Escape of the Gymnasium

As I sat in a managerial meeting, nervously taking the wrath from demanding hierarchy management, my mind began to drift back to an incident in my early childhood…

“Nice shot Shrimps!” There I was shooting the basketball in gym class, all five foot four inches, 125 pounds of me. I am known as “Shrimps,” but my real name is Donald I am a small kid, with the heart of a kitten. Patiently waiting for the school bell to ring, to notify me and the rest of the school it was time to go home for the day and come back again in a week and half, I could hardly wait to get home and show my parents my straight A report card. It seemed like two life times had passed already, but I was still stuck there waiting to hear the ring of the damn bell. All of a sudden, I realized Lenord was headed into my vicinity. My pulse began to race, sweat dripping from my forehead; I continued to shoot the basketball. Soon I became scared, so scared I thought I was going to wet myself. The threat was real, very real, but this wasn’t the first time I’d been in danger and sure seemed like it wouldn’t be the last.

I can still see him even now, with a crystal clear vivid image of him. How could anyone forget what he looked like? Everyone in the school knew him as J Dog, but behind the slang name J Dog, he was known to all too many as Lenord. Lenord was double the size of any average Joe his age, standing tall looking over the top of his peer’s heads desperately awaiting someone to step in his way. J Dog, the big fat aggressive pain in everyone’s bottom, the school bully. J Dog was always with four of his immediate peers. J Dog generally picked fights with weaker students. He would abuse them with his strength and powerful vocal cords, which built his ego on his victims.

For nearly the past seven years I have watched him and his four man mafia pick on younger boys. I can not even count the times on my twenty fingers and toes that I was the onlooker, watching sadly from the “birds eye view,” waiting for their time to come and be put in their place. One incident I witnessed was when J Dog and his four man mafia picked a fight with a varsity football player. As I observed the attack through the bathroom stall the fight seemed too unfair. J Dog and his crew attacked the peer in the boys’ bathroom. They all took their turns aggressively punching and kicking the peer. I sat in the stall curled up on the toilet, bracing myself nearly feeling every blow. Showing no remorse they continued on their brutal attack until they seemed too tired to go on. The fight ended with a vicious kick to the face by J Dog.

Constantly and repetitively J Dog and his crew moved away from the school handbook and the countless school policies that it entailed. Yes indeed I knew what they were doing, as well as everyone else at the school including the school staff, but no one took the time to create a peaceful environment. It just seemed that no one would stand up to their mischievous behavior. I never understood why this was this way. Why do we all sit here back on our heels and watch this reckless’ abandon go on with his terror? We were all equally guilty, guilty as J Dog and his fellow perpetrators. The longer we stood back and accepted their behavior and the longer they were able to rage throughout the school, the stronger they became. This was not a good thing for me, or for the entire school.

J Dog and his four brotherhood boys came for me one spring morning. In fact it was the last day of school prior to a well anticipated eleven day Easter break. I’d been playing basketball with a few of my peers in the schools’ gymnasium. Looking on the other side of the gym behind a set of bleachers, sat J Dog and his fellow four up to no good teasing and laughing at fellow students. The obnoxious jerk himself, Lenord, and his four manned mafia soon came to the side of the gym where I was playing basketball. Before I had the chance to warn my friends I heard abruptly, “Donald, you four-eyed worthless piece of shit,” the bully said. “It’s your turn.”

My heart hit rock bottom, feeling myself gasp for air, I asked myself “oh no here we go, I think it is my turn to be plum bulled, or isn’t it?” Such simple words, so much unsaid. I didn’t need any further explanations. I knew what they wanted and it was not their sanity back. As mentioned earlier I’d seen others after they’d had their turn. It was never a pretty sight. Too many times over the years I have witnessed the brutal attacks on my fellow classmates. In time they would have progressed beyond schoolyard aggression, sinking lower into the anti-social status of the criminal underworld. They’d never be leaders of any kind, just straight up thugs. They’d been well schooled in this art.

I had never once in my life been in a fight. Well unless my sister counts? To say I was scared of the upcoming attack would have been an understatement. I was petrified. I knew if I was not careful in what I said or did I may end up dead. As I sat there overshadowed by five ruthless thugs, I knew that even in a fair fight I couldn’t possibly win. Other students swirled around us, isolating our little group. It was well known everyone in the oval knew of the intended attack. Sweating profusely, I was nearly drowned in my own sweat, knowing what was waiting for me, wondering why he didn’t just lash out and end this mockery, this teasing. I did not even realize then that he’d had to work himself into a frenzy so he could just hit, and hit, and hit.

“What’s up, Shrimps? Don’t you want your pretty boy face all smashed up like everyone else in this school? Or will you be upset because you will need a face lift?”

As I sat there I could only think of dumb things like this girl name Ashley sucking her thumb and my friend telling me to imagine my peers naked while giving a speech. Only the sight of these two things registered on my numbed, frightened brain.

“Why don’t you leave me alone? Go annoy someone else.” I took the basketball and dropped it at my feet.

“Are you throwing the basketball at me, Shrimps?” He snorted, searching for any excuse to start a fight with me. I didn’t want to give him an excuse. He stood there warlike; hands on hips, wearing his all blue attire. His stomach fat erupted through ragged holes in his once blue t-shirt. Supporting the color blue was what J Dog felt was the holiest color known to mankind.

“Don’t be silly, I just dropped it at my feet,” I whined, not at all mentally prepared for the brutal assault.

“I know you didn’t just call J Dog silly,” one of his collogues shouted. “Or I’ll flatten you myself. Come on J Dog, give the idiot a reason to talk back and let’s get the hell out of here. It is just too hot in here to have to put up with all of this shit,” he added as he grinded his teeth, showing the enormous gap in his bottom teeth, so enormous I could kick a field goal through it.

“You call me silly, did you? You’re nothing but a poor excuse for human life. You can run to the teachers all you like, see, I am not afraid of them.”

Thoughts began to race inside me. I wondered why school authorities put up with him. Too many times Lenord and his four mates’ behavior were over looked. School fights happened; sometimes students went home a little worse for wear. I could not help to notice that in a mere two minutes the bell would sound. Thinking to myself will that bell ever ring and let me out of this mess I got myself into?

I responded to this coward known to too many as J Dog, “I didn’t call you silly; I just said I did not throw the basketball at you.” I was answered by a heavy push in the chest, the first sign of physical violence. Staggering back, it was followed by another massive blow from the aggressive J Dog. He stepped back up to me, face to face, as J Dogs four amigos stood close beside him, crowding me like flies on dead carcass.

“Won’t you stay and fight?” He spit little specks of salvia at me but I dared not acknowledge them. “Bloody little coward.”

He’d been right; I was a coward, so scared I couldn’t run, even if I wanted to, even if there’d been somewhere to go and get away from the mess I was in. I silently choked back sobs, fighting to hold back tears of terror. The panic controlled me; I stood there looking like a buffoon right in front of Lenord, his four friends, my best friend, twenty other students, and one especially hot girl named Cindy. Again the palms of his massive hands stabbed at my chest and, again, I staggered back. I felt the impact of his hands long after they’d abruptly returned to his hips. The five men closed back up on me as we danced further away from the gymnasium bleachers or what I like to call protection from a fall and embarrassment. I felt my grip on reality slipping further and further away.

Others were here to only see another beating set forth by J Dog and to witness my shame. Not that J Dog and his mates wouldn’t let everyone know how well, or poorly, I took the abuse. There was a certain honor in taking your licking like a man. I hadn’t felt like a man, and had been sure there was little honor in J Dog. However, I couldn’t hide for the rest of my life. It had been time to stop the hopelessness and stand up for myself and for the rest of the school population. It had to be all or nothing. I preferred nothing, but in the back of my head I wanted nothing more than to set the example.

Putting on a brave face, I firmed my voice and looked the outsized buffoon in the eye. “I know you can beat me like a red headed step daughter, I don’t doubt it at all.” As the jittered mess in my voice came out I wanted to look and feel confident in what I said to this animal. “But Lenord,” I added, “Just remember one thing. When I hit the ground, so too will your front teeth, you worthless coward. I’ll get one punch in, you know I will, and that punch will be directed right for your front teeth. When I am done with you, you will no longer look like the donkey you look and smell like now! Is beating me up worth losing your front teeth?” I was being optimistic, I doubted that I could even get in one punch; I doubted even if delivered I could have knocked out any of his teeth.

The reaction from the overweight J Dog was almost priceless. Suddenly it was the bully who backed off, looked lost, looked everywhere but at his bewildered fellows or me. “Er… er…” he stuttered, “you’re not worth the effort, you are just a waste of my breath, you little crap headed pansy. I wouldn’t waste my spit on you. You better get away from me before I change my mind and pound the crap out of you.” Now I was the one standing aggressively, hands on hips, watching the fast disappearing of the other bullies as they soon walked away in disbelief. Cocky in my arrogance, I spit out a final mouth of spit in their vicinity. It had been the most rewarding victory of my life, standing there on that field of honor, knowing that I had conquered the mighty, invincible J Dog. I wanted to shout it out to the rest of the school and let everyone in the school district know of J Dog’s defeat.

My mind switched off that near death episode, back to the present, to the here and now. Hierarchy management surrounded me, trying to pressure me and abide to their will. Tacky school clothes were replaced with tailored business suits, the overt threat of violence with an undercurrent of raw power. Things hadn’t changed. As before, I was the underdog, the potential victim. These smiling men were planning on beating me far worse than the luckless J Dog could ever have imagined. Here I was fighting for my life, my work life, and for the future of my family and myself. I could lose everything. I felt too old to start everything all over again. These smiling piranhas had planned on chewing me up and spitting out the bones.

I had to fight for myself and for what I knew was right, and it was time to either stand up and fight their smirking aggression, or lie down and die like a dog. I thought again of J Dog the bully, remembering how quickly he’d collapsed after I stood in his way of destruction. Clearing my throat, I looked straight in the owner’s eyes. “This is what should happen,” I began, as an idea rushed into my mind. Fully knowing what I was going to say, I continued as I spilled out the beans.

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