“The air was dank, tainted with the odors of steam, sweat and skin. Years of rust and sediment from the dripping shower heads and armies of bare, wet feet had marbled the floor with streaks and patches of reddish brown.
The authorities, clad in uniforms and carrying clipboards and whistles, marched the boys in, at least forty of them, all roughly the same age but many different sizes, strengths, and levels of maturity. The dates of their births, the locations of their homes, and the simple luck of the draw had brought them here, and much like cattle earmarked for shipment, they had no voice in the matter. The paperwork was in. This room would be a part of their lives for the next four years.
He had never been in this place, or anywhere like this place before. He had never imagined such a place could even exist. In here, kindness meant weakness, human warmth was a complication, and encouragement was unmanly. In here, harshness was the guiding virtue- harshness, cruelty, and the blunt, relentless confirmation of every doubt he’d ever carried about himself.
Mr M. a fearsome authority figure with a permanent scowl and a voice that yelled- only yelled- ordered them to strip down. His assistants, clones of his cruelty, repeated the order, striding up and down the narrow aisles between the lockers.
The boy hesitated, looking furtively about. HE’d never been naked in front of strangers before, but even worse, he’d never been naked in front of enemies. It had taken only one hour in gym class for the others to select him, to label him, and to put him in his place. He was now officially the smallest one, the scared one, the weakling, the one without friends. That made him fair game when it came time for showers.
He he would be naked in front of them. Naked. His stomach wrung; his hands trembled. Please God, get me out of here. Please don’t let them do this to me.
But every authority figure in his life had said he had to be here. He had to go to school, do his chores, finish his homework, keep his shoes tied, go to bed and get up at certain hours, eat his vegetables, and be here. End of discussion.
He removed his clothes.
Mr M continued his yelling. “Come on, move it, move it, move it!”
The herd- pink, black, brown, and bronze- moved in one direction and all he could do was move with it- a frail, naked body among the forty, longing for a towel, anything to cover himself. Every other body was bigger, and stronger, and every other body had hair where the boy had none. He knew they would notice.
The showers were a long, high-ceiling echo chamber, murky with steam, rattling with lewd, raucous joking and laughter. He didn’t want to hear it.
After a big kid finished his shower, the boy carefully took his place under the showerhead, afraid of slipping and even more afraid of grazing against anyone. He let the water spray over him. He hurriedly lathered his body with some soap.
To his left, the talk started about him. Then some laughing. The talk spread, the call went out, “Hey, get a load of this!” And audience gathered, a semicircle of naked dripping bodies. The talk about him shifted to jeering at him. He tried to act as if he didn’t hear them, but he could feel his face flushing. Get through, get through, get out of here!
He rinsed as well as he could , never turning away from the wall, then headed for the towel-off area, not meeting their eyes, trying to ignore their comments about his face, his body, his groin. But the arrows were landing with painful accuracy: “Ugly” “Wimp” “Gross” “Little girl.”
He grabbed a towel off the cart and draped it around himself before he even started drying with it. Even that action brought lewd comments and another lesson: Once it begins, no action, no words, no change in behavior will turn it back. Once you’re the target, anything you do will bring another arrow….. ” to be continued
This is an excerpt from Frank Peretti’s book No More Victims His words felt hauntingly familiar to me (DM). How about you? Were you the brunt of any teasing growing up? What did it feel like? Has it left any scars? Before someone is tempted to put a positive spin on this one, let’s take a little time to tell our stories.
I know, when life gives us lemons we’re supposed to make lemonade and all that other good stuff..but I’ve also watched some of my kids experience hellacious harassment in school- and I suspect they may still carrying the wounds today.
Thoughts, questions, comments?