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Posted on June 1st, 2012

Tighten Your Drawstring

The bell rings.

It’s time for gym class. I don’t understand how anyone could possibly think kids would want to be running around in gym class at seven thirty in the morning. But nonetheless here we are. The boys come in yelling and screaming. Such barbarians. The girls walk in small groups, shuffling their way across the dirty gym floor and enter the girl’s locker room to get changed.

Five minutes pass.

We all arrive at the solid black line that lies along the width of the gym to take attendance. The boys stand in line, with their Nikes and Adidas gym shorts. Some girls are in short shorts, some in baggy sweats, and of course you have the girls rocking the super tight sweats with the muffin top.

Today’s fun activity is going to be soccer. Meg always wears baggy sweatpants to gym because it’s a comfortable way to start the day. I did the same. We were gym buddies. We were friendly towards each other in school, but didn’t know one another once we stepped off the bus in the afternoon. Unfortunately baggy pants are not the best choice for running around, especially when playing soccer.

The teams were divided up; co-ed teams, so that no one had any advantages. The ball was kicked around for a warm up and within the next ten minutes we had a full blown game going. Well, as full-blown as gym class game of soccer can get when most of the girls play dumb and refuse to make contact with the ball. But Meg is something else. She overcomes her baggy sweatpants and plays like a pro. If the women’s league still existed, I would say she would have a future there. She made some of the boys look like fools with her touches, tricks, and moves.

The frustration was clearly building up inside Robbie. Get schooled by a girl in a man’s sport? Please. Robbie had complete control of the ball and charged like a bull, head on towards Meg. With a twinkle in her eye, she stood innocently waiting for his arrival. With exquisite timing she side-steps the tackle and steals the ball from her rival. Robbie face-plants the cold, dirty floor of the gym. He watches from the ground as she trots off, burning the rest of his allies and scoring behind his last line of defense. Not only did Meg steal the ball, she stole the last of his patience and sanity.

I was standing on the side line watching the game. The vice principal walks in and stares for a moment before speaking to our teacher. She needed to see him for a moment. “Keep it up guys; I’ll be back in a few.” Both chaperones are gone; the eyes of protection have been shut out of the room. Meg crosses the ball to the opposite field in hopes of a goal to be scored, but the other striker lacks her skill. Meg stands still; waiting. It’ll come back. What’s Robbie doing? He’s sneaking up behind Meg. What a prankster.

I blink.

An earth shattering scream echoes off the walls of the gymnasium. My eyes open. Meg stands alone. Screaming. Her baggy sweat pants were her downfall. They sit awkwardly around her ankles; her pale skin exposed for all eyes to see. Robbie had joined up with his friends in laughing, with a broad, devilish grin upon his face. Several of the other girls, including myself, stood mortified. Needless to say drawstrings were tightened. By the time I looked back, Meg had fixed herself, but the damage was done. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she sprinted away, tail between her legs, and took cover in the locker room. The door slams. Another opens. The teacher is back. “What’s going on? Get back to the game guys, lets’ go!” The game continues; Robbie scores. No one says a word about Meg.

I followed her into the locker room. She was huddled up in the corner bawling her eyes out. She saw me come in; I stood uncomfortably before her. “Are you okay?” What a stupid question. She didn’t respond. Stupid questions don’t deserve answers. I wasn’t her best friend so it didn’t feel right for me to go over and be the one to console her with a hug. “I’ll walk with you to the office and we can tell the principal what happened.”

“NO. No school officials need to know about this.” Her eyes were red when she looked up at me. “I don’t want everyone to think I’m lame and a tattle tale. This is just whatever, I’ll get over it.”

That’s when it occurred to me that I had never seen Meg cry before. She was a tough cookie; she had a reputation to keep. She was more popular than me, very smart, and athletic. She wasn’t going to let a little gym incident tear her down. That wouldn’t be like Meg at all. I couldn’t go tell the principal either. I didn’t want to be lame, or un-cool; especially not a tattle tale. The bell rang, signifying the end of the period. She took off in a direction that was not toward our next class.

Meg was absent in math class that day. I didn’t see her at lunch. Her presence was lacking in English during last period. The bus stopped at her house, but she wasn’t aboard to get off. As we were passing her house I saw her standing, hiding, in the window behind a curtain. This pattern continued for the next week. And the week after.

I was at my locker one morning gathering my books when the locker next to mine opened. It hadn’t been opened for two weeks. Meg was back. I looked up at her and saw tears welling in her eyes; her cheeks redder than any rose on Valentine’s Day. That’s when I heard it. Laughter was bouncing around the halls. Robbie and his posse of gangsters were high-fiving. How proud they were for completely humiliating a girl by pantsing her. All because she had a talent. Not a single teacher caught on, either. They heard the taunts but instead of asking what happened, they just ushered the students on to their next class.

The name-calling went on for months after the incident. Meg never reappeared in gym class that year. She became quiet and lonely, and skipped school a lot. It was tough trying to get through English class when all I had to talk to was her empty desk. Towards the end of that school year, I sat with Meg on the bus one afternoon. She didn’t take much to my attempts at making conversation. She seemed depressed. When we got to her stop she told me goodbye. Normally she would see me off with a “see you later.” I watched as she walked down the path to her front door. There was a for-sale sign on the property. It was stamped with a four latter word: SOLD. I felt nothing but shame, and tightened my drawstring.

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