Locker Room


Judson Simmons

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 115 in 2008.

To the Man who created phys. ed.:
I salute you. With one hand angled
symmetrically to the head, and one
behind my back—fingers crossed.
I loathe you, and not just for flag football
or the early feminist treatments of boy
versus girl kickball, in the gym on those rain-
soaked days that seemed to inch by
as slowly as math class. But for 9:25 a.m.,
when Coach Rachin, our stubby coach
with a Napoleon complex, blew emphatically
into his whistle, signaled us
to place our basketballs away
in the cage, and then he’d utter words
still threaded deep into my mind,
a single line, more resonant than Social Studies
taped speeches of JFK or MLK Jr.—
Hit the showers. For me it was a daunting
thirty-yard stagger to the boys’ locker room,
like the long march to the principal’s office.
I prayed god would intervene
in the form of an attendance office note
or falling light fixture or even earthquakes—
we never had an earthquake my three years
in middle school. Instead, I ambled
into a purgatory of lost and sweaty socks,
praying I didn’t have to change
in front of anyone. As the other boys
packed into the locker room,
some wrapped in thin gym towels,
some prancing naked—I thought
of their mom’s whispering to themselves:
I really wanted a girl. I watched as the procession
filed into the all-tile shower, an open room
that held twenty boys at a time. And as I stood
in my swim trunks, about to enter
this shower—the tile and flailing
of precious bodies wrapped in a cloud
of confusion and heavy steam,
fear and mist— my thoughts were haunted
to History class and the photographs
of the gas chambers at Auschwitz.