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.
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.