It Clicked

I was not insecure in junior high. Not much.

This is a fact that surprises me every time I take the opportunity to recall it. I had every reason to be insecure. I transferred to my neighborhood junior high school after six years of attending the elementary school where my mom taught across town. Because all my elementary school friends were moving on to their proper junior highs, and I to mine, I knew very few kids in the seventh grade on that first day of school.

Yet for some reason, I wasn’t very scared.

I was tall and gangly, with glasses and greasy hair.

But that didn’t really phase me.

There, at the height of preadolescence, when every kid is supposed to be suffering in the crucible of self-acceptance and boy-girl birthday parties, I was the kid who didn’t get the memo. (Don’t worry, my insecurities came soon enough. But that is a different story, one that starts with Volley and ends with Ball.)

I joined student council. I played in band. I got active in sports. In seventh grade, high off my successful graduation from elementary school, it never even occurred to me that I was actually the kind of girl who should’ve been hiding in a corner, sitting in the back of the class, drawing absolutely no attention to myself whatsoever.

I figured I pretty much owned the place.

Until Physical Education became a part of my life.

P.E.—otherwise known as the bane of my very existence—was a different drill in junior high than in elementary school.

In elementary school, P.E. meant climbing ropes in the gym (a feat I never actually accomplished), playing Red Light/Green Light in the soccer field outside room 36, and coming down with asthma so I wouldn’t have to participate in Track and Field day (until the water fight at the end, of course, whereupon my asthma miraculously healed itself). P.E. was great—a welcome relief from the drudgery of times tables.

In junior high, however, P.E. meant only one thing: dressing out.

Back in elementary school, there was no such thing as a locker room. There were no cotton jersey T-shirts and red knee-length uniform shorts. There were no showers, no aisles of lockers, no shirtless classmates standing six inches away from me in every direction.

And it was the shirtless classmates that really got to me. A sheltered little Mormon girl, I had never even looked at my own breasts let alone anyone else’s. Sex, to me, was the foulest of dirty words, right up there with the Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, what are these rhyme.

I was repressed, is what I’m saying.

Telling me that I had to take off my shirt in front of a jury of my peers was like asking me to spear myself through the throat with a ballpoint pen and then sing all four acts of La Bohème.

That first week of school we were exempt from dressing out—nothing like procrastination for brewing a spewing batch of teenage angst, you know. The weekend before we would all be required to get nakey in front of each other, I moaned around the house, wailing something very stereotypical like Why Me? or I Hate My Life.

My sister tried to tell me it wasn’t a big deal, that she’d been doing it for two years, and it would get easier, but I wasn’t buying it. Then she tried to teach me a tricky way to change my shirt without exposing myself—some ridiculous maneuver like: put one shirt on over the first shirt, and then wiggle out of the underneath shirt while keeping the arms through the holes of the top shirt and spelling Mississippi backwards ten times fast—but I wasn’t enough of a contortionist.

Resigned to my fate, I went to bed on Sunday night with visions of sugarplums dying in my head.

Finally, during sixth period on Monday, the time had come for me to expose myself. My fellow classmates looked around at each other, laughing nervously when the coach gave the order—it sounded like a death sentence. A few of the smart girls claimed the three toilet stalls right away, leaving the rest of us kicking ourselves for not thinking of that sooner.

As I stood there with my workout clothes in my hands, I felt my brain kick in to survival mode. I focused on my shiny new padlock—I’d memorized my combination weeks ago in my fervor to be awesome at junior high—and pretended like there was nothing in the locker room but it and me.

Sixteen, eighteen, zero zero.

Off went the highwater jeans.

Sixteen, eighteen, zero zero.

I realised I’d forgotten to change my underwear that morning.

Sixteen, eighteen, zero zero.

Like a torpedo, I shoved both of my size-nine feet through the legs of my shorts at the same time, and they were on.

Sixteen, eighteen, zero zero.

I took a deep breath, and stripped my spaghetti-strap tank top layered over my white undershirt (a very popular look for Mormon girls that year). My hands were shaking.

I was naked except for my training bra. (I might as well have been a pole dancer for as vulgar as that was to me.)

Sixteen, eighteen, zero zero.

I could do this.

Sixteen, eighteen, zero zero.

And just like that, my gym shirt was on. I was fully clothed.

With a pounding heart, I peeked furtively around the room—not wanting to be accused of voyeurism, but needing to know if it was safe to sit on the bench and lace up my tennis shoes—and discovered what quite literally got me through the next five years of my secondary education:

Nobody was looking at me.

All those girls had been staring at their lockers, too. We were all in survival mode together.

“Don’t worry what other people think about you, because they are too busy worrying what you’re thinking about them to think anything about you whatsoever.” It’s such a cliché, and I had heard it before; but it took my own personal Hell—purification by fire, if you will—to discover that it was (mostly) true.

The combination travelled with me from locker to locker through junior high and high school—sixteen, eighteen, zero zero. Before every volleyball game, basketball game, and track meet, I stood in front of that lock and recited my combination while avoiding the gaze of my teammates. In front of that padlock, I learned the joys of Old Spice Pure Sport™ deodorant, braided ponytails, and underwire bras.

Nine years after that fateful day in seventh grade, as I packed up the bedroom I had inhabited for the majority of my life in preparation to move to Canada with my brand new husband, I found the padlock in my underwear drawer. I ran through the same debate with the lock as I did with every other object that had been valuable to me at some point in the history of my life:

Keep it or toss it? I don’t really need it…I haven’t had a locker since I graduated. But it still works! And I might need to lock something up someday. But I have enough junk in my life as it is—this will be just one more thing to load into our moving trailer.

I tossed it into a box.

Three years after that, I found myself sorting through a catch-all basket on the top of my husband’s dresser. I had just thrown out a handful of ridiculous receipts from 2006, and was going in for another round, when my fingers brushed the cold, weighty metal lock. I knew what it was immediately, before I even lifted it out of the basket.

“My old lock from school!” I thought. “I wonder if this still works?”

Without hesitation, my fingers nimbly flicked the red dial through its old right-left-right routine:

Sixteen, eighteen, zero zero.

And it clicked.

About Camille

I'm Camille. I have a butt-chin. I live in Canada. I was born in Arizona. I like Diet Dr. Pepper. Hello. You can find me on Twitter @archiveslives, Facebook at facebook.com/archivesofourlives, instagram at ArchivesLives, and elsewhere.
This entry was posted in Canada, change, introspection, looking back, self-actualisation, short stories/vignette, this little girl. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to It Clicked

  1. Spencer says:

    Dying of laughter. Growing up in a house of four boys, I thought the awkwardness of the junior high locker room didn’t apply to girls. Now I know.

  2. anna says:

    I can’t remember ever caring about changing my shirt in front of people… guess I was just a little hooch. Ha ha.

    I think I’m going to write a letter to Cox letting them know the main reason I’m disappointed in them for not being able to connect our Internet when promised is because it prevented me from having the chance to win one of your flowers.

  3. Anonymous says:

    And it’s posts like these that reinforce the fact that you should be an author. When in doubt, come back and read this. It’s a beautifully written tale.

  4. chelsie says:

    Yes, just beautiful. I don’t know if it is Tom or what but it had me bawling like a baby! How I miss you sometimes! (really, all the time)

  5. irene says:

    I loved. Even if it meant suffering for you in the past, it is really well written :) I never had to go through something like this, we never changed after PE until the last year and we had toilets.

  6. Chloe says:

    Loved it. This post is one of my favorite. :)

  7. Katie says:

    I can’t believe you “developed” asthma, too! In fifth grade, we had to run a mile, and I told my P.E. teacher I had asthma. “If I ask the school nurse, will she know you have asthma?”
    “Um…yes?”

  8. Whitney says:

    Oh those were the days. I loved being on the Vball team so you got to dress out in the team locker room. SOOO much easier to get undressed in front of a few girls opposed to a bazillion.

  9. Fantastic post! Made me laugh from beginning to end. Probably because it hit so close to home. I can remember similar emotions rushing through my junior high mind.

    -C

  10. Sharon Blackwell-MItchell says:

    This one ranks to the top Camille. Nicely done.

  11. seven years after graduating from high school and i still have nightmares that i forgot my combination and can’t get my books out of the locker in time for class. so pathetic.

    (loved this. so well written.)

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  13. Dutch girl says:

    Loved this story, thank you! :)

  14. Christal says:

    That was awesome! We’ve all been there! I still have my lock from school too and guess what I can still remember it!! its kind of like music you haven’t heard for a long time and the lyrics just come right back to you same thing eh!!

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