He was accustomed to moving. He had moved nine times by the time he was fourteen. His dad had been in the military which meant a lot of moving but even after he left the Air Force he didn’t seem to be interested in any new job that wasn’t at least two time zones away.
Which meant the boy was familiar with the dread that was slowly taking hold of him. The first day at a new school. Lying in bed he could only imagine what fresh hell awaited him.
He was not a good-looking child. Non-athletic with a pasty complexion, he knew he was going to have to find the least popular group of kids and hope that there was an opening. He dressed as though he was about to enter the Alaskan wilderness. He was spindly in build and he hoped a few layers would add a little bulk to his frame.
T-shirt, dress shirt, t-shirt.
He stood at the bus stop, away from all the other kids. An awkward adolescent giraffe hoping the hyenas didn’t spot him.
It was deep into the second semester of his freshman year. As he approached the enormous high school his head swam at the sheer size of it. His last school had been a rural setting where the kids that disliked him were mostly farmer’s sons and daughters. Now here he was in the suburbs.
He made his way to the front office to pick up his schedule. One thought kept scrolling through his head; “How bad could it be?”
His first class was swimming.
That answered that.
He sat down in the office, his legs unable to bear the news let alone the weight of his body. He thought only major universities had swimming pools. “What kind of sick bastard puts a pool in a high school?” He put his head in his hands. Someone asked if he was ok and he gazed up at them with a look that caused them to draw in their breath sharply and haunted them for weeks.
He had enough time to find his locker and realize that he didn’t know the combination before he made his way down into the pool locker room. He could smell the chlorine before he saw the little sign.
He didn’t have a swimsuit. “Who brings a swimsuit to school?”
They provided him one. A shapeless black set of trunks that were so short that they would have cut into his balls if he’d have had any. He was a good two years away from puberty. The tile floor was freezing and he was surrounded by what appeared to be the cast of a surfing movie. Somewhere in the distance he could hear the snap of a wet towel.
“Where’s the fat kid?” His eyes darted around madly, hoping to find one teenager that looked as horrific in his swimsuit as he did.
There weren’t any.
He folded his arms across the space where his chest should have been and started to shuffle out the door to the waiting pool. When you were put together as he was it would surprise no one that he didn’t know how to swim. Cleary he was a youth that did not spend any time around water.
He turned the corner and saw the females in his class. And then they saw him. And he saw them see him, all the while pretending not to. He heard snickering but wasn’t sure if he was the cause.
The gym teacher marched in with practiced indifference and gave the order for his charges to enter the water. The boy rose to introduce himself but the man walked by him, his full attention being given to the whistle that he clutched in his beefy hands.
He shivered involuntarily. He had yet to say a word to anyone. He stood at the end of the pool and debated whether or not to hold his nose as he jumped in. If he did he would be putting the cherry on top of a very unflattering sundae. If he didn’t he would drown. At that moment the drowning sounded very appealing but he doubted that with this many people around they’d let him get off so easily. Somebody would haul him out of the water and he would splutter and cough and seal his doom as surely as if he’d held his nose to begin with.
“Let’s get this over with,” he thought and he hopped into the pool.
He surfaced clutching his nose and completely unaware that his borrowed swimsuit was no longer intact. It was sitting about knee-level.
The worst part about it? Nobody noticed.
He pulled them up and clung to the edge of the pool as his compatriots swam laps, splashed and played games. They called out to each other and laughed and the instructor blew his whistle whenever the opportunity presented itself and the boy clutched the side and treaded water and was completely ignored. It was clear that everybody there not only found him loathsome but would detest him as long as he was to attend this school.
When he was finally able to haul himself out of the water nobody hated him more than he hated himself. He was skinny and wrinkled and openly shook with cold.
He kept his eyes down. He didn’t want to see how the others were looking at him. Or through him.
He dressed and left the locker room, heading to his next class.
“How bad could it be?”
Tomorrow he would bring his own swimsuit.