Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series take a look:
“Dissociation — complete dissociation — is an emotional protection strategy that totally and completely removes painful realities from the mind and body of the survivor.”
― Kathy Broady, LCSW
Mom and Grandma decided I needed swim lessons. I was excited, thinking I would become a super swimmer like Aqua Man, a graceful diver like the guy I saw on the high dive the day I almost drowned. Grandma bought me a bright red pair of swimming trunks because the YMCA did not permit jean cutoffs like I had worn at the lake. I liked them a lot, especially because they had white racing stripes on the sides.
Well, Grandma was the kind to launder new clothing before permitting me to wear it for real, harping about not knowing how many people had tried them on before purchase. “You don’t want to catch nasty diseases, do you?”
“No Grandma, I don’t.”
The problem came when she pulled a load of laundry out of the drier. Somehow, my trunks got mixed in with the white stuff: the towels, t-shirts, and underwear, and the bright red dye bled onto the previously white garments, turning them pink. My trunks looked pink, too, and I had a sudden change of heart regarding swim lessons.
“I don’t want to wear them.”
Grandma frowned at me, glasses sliding down her nose. This made her eyes look smaller, her squint narrow. “What did you say?”
“No, Grandma, please…”
“I spent all that money, and you WILL wear them.”
Mortified but silenced, I did as Grandma said. I agreed to go to swim lessons with pink trunks and a pink towel, certain I would be teased by the other boys in class.
It was my first time in a locker room. I heard boys roughhousing somewhere beyond a tall row of gray lockers at least twice my height. Their voices echoed off white tiles covering the walls from floor to ceiling. I peeked around a corner and saw them standing in the showers, playing, snapping wet towels at each other.
Their rowdy voices and laughter frightened me, and I heard the towels snap, saw mist erupting from the ends of twisted cloth like snake venom spit through the air. Some of the boys got stung by those towels, leaving red marks on their thighs, their bellies. They howled with pain but continued the contest, grinning with anger, determined to inflict pain upon their peers. I wanted nothing of it, and I especially didn’t want to be seen by this maniac squad of boys armed with wet whips.
I sat on a bench and listened, hiding from view until, finally, a man walked into the locker room blasting a whistle. The tweets echoed off the tile walls, amplifying the sound. I held hands over ears until he stopped.
“All right boys, it’s time to stop playing grab-ass!”
My ears rang, but I still heard the boys snickering. “He said grab-ass!”
The man glared at them, almost smiling but keeping a stern tone of voice. “Line up!”
“Yes, coach,” a chorus of voices responded. The boys crowded into the locker room, jostling each other to be first in line. I ambled out of hiding, sneaking my way to the back of the line, hoping I wouldn’t be seen.
“Young man,” the coach said. I ignored him, thinking he must have been talking to someone else.
“Hey there, pink shorts.”
I froze. He WAS talking to me. My spine tingled.
The boys turned to look at me, stifling laughter. “Hey, pink shorts,” they said, mimicking the coach.
So much for not being seen.
“Nobody gets in my pool without taking a shower first.”
Another swim instructor entered the locker room. He was younger than the coach, lean and muscular with a short haircut. He looked mean, smirking at the boys as the coach ordered them out to the pool. He lingered behind, watching me.
“Go ahead, get in the shower.”
I walked into the shower room. One of the showers was still running and thankfully still warm. I stood beneath the spray, letting the water drip down my face, grateful for something to mask the tears welling in my eyes.
“Are you crying?”
I blinked my eyes and wiped my face. “No…”
“No, I’m not,” I almost screamed. This young man reminded me of Uncle Jim and the way he teased me.
“Take your shorts off.”
“You heard me.”
I recalled the other boys showered with their swim trunks on. I didn’t understand why the young man wanted me to be naked.
“Take them off!”
When I took my shorts down, I had an erection. I don’t know why. It felt like my body had betrayed me. The young man noticed, though, and he laughed.
“Pull em up.”
I obeyed, and he tossed me my pink towel. It landed on the floor, soaking up water. I left the showers and stumbled into the locker room, wary the young man might be waiting for me, wanting to further humiliate me. I started toward the pool.
“Where’re you going?”
“To the pool?”
“Not yet. I have to inspect you.” The young man beckoned me to meet him behind the row of lockers.
Once there he slammed me against the gray metal, the back of my head digging into a row of vent holes. I felt the dripping of liquid down the back of my neck, but I couldn’t tell if it was blood or water.
The young man brandished a knife and put a hand over my mouth. He yanked my trunks to my ankles, held the knife to my privates, and sneered.
“If you scream, I’ll cut your balls off and turn you into a girl.”
My first thought… Go ahead. Do it! But I couldn’t have spoken or squeaked to save my life. I had been seized by fear. My next thought… Oh no! I’ll bleed to death!
I don’t know how to describe what happened next. Not exactly. The room spun, and I felt faint.
Then, I was outside myself, looking at the young man as he grabbed me, making me do things I didn’t know could be done.
I couldn’t look at myself, though, especially not my face. I thought if I did, I would die. I don’t know how long I lingered outside my body, but it felt like that time underwater, muffled sound, slow-motion movement, that dreamy limbo, and… painlessness.
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Last Updated May 1, 2021, 10:39 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor