The door to the girls’ locker room was a black, towering thing. It glared angrily at anyone who dared to look at it — and to those with the guts to enter, it gave a deep creaking warning.
“Wrrrrrrong choiiiiiice,” it would groan before slamming shut behind them.
Beyond this entrance lay a dimly lit hallway with two identical, bored looking doors at the opposite end. If these doors were to morph into people, they would most likely become the spooky twins from the Stanly Kubrick’s version of The Shining. They beckoned unsuspecting children to their doom with promises of games and laughter. Through the mouth of the left door one would come to find the girls locker room, painted red, black, and blue — like a bruise.
Against the dark walls leaned tired cement benches that had banded together in shunning a smaller bench that stood in the far corner. This smaller bench was my favorite place to sit, because it allowed me to scrunch up and hide.
On the first day of seventh grade girls’ P.E. class, being young and foolish, I sat out in the open. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was wearing my new Hey Arnold gym shorts. I remember the moment my life changed from being the invisible girl who fell through the cracks to being the class bully’s chosen one. It was when Lisp Kid walked up to me and said:
“Hey! Thothe are the thame short-th Tiffany ith wearing! Tiffany, look! You like the thame show as thith girl!”
My eyes found the other pair of Hey Arnold shorts through the throng of girls in the room. The person wearing them was looking back at me — and did not look pleased at all.
She had untamed, curly blond hair that was pulled back into a half ponytail. Her narrowed blue eyes and scrunched up nose reminded me of an angry bobcat, and when she stood up, she towered over everyone.
The crowd in the room parted for her as she lumbered toward me and stood next to Lisp Kid.
“What’s your name?” she growled at me, posed like she was a WWE wrestler.
“Camille,” I said.
“Thanks for ruining my favorite show, Camille.”
After a short amount of time, I learned that if I wore plain shorts, got changed quickly, and crammed myself into my safe corner — there was a small chance of not being harassed before class started. Most days, however, this method didn’t work.
“Look at Camille’s legs,” she would say, like a politician speaking to her constituents, “those are the ugliest damn legs I have ever seen. If I had legs like that, I would saw them off.”
Then the other girls — like dogs who were given a command by their pack leader — would join in.
“Everything about Camille’th body lookth dithguth-ting.”
“Get away from me, I don’t want to catch your ugly.”
“Manatees look anorexic compared to you.”
My best mode of defense was to pretend I didn’t hear them, and act as if I didn’t care what their opinions were. I had developed the habit of focusing on the water damaged spots that adorned the far wall.
There must have been a leak there at one time, and water marks streaked the full length of the wall like black tears that stained its face.
You don’t care, I would tell myself, and everything is fine. YOU WILL NOT CRY IN FRONT OF THESE PEOPLE. EVER. No. You will never cry.
There were far too many times when I found myself wishing I could disappear. To just melt into the bench and walls, becoming one with them. Oh, how glorious that would be.
Usually, I was given a reprieve when our elderly P.E. teacher waddled sloth-like into the room. I relished the days when she announced that we would be doing something like baseball. I could take up a spot in the farthest part of the field, and there I would be: forgotten for the hour. Most days, however, we ran the mile or played a close contact game that ended up feeling like torture.
During the mile, Tiffany and her goons would run behind me, stepping on my heels and trying to push me down. If we played a game in the gym, she would shame anyone who would voluntarily be on a team with me and came up with multiple creative ideas to bully and tease me in any way possible.
If I concentrated hard enough, I could block out most of the name calling and rib punches by imagining what life would consist of if I were the glossy gym floor. Gym floors were usually the color of beautiful wood, shined and smoothed to perfection. I wished to be beautiful like the gym floor — gleaming and polished with love. It is always needed, and never feels hurt by silly words.
After enduring half a semester of Tiffany terrorism, the day had come to do class weigh-ins. This is the day most young women dread, because it’s when one of their most private numbers is exposed for all to see. We were lined up behind a rude, judgmental scale, waiting for a turn — full of anxiety — while the P.E. teacher adjusted the weight on the level beam. In an effort to keep us from fighting over who would be last in line, the P.E. teacher made us sit in alphabetical order, which meant that Tiffany was placed in line behind me.
“I don’t know why they’d bother weighing you. We can all tell you’re obese as fuck. You’re probably going to break the scale before we can have a turn,” she snarked, folding her arms across her chest.
She looked to the girls around us, expecting them to join in on the bullying, but they were lost in their own pending humiliation to notice.
Tiffany sneered as I stepped on the scale. I held my breath, thinking only the lightest thoughts as the P.E. teacher adjusted her glasses to better read the numbers.
“One hundred twelve pounds,” she called out for the teacher’s aide to record.
I waited for some manner of comment or sound from Tiffany, but there was none. I stepped down from the scale expecting her to try tripping me when the teacher had her back turned, but she didn’t move.
As I walked away, I chanced a glance back at her and saw that she had an odd sort of look on her face — a look I hadn’t seen her wear before or after. It reminded me of the expression one might wear if he stepped on the wrong side of a rake and got smacked in the head.
I sat against the wall where all the other thoroughly weighed girls were waiting, and Tiffany stepped into place on the scale.
“One hundred and sixty,” the teacher announced.
With a stunned look on her face, Tiffany slid off the scale and looked around at the other girls for expressions of judgement. Realizing that no one cared about her secret number at that moment, she slunk to the nearest corner and sat with her face buried in her hands.
For the remainder of class, all the other girls gossiped and giggled while they changed into their regular clothes. In fact, Tiffany and I appeared to be the only two people who were sitting still. I noticed for the first time that our classmates weren’t her friends either. Not really. They never asked if she was okay when she kept to herself, gossiped with her about boys, or noticed her absence on days she wasn’t there. It suddenly hit me that the only time I had ever seen our classmates pay any attention to her was when she was bullying me.
I studied her and watched as she made purposeful eye contact with Lisp Kid, only to be ignored. She awkwardly tried to join a conversation with a group of girls, but they migrated away from her to continue talking without her. During the last few remaining minutes of class, she looked as if she was going to cry. She was rocking back and forth, hugging herself, when her eyes locked onto mine. Her round face turned scarlet, and her hands quickly turned into balled up fists.
“I can’t believe I weigh more than you!” Her shout, hurled at me with fury, bounced aimlessly off the walls and filled the air between us.
The room fell silent, and everyone froze in place. Even the uncaring walls seemed to quake with fright. Tiffany stood up and squared her shoulders like the Incredible Hulk.
“I can’t believe that a short, smelly, bearded, dwarf like you weighs less than I do,” she said as she shoved classmates out of the way to clear a path toward me.
“Maybe you should work out more if it botherth you tho much, Tiffany,” a distinctive voice ventured from a corner of the room.
“What did you say to me?” Tiffany growled, turning her rage toward the girl who spoke out.
Shrinking back into the wall behind her, Lisp Kid looked down at her pink shoes.
“Nothing,” she squeaked.
Tiffany sneered, shifting her weight to one side as she crossed her arms over her flat chest. Her attention wheeled back in my direction, and when she opened her mouth to say something undoubtedly venomous, the bell screamed at us. CLASS OVER, it screeched, VACATE THIS CURSED PLACE!
The girls awakened from their stupor, once again filling the room with idle chatter as they filed out. I managed to slip in amongst the crowd, like a single ant in its colony, and passed the angry blond giant without being noticed. Once outside, I stood on the sidewalk, utterly relieved that the torture portion of my day was over. This must be how Andy Dufresne felt when he escaped from prison, I speculated. Then my heart sank upon realizing that I had left my backpack behind.
My thoughts played a brief match of tug-of-war as I debated leaving it until the end of the day. Remembering that I had a paper due in the next class, I turned around with resignation and headed back to my least favorite place on earth.
When I opened the door to the girls’ locker room, I could hear Tiffany’s voice wafting out. Unlike her normal voice, it sounded strained and pinched as if she was trying hard not to cry.
“But Aunt Polly, you don’t have to tell him,” she said.
“I’m a teacher, Tiffy, I have to meet the needs of my students and inform their parents about their progress in my class. He wanted me to tell him the results of your weigh in. I have to do as he requests. Really — it isn’t a big deal,” the P.E. teacher said.
I had forgotten the P.E. teacher was Terrible Tiffany’s aunt.
“It IS a big deal! He said if I don’t keep the weight off, I have to go back to fat camp this summer.” Tiffany mumbled the words “fat camp” as if they were the most shameful words ever spoken.
“Tiffy… aren’t you being a little dramatic? You have a couple more months to work on your weight, and even if you don’t, you said you liked going to that camp. As I recall, you said you liked the health huts and learned a lot.”
“All the kids there were stupid. They didn’t know how to play sports at all, and I want to play volleyball next year. I’d have to go to volleyball camp to be on the team.”
“Tiffany,” Aunt Polly said, as if she was trying to suppress a laugh. “YOU? Be on the VOLLEYBALL team?”
“Well… yes…” Tiffany said sheepishly.
“Oh honey, you’re NOT a team player. With all the girls already signing up to play volleyball next year, I won’t be picking you to play on the team. You should do track. Running is excellent for keeping off excess belly fat.”
During an awkward silence between the two, I wondered if I could academically afford to attend my next class without my essay or my back pack.
“Look, Aunt Polly,” Tiffany said, her voice now shaky and desperate, “please just don’t tell Dad what I weigh. I can’t go back to fat camp. Please.”
“I’m sorry Tiffy. I told him I would, it’s my job, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
“FINE!” I heard Tiffany’s size nine feet stomping toward me, and I panicked. Closing the door as quickly and quietly as possible, I looked around for a nook to hide in. I tiptoed half way to the exit before changing my mind, thinking there wasn’t enough time to make it out. The full rage of Tiffany was almost upon me, and all I was doing was running around in circles like a decapitated chicken! I had no other choice but to scoot across the floor and flatten myself against the wall next to the hinges.
Something hard hit the door from the inside. It swung open, and came within inches of hitting me in the face. The door seemed to be enraged by this mistreatment, and rebounded back at her. Tiffany gave the door a swift, ninja style kick, then punched it as it retreated. This time the door did hit me, and I stifled a groan until Tiffany had stormed through the exit.
The next day I found myself standing in the hallway again. I had gotten out of my last class a little early, and made it all the way back to that hall, before my body halted in place. There I stood, in front of those identical twin doors, imagining them say:
“Come play with us, Camille, come play with us.”
I was contemplating, for the first time in my whole school career, not going to class. It would be so nice, just for one school day, to avoid Tiffany altogether. By the time the bell rang, I had made up my mind. I walked through the doorway on the right, across the gym floor, and into the girl’s restroom.
“Ugh! What are you doing in here!” someone said.
I looked up to see Tiffany sitting on the counter, between two sinks. She was holding a volleyball between her knees, and glaring at me through puffy, red eyes.
“Are you deaf? What are you doing in here?” she repeated.
I had what felt like a block in the back of my throat, and it was keeping me from answering.
“Are you having a brain aneurysm or something?” she asked.
“Avoiding you!” I spat out.
“I’m, um…” My brain began to catch up with the words I just said, and it wasn’t pleased with my split second decisions.
“I’m ditching class to avoid you,” I said finally.
“Looks more like you’re trying to stalk me like a creep.”
“Why would I stalk my worst nightmare?” My words were out there, floating in the air, and there was no way of taking them back. I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead, wishing I could go back in time.
Her caterpillar eyebrows furrowed together, and she looked like a confused troll.
“Your worst — look, I came in here to be alone, so get out.” she said.
I turned to leave when something in my head snapped.
“No,” I said, turning to face her again.
“I said no.” I was certain at this point that I no longer had control over my words or actions. It was like I was outside my body, watching someone else stand up to her.
“Why do you have to be such a bitch?” she asked.
“I could ask you the same question.”
We both stared at each other scornfully, not moving or backing down for what felt like an eternity. Our stubborn standoff lasted until we heard the unmistakable sound of Mrs. Petty’s whistling just outside the bathroom door.
Grouchy, old Mrs. Petty, the school janitor, was a women no one seemed to like — and she was about to catch us ditching.
Tiffany’s eyes grew wide, and she hopped down from the counter, making a plop plop sound as her wide feet hit the floor. I put my index finger to my lips, and she angrily returned the gesture. We spent critical moments silently shushing each other until the door opened. We both scuttled into the nearest stall and managed to share standing room on the toilet seat. We waited, motionless and breathless, as Mrs. Petty moved through the room like a wrinkled, hunchbacked turtle, emptying trashcans.
One after the other, she pushed the stall doors open and emptied the metal receptacles meant for used sanitary items. Tiffany and I stared at each other with dread as that calloused old woman made her way to our door. Her ratty old tennis shoes squeaked to a stop mere inches from us, and the door quavered and swung slightly open when a voice cracked over her walkie talkie.
“Carla, you there?” the voice asked.
She sighed and took her time removing the walkie talkie from its home on her belt before putting it up to her mouth.
“We’ve had a kid vomit in room two oh one. We need you to go take care of it ASAP.”
She grumbled and said a few choice words as she returned the walkie talkie to her belt and left.
When we could hear Mrs. Petty’s cart wheel away, Tiffany pushed me off the toilet, and I bounced off the stall door before landing on my feet.
“Get away from me. You smell like a dead dog,” she said, stepping down from her porcelain pedestal.
“You get away from me,” I shot back.
“I’d love to, but your fat ass is blocking the door.”
I unlocked the door, and Tiffany pushed past me. She hopped back onto the counter and tossed her volleyball from one hand to the other.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“Are you talking to me?” she said, emphasizing the word “talking” as if I was insulting her somehow.
I wanted to retort with a multitude of rude comments, but I decided against it.
“Yeah. Who else?”
“It’s MY business why I’m in here.”
She threw her ball at my face, and I caught it before it was able to hit its mark. For a brief second, she looked impressed, and then scrunched her nose.
“Isn’t the P.E. teacher your aunt or something?” I asked. “Won’t she tell your parents you weren’t there?” I tossed the ball back to her.
“Let them find out — and it’s none of your damn business,” she said, throwing the ball hard toward my mid-section. I blocked it with my knee, rolled it down my shin, and balanced it on the top of my foot before kicking it back to her.
“How… did you do that?” she asked.
I shrugged and said, “I played soccer at my last school.”
“Why don’t you play here?”
“I don’t really like sports.”
“That’s apparent,” she scoffed, gesturing toward my round belly.
“I weigh less than you,” I mumbled.
Tiffany looked down at her shoes, clearly a little hurt by what I said. She twirled her volleyball between her hands again, and tossed it to me. I caught it effortlessly.
“So then… what do you LIKE to do?” she asked.
“Um…” I thought for a bit. “I like to draw and write.”
“You are SUCH a loser,” she scoffed.
I threw the ball back at her hard, and it bounced off her chest before landing in her open palms. Her face flushed from shock to shame, and she sent the ball back to me.
We didn’t talk again until the bell rang; words were unnecessary. There was a feeling that we both knew our lives were imperfect, and we had both experienced what it was to be truly alone.
The next day, as I was getting changed into gym clothes, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Tiffany. I felt a great deal of anxiety while walking to my regular spot, and I could feel my knees shaking when I sat in my usual spot. I spied Tiffany sitting in her area on the opposite side of the room. Her hair was free, and it bunched around her face in a way that reminded me of an unwashed poodle. I observed her as she tried to join in on the conversations being held by the girls around her, but she didn’t seem to be too successful.
The P.E. teacher walked into the room and settled everyone before making her class announcements.
“This month, we will be having open enrollment for next year’s volleyball and track and field teams. I have these flyers here that have more information. If you are interested and want one, please raise your hand,” she said.
Several girls, including Tiffany, raised their hands, and the teacher shuffled around the room giving them flyers.
“Were you interested in track and field, or volleyball?” she asked Lisp Kid.
“Volleyball,” Lisp Kid replied.
The teacher handed her the volleyball flyer, and moved on to Tiffany.
“I want a volleyball flyer,” Tiffany told her.
The teacher’s face looked pinched, and she handed Tiffany a flyer before quickly waddling away — almost as if to escape the blast radius.
“Aunt P — um — Mrs. Justice, you gave me the wrong flyer,” Tiffany said, holding the paper up to the retreating figure.
The teacher didn’t turn around or acknowledge Tiffany had said anything. Tiffany’s face began to redden as she realized that her aunt hadn’t given her the track and field flyer by mistake. When the teacher went to her office to put the remaining flyers on her desk, Tiffany crumpled the paper and threw it on the floor. She hugged herself and rocked from side to side with closed eyes. Once her rocking slowed, she opened her eyes, and they locked right onto me. She looked angry again, and I scooched deep into my corner for fear that she may lash out at me. Tiffany stood and I looked away, hoping she wouldn’t do anything too unpleasant. She ended up sitting down next to me, and was gripping the edge of the bench so hard that her knuckles were turning white.
“Why don’t you ever try talking to anyone while you’re waiting?” she asked.
“I don’t like trying to force a conversation. It ends up making me feel like an awkward intruder. Sometimes it’s better to relax and let the conversation come to me.”
“Don’t you worry people will think you’re a loser with no friends?” she asked.
“Um… no… because I know that I have friends who I care about in other classes.”
She relaxed her grip on the bench, and crossed her legs.
“Besides,” I continued, “if I went around worrying what everyone else was thinking all the time, I would never be happy.”
She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them as she mulled over what I said.
“I want to play volleyball, and my aunt Polly won’t let me,” she confided.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, then, that sounds like her problem.”
She didn’t say anything and hugged her legs harder.
“You know,” I said, “next year is the last year we will be at this school. Soon, we will be in a whole new school, with all new coaches and teachers.”
“Yeah,” she said, resting her head on her knees, “I can wait a year to play volleyball, I guess.”
“Yeah, of course you can.”
“Yeah…” she said thoughtfully, “that’s enough time to practice and get really good.”
“You would for sure get picked for the team then.”
We both sat in silence for a while.
“You know,” she said, “you would be a good friend.”