Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Nowhere Safe

I don't remember anything about any of my classes the day after the beating. I was preoccupied with planning how I was going to get out of changing into gym clothes, playing basketball in gym shorts, then showering afterward. I had to create a whole scenario in my head; really think it through.

How could I change into my gym clothes without the bruises below my panties showing? It would be too weird to take my gym clothes into the bathroom to change. How was I going to hide the bruises on the back of my legs just below where my gym shorts stopped? Once on the basketball court, everyone running behind me would see the bruising. Maybe I could fake sickness.

By the time I headed to gym class, my last class of the day, I was in a heightened state of anxiety, embarrassment and shame, fighting back the lump in my throat.

I entered the locker room, trying to act normal and nonchalant. I tried to move a little slower than usual, but not so slow as to draw attention to myself. I didn't say anything to anyone and no one spoke to me. I felt invisible yet raw and conspicuous. While the other girls chatted and dressed quickly, I pulled my gym clothes out of my locker and placed them on the bench in front of the lockers and stuffed my purse and books in their place. I turned around and sat down on the bench with my back to the row of lockers, took off my shoes and sat them on the bench next to me. I was stalling.

Still sitting with my back to the lockers, I unbuttoned my blouse, pulled each arm out one at a time, folded it neatly and sat it next to my shoes. I unbuttoned the waistband of my skirt, stood up and lowered it far enough to step out of it, then folded it neatly and set it on top of my blouse.

The locker room was emptying quickly as my classmates, generally in pairs, headed to the gym. My ploy was working.

Still standing up, I pulled my slip off over my head, then quickly sat down again. I rolled it into a ball and added it to the pile of clothing. I reached over and grabbed my t-shirt and slipped it over my head.

The last two girls left my row and there were only five or six girls left in the gym besides me.

I grabbed my gym shorts, stood up and quickly pulled them up, then sat down to put on my socks and tennis shoes. By the time I finished, I was the only one left in the locker room.

I knew I was going to be late to the gym. That was my plan. I would run breathless into the gym and pretend to twist my ankle. I couldn't play basketball with a twisted ankle and Miss Derby would bench me for the whole period. That's what I was hoping. I could sit in the bleachers, hiding all the evidence.

As I left the locker room for the gym, my heart was pounding. "Stay to the right. Run toward the bleachers," I told myself. I ran through the hallway and through the door into the gym, headed slightly to the right. Just as I reached the basketball court's outside boundary, I yelled, "Ow!" in the most painful voice I could muster. I slowed my running immediately to a walk with a limp, favoring my right foot.

Almost everyone stopped and looked at me, including Miss Derby, who was standing center court.

I limped as quickly as possible to the bottom row of the bleachers and sat down just a few feet from the end, stretching my right leg out in front of me and reaching down to rub my faux injury. Just then, Miss Derby was standing in front of me.

"Are you okay, Terri? What happened?"

"I twisted my ankle, Miss Derby," I said in a pained voice. "It hurts when I walk."

"You probably should see the nurse."

Nooooo, I thought. If I get up and walk out of here then everyone will see!  

I looked up at her, trying not to look like a begging puppy. "Can I just sit here awhile and see if it gets better?"

She squatted down and gently touched spots around my ankle. "It doesn't look swollen." Acquiescing, she said, "Okay, but if you start to get some swelling, you'll need to have her take a look at it."

"Okay," I said, relieved.

I sat there the rest of the period, watching my classmates play basketball. Miss Derby looked over at me from across the court a couple of times and mouthed the words, "You okay?" I nodded affirmatively.

I was a little apprehensive about how I was going to leave the gym when the period was over, but my concern dissipated considerably when Miss Derby blew her whistle to dismiss the class and everyone ran for the door.

I stood up, but waited until Miss Derby was in front of me before heading out of the gym, then faux-limped my way along side her, back to the locker room, where she went in the opposite direction to her office. I grabbed a towel from the metal shelves near the entrance and when I reached my locker row, almost everyone was in the showers.

The shower was mandatory, even if you didn't participate, unless you had a special note from your parents. I had planned to be the last one in so I could shower alone. I would be late leaving for my walk home, but it was Friday and I didn't care. I would make up a story if I had to. I forgot a book and I had to run back to get it. Miss Derby asked me to help her pick up any towels left in locker room. Anything for cover.

Alone in the row, I unlocked my locker and removed my school clothes and sat them down on the bench. I sat down on the bench with my back toward the lockers and just waited. I slowly took off one shoe, then a minute or so later, the other shoe. Then one sock, then another. Girls wrapped in towels were filing in from the showers, drying and dressing quickly in order to catch school buses or rides home. When the showers were empty and all the girls in my row had left, I slowly undressed, wrapped my towel around me and headed for the showers.

I moved to one end of the shower, only partially hidden by the outside corner of the shower wall. I turned on the water, showered quickly with my back toward the shower head and as I turned around to turn off the water and grab my towel, I thought I heard someone walk by. I pulled my towel tight around my back and turned my body to look, but didn't see anyone, so I dried off, wrapped the towel around me again and headed back to my locker.

I dressed as fast as I could: panties, bra, slip, skirt, blouse. As I buttoned up my blouse, I breathed a sigh of relief. I did it.

As I was putting on my shoes, Miss Derby came around the corner of the locker row.

"I'd like to see you in my office before you leave," she said.

"Okay," I replied. My head was spinning. My heart was racing. Did I forget to limp? Is she going to call my parents? I'll just have to tell them my ankle got better really fast.

The door to her office was open and when she saw me, she motioned with her hand and said, "Come in." And once I was in the door, "Sit down."

I stared at her. I was terrified of what she was going to say.

"How are you?" she asked.

"I'm fine," I said. "It only hurts a little now."

"I'm not talking about your ankle," she said.

She took a breath, her eyes not leaving mine, then asked quietly, "How are things at home?"

I almost started to cry. I could feel my cheeks turn red, I could barely breath and I swallowed hard. My hands were shaking and I held them hard in my lap. I didn't know how to answer.  No one can know, I thought.

"Okay," I said finally. I wondered if she could see the lie in my eyes.

"Do you want me to call someone? I will call someone to help you."

A tear rolled down my cheek and I quickly wiped it away with my hand. I couldn't speak for the lump in my throat. I merely shook my head slowly from side to side.

"Are you sure, Terri?" She stared at me hard.

I looked down and, again, shook my head, then in almost a whisper, "I'm sure."

"Well. Okay. But if you change your mind, let me know."

I nodded, but I knew I wouldn't. "Thank you," I said as I stood to leave.

We never spoke of it again.


Anonymous said...

It makes me feel so sad and so angry that anyone would do this to any child and that you had to endure this through your childhood and adolescence. That naturally said, I am also troubled, as I am sure she was, by this teacher's actions. She left the choice of reporting the incident up to you, which in some ways may have the best way to keep you safer than you would have been had government agencies become involved. On the other hand, did California not at this time have a mandated reporting law? I know that in the early seventies when I first started teaching, a teacher was required by law to report to the appropriate authorities any case of suspected child abuse. I would have expected more liberal states to be ahead of us in that regard. I do think that it holds true that that which does not kill us makes us stronger, and your survival of such treatment has made you both stronger and kinder. I still, though, do not understand how anyone can treat a child that way.
Val Hightower

Terri said...

Hi Val:

The Child Protection law in California was passed in the very early 1960's, but applied only to physicians at the time. It didn't expand to teachers and administrators until the late 1960's. I graduated from high school in 1964.

Thank you for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

My daughter came to me and told me her freind was being abused by her mother. The latest was being struck by a huge painting and a bruise covering half her back. Your story struck me because my daughter begged me not to say anything because it would be a betrayal of confidence to her freind. So I called their gym teacher and asked her to stroll by this girl in the locker room as she dressed. I didn't give her any details. The gym teacher came through. The girl was given the option of leaving the home. She was about to turn 18 and was about 2 months from graduating. She stayed with her parents for 2 more months. Perhaps you had a similar call made in your behalf?

Terri said...


I never thought of that. I always thought that the footsteps I heard turned out to be my gym teacher. Or it could have been that the same gym teacher had my younger sister (a freshman) in another class and overheard a conversation. Funny, at that age and in that scared-kid state of mind, I always thought no one cared enough to notice, let alone listen.

Thanks so much for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Teachers are clued in a lot more than people think. Some are braver than others some of these abusers bully and threaten teachers too. Gym teachers are in the best position to see differences in a child's abilities to move around. They are aware of the body language and how they move the body. Whats going on with the kid's head affects all that too.
BTW that girl is a supervising nurse at the infant ICU at Mayo Clinic now.