Showdown in the Girls’ Locker Room!
Updated: Oct 22, 2020
"You! You can't hit me with a ball! No one hits me with a ball!" Amber Willis boomed
Junior high school! One might almost think the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities describes this kind of important yet also heinous time of one's life. It was not the best of times, but it was undoubtedly the worst of times!
Junior high is a time when your hormones are raging, you're highly concerned about what you wear every day, and you have to worry about someone stealing your clothes out of the locker room during gym class. For many of us, junior high, or middle school, as it is often called, was a time of significant change and growth. For those of us who were not part of the "in" crowd, junior high was sometimes a period of great difficulty.
Before I get into the mechanics of junior high, let me begin by telling you three things about me: I call things as I see them, and I have trouble pretending something is fantastic when I really think it's stupid. I also seldom back down in discussing or defending something I believe in or standing up for myself or people and causes I care about. I've been this way since I learned to talk.
I am not rude or anything (usually), and I do have the common sense to employ tact in how I speak to others, but I like to be straight up with people. Until one fateful day in eighth-grade gym class, I didn't realize there were times to talk and fight for my beliefs, and times to abandon my convictions and shut the hell up.
When I was in eighth grade, I had gym class every single day during the first period of the day. That's right! I got to smell foul for the entire day, well, if we did anything in gym class at all! I had a fantastic gym teacher who let us walk the track if we chose to. The more competitive students actually participated in sports. My interest in walking the track was motivated in equal parts by my lack of competitiveness and my desire not to stink when I sat next to the boy I liked during fourth period.
I had two friends in my gym class, a boy and a girl who shared my sentiments about first-period gym. We walked the track together, searched for four-leaf clovers in the grass, and sat in the bleachers on the side of the field to talk.
The more popular kids played cutthroat games of soccer. They even ran the track jumping hurdles! I would not have done either of those things unless a substantial monetary reward had been involved. It didn't matter, though, because we could have sat on the bleachers swigging a cold 40, and the teacher wouldn't have noticed or cared. That is what made him an awesome teacher!
The one sport I didn't mind playing was basketball. I had played all of my life with my brothers, and I was good enough at it that I could play with the more competitive kids and still do pretty well. So, one day in the winter, as my two friends walked the perimeter of the gym, I played basketball. At the end of the period, I walked back to the locker room. I bounced the basketball as I went. And that was my fatal mistake. I not only bounced the ball, but I tried to volley it off of my ankle and catch it. It flew away from me and out of my control.
It bounced off the back of a large girl who was twice my height and three times my width. She was an eighth-grader and, even today, the thought of her makes my knees knock, and almost makes me wet my pants.
The girl turned around, and, I swear, she looked like the James Bond villain Jaws, although a slightly, and I emphasize the word slightly, more feminine version. Still, she appeared no less deadly than Jaws at his very worst. I ran to pick up the ball, and Jaws glared down at me, murderous rage clouding her face. I grabbed the ball, apologized, and ran away into the locker room.
When I got inside, I put the basketball away and walked to the front of the changing area where I had left my clothes in a locker. A shadow appeared over me. I turned around, and there was Jaws, looming over me like a lion stalking a gazelle.
"You! You hit me with the ball!" she shouted in the voice of Megatron from Transformers.
"Yes, but I apologized," I said, sounding more confident than I felt.
"You! You can't hit me with a ball! No one hits me with a ball!" she boomed.
That was probably the moment at which I began trembling.
"Now," she said, "You better say you're sorry!"
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
"Say, "I'm sorry!" she barked at me like a drill sergeant in the army.
"I'm, I'm sorry," I spouted, on the verge of crying.
As she "talked," she edged me back into a corner, up against a wall in the locker room. There was no one else in sight, and I had a vision of one of the female PE coaches finding my broken body in that corner, tossed aside like last week's trash. I began to prepare myself for death. I can't say my life flashed before my eyes or anything, but I probably considered which of my friends I would leave my burgeoning makeup collection to. As I cowered, hoping my dismemberment would be swift and painless, the girl bellowed one more command.
"Now, say, "I'm sorry, Amber Willis!"
I reacted like an obedient dog.
"I'm sorry, Amber Willis! Very, very sorry."
The girl stared at me and, like Dirty Harry, said, "Now, don't do it again."
With that, she turned and exited the locker room. I noticed I was not dead and had not peed my pants. I changed into my school clothes and went to my next class. Throughout the day, my friends consoled me. I was terrified Amber Willis would come back to seek her revenge the next day or the next week or the next month. But, she never did.
I guess she wanted to assert her dominance and make sure I understood the junior high gym class pecking order. After that, you better believe I did! No longer did I walk to the locker rooms, carelessly bouncing a basketball. From then on, I held any object that could potentially hit Amber Willis tightly against my body, and I began to use a buddy system in the locker room.
I made sure I was with at least one other girl at all times. Then, if Amber Willis approached for an assault, there would be someone to run for help and to hopefully get back to me before I bled out.
I cannot say I would relive my junior high school years for anything in the world, except maybe for the part where I ate junky food all day long and didn't gain weight. I would certainly never want to re-experience the horror that was junior high gym class. But, Amber Willis taught me an important lesson: there are times to protest and times to shut up. Any interaction with Amber Willis was a time to shut up.
Over the years, I have learned to temper my honesty, especially when someone wields a lot of power or could easily beat me up. Today I am still honest, I usually say what I think, and I still defend myself and others. But now, there is much less of a chance that I'll receive a physical or metaphorical beating for doing so.
Hooray for progress!