walked around the gym and saw faces, book bags, girls hanging on boy arms and voices shrill like siren songs from broken radios blurting static into the cosmos.

I walked along the concrete. I didn’t run. Those faces were like devils. But I didn’t run.

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NICK BELARDES is illustrator of NYT Best-Selling Novel by Jonathan Evison West of Here (2011), author of Random Obsessions (2009), Lords (2005), and the first literary Twitter novel: Small Places (2010). An author, poet, and screenwriter for Hectic Films, Belardes turned TV/online journalist overnight after blogging his way to success. His articles and essays have appeared on the homepage of CNN.com and other news sites across America. You can find Nick on Facebook and Twitter.

130 responses to “Underwear Dreams”

  1. Oh no! It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, come true!

  2. Mike says:

    I had a similar experience in an Atlanta hotel when I was traveling on business many years ago. It’s one of the reasons I swore off Jack Daniels.

  3. Tom Hansen says:

    I remember taunting the school tough once (he was about a hundred feet away and I didn’t think he could actually hear me). But he did. And he and his cronies caught and cornered me in a doorway. I had a lot of spit and snot and boogers to wipe off. Luckily, it was after school

  4. Zara Potts says:

    I bet you looked great in your underwear. I’m sure everyone was thinking that they wished they had underwear just like yours. Man, didn’t high school suck? I’m glad you didn’t run. That’s dignity, right there.

    • High school sucked ass. It should only be two years, not four. I think I had about two good memories from those days. Maybe three.

      I was rather statuesque in my teen form. I’ve sort of melted since then, heavy in the marble around my waist for some reason…

  5. Wow! I didn’t know that actually happened outside the realm of sleep!

  6. D.R. Haney says:

    It seems to me that you once related this story in shorter form, Nick, in a comment to Irene. Maybe she can confirm. Anyway, I’m glad to hear it now with detail.

  7. Meghan says:

    It seems to me that dignity is a pretty fluid thing. And you did a lot to restore what some jerks messed with.

    I’ve been in arguments before – with dogmatic Existentialists – about whether you can always choose dignity. That concept seems asinine to me, but I do think dignity’s fluid enough that you can recover it in a moment.

    Nice treatment.

    • Interesting. I think there are different forms of dignity, like the kind you can pretend to have: being dignified as best you can while it’s not really there. Saving face of sorts, though not really. Did I really save my dignity by walking and not running? Likely not. I was a kid in his underwear where he should not have been. But I did feel a little better by not running like a scared rabbit.

  8. Tawni says:

    I firmly believe you can somewhat control the level of humiliation you choose to take on by the way you handle lousy situations. It sounds like you retained as much dignity as a teenage boy in his underwear possibly could, and I am impressed. You didn’t run. Damn it. Good for you, Nick.

    God, I hated high school. xoxo.

  9. Oh man, N.L., this was a fun, but slightly painful read. Reminded me of a time when I was a college freshman. I got wasted with a group of guys one night. Before going to sleep I took a shower to try and sober up a bit. Next thing I knew these guys had grabbed me, and locked into the girl’s dorm wing with no clothes on. Every time I ran down a flight of stars, thinking I could bust through an exit, and make my way back up to the wing where I belonged, there was always that group of guys standing there holding the door shut, and laughing their heads off. Woof.

  10. Wow, so the underwear nightmare that we ALL have actually came true for you! Your revenge: you write about it!

    Why are teenaged boys so cruel to each other? Is it to stifle their homoerotic urges, mask them in violence?

  11. Ducky says:

    Why do assholes exist? I seriously want to know what their value is to this world. Is it so writers have something to excavate?

    Count your blessings you weren’t shanked (as Simon puts it.)

    • I’m glad I can laugh about it. But it was a psychological shank at the time. Maybes me wonder if I still knew the same group of adults and was working out in a weight room where they all were, would they still do the same thing? Or would they only want to and hide behind their corporate identities?

  12. Bright side: at least they weren’t character undies….

  13. Maura says:

    You wear tightie whities ??? Oh Nicky ! I am so sorry !!!

  14. Michelle C says:

    “voices shrill like siren songs …”

    God, I remember those voices. *shudder*

    I was harassed and teased mercilessly, for being part Asian, of all things. In Chicago, of all places.
    Thank God it finally stopped when I began Jr. High, after moving to Florida (go figure).

    But I think having gone through something like that really gives a person a deeper understanding and compassion for others.

  15. Maura says:

    When I was in HS , I went to my locker and therein found a naked kid that had been in my locker for several hours . He was afraid to yell or say anything . He was so ashamed . When he heard me try to open the locker, he told me to close my eyes after I went and got him a towel … HS boys are dorks !!!

  16. Maura says:

    OMG Nickadoodle ahahahah You would need a blanket !

  17. Now here I am laughing at someone else’s expense. Someone slap me.

  18. Erika Rae says:

    Just look at what a strong, adjusted person this turned you into! Ha! (I am definitely not laughing) (out loud)

    I never had the underwear dream. I always dreamed that I had some class I’d forgotten I’d signed up for and then had to frantically cram for some horrendous end of year test. That and I keep discovering rooms on my house that I didn’t know existed. Oh – and broken teeth. I get a recurring broken teeth dream. Once I dreamed they all got replaced with green marble. And then broke again.

    I hope my dreams don’t come true like yours did.

    Except maybe the house one. We could use the space.

    I liked your writing here. Good timing. Teen wolves, Heh.

    • Yay, you got my teen wolves reference! You deserve a mansion with that army of mountain folk you’ve been breeding. I just want to know if there’s going to be a cult? I can whip up some mean Kool-Aid.

      Dreams are weird. Some do come true. I’m known for that…

  19. jmblaine says:

    The only right thing
    I can do is confess
    I’ve been on both sides of
    this nightmare.

    Titillating.

  20. jonathan evison says:

    . . . the good news is that all those jocks are paunchy and balding now . . . and that nick wears boxers– i know, ’cause i slept on his couch in bakersfield . . .

  21. chingpea says:

    i’ve never had an underwear dream. i don’t understand why people would do this to each other. i’ve seen this in movies like “Lucas” with Charlie Sheen and Corey Haim, but it happening for real? That’s gotta be crazy.

    glad you walked away with dignity for fear of more embarrassment. makes you the stronger person. where are these guys now? probably old, worn looking fools who wished they were still in high school. hahaha.

    who was it who said, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…”? i love that.

  22. Dan Fugate says:

    Our schoolmates were so cruel. Without anuses like that you wouldn’t have so much creativity living behind your glasses though.

  23. H. Lindskold says:

    High school was one of the worst periods of my life… I would never want to do it over again. In 5th grade a group of boys spit on me once for defending/befriending a migrant worker girl. I grew up in a very rural, conservative area that didn’t think very highly of African-Americans. I was called a “n*gger lover” for most of that year and being spit on was absolutely disgusting. But I also did not go running and crying. I didn’t say a word to them. The migrant worker girl was spit on as well, and we just calmly walked away from them and went to the bathroom to wash it out of our hair. I also never let that experience stop me from standing up for the things I believe in… it only made me want to stand up to those kinds of people more.

    • That should be a story you write about. So many people in every American era lack compassion for foreigners. And you know many of them are Hispanic themselves or Irish, German, Scandinavian, etc… Their ethnic groups faced the goddam spitters too.

  24. Tony DuShane says:

    wow. this is pretty close to what getting divorced feels like.

    dignity be damned.

    it’s funny, when getting hazed in school, humiliated, etc., little do they know they’ve just created another potentially great writer.

  25. Matt says:

    Hopefully your skid marks didn’t permeate the safe cotton blend confines of your tighties!

  26. Geena says:

    This story is so sad. When I hear stories like yours it makes me struggle with how to raise my son. I don’t want to hear about this happening to him. It frightens me. I think you should put those guys on BLAST! This is what I mean even now at your age because of the way you were raised you’re considerate enough to not name names but do these people really deserve your consideration. When they tell this story do you think they leave your name out? I don’t want to raise my son to be a prick but how do you teach him to survive in a world full of pricks. Moreover, how do you teach him to not get played by some silly little girl who will do anything for some pricks attention? I read you asked about girls. Girls are way worst. With girls you won’t even know what hit you. Girls are like matadors. They will kill you slowly with tiny little psychological jabs. NL you did write this tragic story so beautifully. I was able to see it so vividly in my mind as I read it. Good job.

    • Well, it’s a long story, but my sons have their own youth trauma they had to work their way through. I think we all have. But then I look at my kids who are 20 and 18 now and I think how talented and well rounded they are. In ways, they are vastly smarter than I was at their age, and I think they dealt with problems better. There are moments out of parental control. They have to be faced. And they’re overcome whether it’s an underwear moment, being jumped by a gang and surviving to tell the tale, or being pawed on by psychologists in classroom settings…

  27. kristen says:

    Oh, dreams!

  28. Stephanie says:

    God, Nick what a nightmare! I used to dream that my teachers wanted to roast me like a Peking duck.

  29. Greg Olear says:

    This happened to Sam Weir on Freaks and Geeks. He still got the girl…

    In her graduate studies in psychology, my wife read that we are actually supposed to have a shitty time in high school — it’s part of our growth. Small consolation, yes, but there it is.

  30. Another fine story! I especially like the phrase “voices shrill like siren songs from broken radios blurting static into the cosmos.”

  31. Richard Cox says:

    Did you also have a test that day you completely forgot about? Or did you show up for the last class of the year only to realize you had forgotten to attend the entire semester? I always had those dreams for some reason.

  32. Why is it, that as completely grown adults, we still have these dreams? I too, STILL, have the test I forgot about,the class I never attended until the last day, and the final exam that I must get to in the room I can not find dreams! Were we all totally unaware of the trauma of education as it was happening? I thought I was having fun!

  33. Nicole says:

    I thankfully cannot relate to your story. I was invisible in High School…this is quite the opposite of that. Invisibility might be right up there with flying in terms of super power protection. Too bad neither power came to the rescue for you in this instance.

    I hope my children’s school woes are extremely limited. My oldest has already had a taste of being bullied, but thankfully (and much to my surprise) he has stood up for himself and fought back in some of these confrontations. I think I’ve learned from your story a valuable lesson for my kids: I’m definitely going to be transitioning my boys into boxers before they hit Junior High! Might save them a little bit of heartache.

    • Yes, put them in boxers soon! Nothing like getting teased about the tighty whities. But you know, there’s always something. Kids prey on other kid’s weaknesses as bullies perceive them to be…

      Not that I was super geek, but I was stuffed in a trash can once in junior high by my brother’s idiot friends. It’s the same school whose chief administrator later became a mass murderer.

      • Nicole says:

        Definitely! I’m ditching the superhero underoos by age 10. I think that’s a good boxer age. Don’t you think?

        Oh my! Who did the psych evaluation for your chief administrator…? That is scary!!

  34. Hey, at least you were wearing SOMETHING. Massive respect due for not running; I have to say, yes, that was dignified. It would have been super cool if you’d attended the rest of the day’s classes clad only in your (under)pants but that kind of thing only happens in films.

  35. Mary Richert says:

    Dude, how completely horrifying. However, I’m totally impressed that you didn’t run. Good call there.

  36. John says:

    You should have just ripped off the tighty-whities and gone full out streaking. Missed opportunity to turn Humiliation into Legend. But, in all honesty, I’m pretty impressed. I was the kind of kid (and am probably the kind of adult) that would have just made it all so much worse by either screaming my head off or sobbing.
    Yeah.
    Emotional strength is my forte’. HA! Great story!
    (And, as a sidenote, I just ordered two copies of Random Obsessions for holiday gifts, bringing total copies paid for through legal means to four. When you get that three cent royalty check from my purchases, make sure to send me a thank you card! Kidding, of course. Wonderful read.)

    • John!!! Hey man, I’m hoping I get a royalty check. That would be badass. Even if it is only enough to buy some big-ass burger! I was reading a post on here about jumping off a New Zealand tower. Now if that were me I would have squealed like a pig!! We all have our breaking points. Great to hear from you as always.

      • John says:

        I’m just happy to read a new post by you, Mr. Belardes. I was actually just thinking about some of your old ones as I drove through Santa Rosa, NM on my way to Albuquerque. It was interesting, thinking about your posts and how you described the landscape and trying to see it that way instead of as the same desert I’ve driven through a couple hundred times.

        Also, I think I’m aging backwards, as it concerns the “breaking points.” I think I had a stronger emotional constitution as a carefree and cynical teenager, which is saying something because it was never all that strong. I think the years of self-deprecating humor came back to bite me in the ass. Damn it all.

        • I think my emotional constitution was best at five. Since then it’s been a roller coaster of weirdness, which I think is why I’m a writer. Just trying to make sense of it all. I often want to take a drive out that way, just to see the grand Chihuahua Desert sky and breathe the air again.

  37. Kimberley says:

    I too hated HS. Such a waste of time. I was a mediocre student at best. I was known for my dancing more than anything else. I remember one year the dance group I’d formed decided to kick me out cause I missed a practice session due to a snow storm and responsibilities at home. That year, for the first time, I did not perform on a stage. The following year, I auditioned no less then three seperate performances, all of which made the cut for the show. That was sweet, to say the least.

    My recurring dreams had more to do with the fact that I was always afraid my mother would leave me. My parents seperated before I was a year old and that is something I carry with me to this day.

    Nobody gets out unscathed, but it is what we make of those experiences that define us.

  38. T. Roth says:

    Nick you were too cool kid, you know you strutted around to the back and winked at the girls.

  39. Wow. This happened to you? Yikes!! This reminded me of the episode of Freaks & Geeks when the bullies basically do this to Sam, except he’s naked. (And he gets to run around the school streaking to the soundtrack of Madness’ One Step Beyond.) That was painful but invented. This was painful, yet, as others have said, impressive for your sheer, staggering dignified response. AND you got some great prose out of it. Kudos!

  40. Nick! I can’t believe you actually lived out everyone’s recurring nightmare! No wonder you are such the irrevocably cool, suave character you now are: after learning to saunter in your underwear without running, I guess you can face most things with dignity. I enjoyed the dialogue in the comments here about raising sons, and the inevitability of our kids having to walk through their own fires, just as we did (male or female) and the joys of seeing them handle things better than we might have at their age. I’ll certainly echo those who have already pointed out that no lame ass malicious jock in high school could possibly have turned out to be anywhere close to the Righteous Dude you are, and if shit like this happening to one in youth is a prerequisite in any way to becoming such an awesome, generous and insightful man, then I’m perversely glad you had to go through this (well, okay, I’m not, but I’m glad for the current incarnation of you, and anything that made you this guy today.)

    • Gina, you have a way of touching souls with raw words. Of course I know this because of reading your novel “My Sister’s Continent” which keeps slapping me in the gut. I should tweet more of it while I read it in strange locales just to cause you anxiety attacks.. hahahaha… Oh, I hear we got a two-page spread with that Bakotopia article, which means more folks will get to know Tod Goldberg’s fascinating book of short stories, “Other Resort Cities.” When is your book of short stories coming out again? I have my Winter Reading List to look forward to already and your book must be on it.

  41. Slut Lullabies comes out in May from Emergency Press. I’ll be looking forward to finally meeting a whole load of the TNB contingent on the book tour, including you for sure in CA in June!

  42. You betcha! Will be in that area in early June, definitely. I’ll be with an Other Voices Books author whose novel comes out at the same time my collection does with EP, touring together, and we would both love to do something in Bakersfield if your city will have us! (The other writer rocks, I can promise you that!)

    • Zara Potts says:

      Oh! Simon and I will be in the US in June!

    • Sure thing. I think it would be fun. I can get a small group and some press for it. It’s at least worth it for the press involved don’t you think? Peeps like to buy books online too. We can do a reading, have some live music, chill. Would be cool if you’d like.

  43. Zara, can it be true? By U.S. do you mean LA? Other locales too? It would be too good to be true to finally meet you–and the debonair Simon too! I can’t wait! We have to coordinate so that we will be in the same place at the same time! I can smell some TNB Literary Experiences on the horizon!

    • Zara Potts says:

      Yes! LA first week of June and then the plan is to go to New York and down to Miami and back to LA. It would be fantastic to meet more of you wonderful TNB’ers! I agree -I can smell TNBLE’S too!

      • Sounds like party time is gonna be going on…

        • Zara Potts says:

          You bring the streamers and we’ll bring the wine…

        • As long as you a-holes (Simon and you) come and visit (inside joke). Come for a Frangello reading in Bakersfield. We can all go eat dinner at the country music museum and stare at Elvis’ old silver dollar Cadillac that hangs behind the bar that Buck Owens once bought off him…

        • Zara Potts says:

          Oh I think I can speak on behalf of both of us assholes that we would LOVE to have dinner at the country music museum!! It’s sounding better and better all the time!

        • Duke and Rich Ferguson ate there. It was a Friday night and we all listened to the Buckaroos. It was a feast…

        • We are so set for a Bakersfield party! Zara and Simon, you guys need to tell Nick and me exactly when you’ll be in each of the respective cities when you know, so that I can make sure to coordinate my LA trip with your being there, and a jaunt to Bakersfield. Book events in LA have to be planned a fair amount in advance, so I don’t want to take any chance of missing you guys! I’m so excited! Thanks, Nick! (And my poor OV author, Zoe Zolbrod, will not know what she’s gotten herself into, hanging with the TNB gang!) xxx!

        • Yes, let me know dates so I can plan something here for your in-between-the-big-cities book gig….

  44. Joanne aka soulsprite says:

    High school was ok. Jr. High I hated. No one bothered me though. I just gave the tough girls the evil eye if they said anything to me and they would back off.

    I’m not sure what I would have done if I ended up in your situation, maybe I would have cast an invisibility spell…you know “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” Good for you for walking tall.

  45. Lana Elfstrom says:

    Loved it! It was painful! I could really feel the humiliation. I loved the part about flying. I could always fly in my dreams. Your description of flying was perfect. When I am flying it always feels like I am not quite high enough or fast enough. So sorry you went thru that, but great recollection!
    i hate watching all of that go down!

  46. Twinkie says:

    HOLY SHIT MAN! I thought that type of stuff only happened in sitcoms and movies. The only things I ever had to worry about as a kid is if my parents were gonna make me spend my summers picking grapes, or potatos for school clothes money.

  47. Rebecca Erwin says:

    Thanks for telling that. What a little reminiscing brings up, eh? Dignity is something I always thought you had in High School. The ability to be your own person and not trying to be like everyone else. That’s why we were friends.

    I have always told my boys, “If you own what you do, then no one can tease you. The power they get for teasing only comes from your own insecurities.” It seems to have worked so well, that they are teased they don’t always recognize it. Their response is, “What is their problem? They must be really insecure to try to make someone else feel insignificant.”

  48. Don Mitchell says:

    Unbelievable!

    I have a piece called Tighty Whities about ready to go. I just haven’t gotten around to taking some pictures to accompany it. I read it in public a couple of weeks ago.

    I love yours.

    In my schools, we called it “getting pantsed,” and yeah, it happened to me too — but only briefly, by which I mean the pantsed-one always got to pull his pants back on as soon as the other boys let him go.

    Maybe I’ll post mine this weekend — piggyback.

  49. I can’t wait to go read it! Yeah, they called it pants back when I was in HS too. Only, I wasn’t pantsed. I had actually just slipped on my underwear after the showers. Suddenly I was surrounded! hahaha… Going to read your piece right now.

  50. Rachel Pollon says:

    Bullies! Now you can beat them up with words. Recently I had some memories of taunts I received as a young, er, developing, girl. I think if I could have had a super power as a youngster it would be death ray eyes. Zap!

  51. […] One time, back when he was in school, something really embarrassing happened to him (hint: underpants were involved). […]

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