I don’t necessarily like swimming. And it’s not just the swimming itself (although that is a small part of it), but more so the time spent in the locker room before and after. I haven’t always been a fan of locker rooms, which is a feeling that goes back to what most would call junior high. An anxiety was born then that I guess I never got over, even though I sometimes I pretend I have… until something happens that brings it all back.
It was the first day of seventh grade, and our class was going to take trips to the YMCA once a week that school year, or at least that’s what Mr. Jones was telling us before I tuned out. You see, seventh grade was the year my voice started to change. It was subtle at first, the squeaking of the mouse becoming the croak of the bullfrog, and it often split when I was in the most public of situations, but my voice wasn’t the larger problem. That belonged to the rest of the changes.
I had been a chunky child, and by chunky I mean pretty hefty in the middle. It wasn’t something I particularly noticed, but it was particularly noticeable by others. Because of it I had been called many names, not the least of which were about both my belly and my chest. For some reason when the weight is “lying heavy” it distributes itself in certain ways. For me it had the added bonus of giving me a larger than average chest, or what some chose to call “man breasts.” Can you imagine: a preteen boy and the teasing I routinely got whenever I wore t-shirts?
So I was dying for a growth spurt, something that would stretch me out and hopefully deal with those man breasts, and with the ridicule that accompanied them. And after my freshman year of high school it finally kicked in, that much-awaited growth spurt, and I shot up over 8 inches over the course of the summer and fall. But perhaps the worst thing happened as a result. My belly disappeared, but my man breasts stuck around. At least when I was large all around I had an excuse for them.
I cried myself to sleep many times during that winter after my growth spurt because I knew spring would come, and I couldn’t keep hiding under sweaters much longer. But then spring came, and summer after, and it seemed like no one was really concerned, as if the only thing that mattered was that I had gotten so much taller. People stopped calling me names, and things improved in my social life, but to me I was still that kid, the one who was always ridiculed for what I honestly couldn’t help physically. And in some ways I still feel that way, so many years later.
Which brings me back to the locker room. I was in one yesterday, after my family went swimming, and I still had a touch of self-consciousness regarding my body. I have it every single time I find myself in that most vulnerable of situations. I looked around before dropping my towel, to make sure no one was watching, to make sure no one was pointing and laughing. And no one was. They were all intent on their own selves, and they were paying me absolutely no mind.
Maybe at some point I’ll stop thinking about it. Maybe pigs will actually fly someday. But these locker room blues have to play themselves out before a blessed silence will come.