The door was shut and we were locked inside. This was not by choice.
There were three of us equipment managers. Steven had one leg longer than the other and wore a brace on the short leg. It was this kind of metal thing that he would wear on the inside of baggy pants so that you couldn’t see that he was wearing it when he stood still. The other kid, Nick, wore amazingly short shorts, a tight tank top, and tap shoes. Always tap shoes. I wore a Hypercolor T-shirt and Bermuda shorts. It was 1991, and I was 12; white, fat, and scared.
Every day was a horror show of ridicule and shame. This was in part because there were few other white kids and in part because I was fat. Nick was a marica; Steven was a gimp, or less-menacingly, a peg-leg; and I was commonly known as manteca, an almost-clever cross between my name, Lars, and the Spanish word for lard. For years at intermediate and then middle school, my only solace during those horrible chaotic moments in the day known as “lunch,” or, even worse, “recess,” was to hang out on the borderlands between the areas that children would congregate and adults took refuge. I would volunteer for any menial job during lunch—cleaning classrooms, handing out equipment, sitting in empty halls (Hall Patrol on the North Quad, safely near the administrative offices, was best). On this day the three equipment managers were locked inside the trailer that was used as a locker room. It was 90 degrees outside and maybe 95 inside the un-air conditioned trailer.
I needed to get out because I needed to help Miranda Cruz. Miranda Cruz was a vision. A vision from heaven all hair gel and pimples and curls and jean shorts. She wore multi-colored braces and she passively accepted my presence. She did not hate me. We were lab partners.
Some kids thought it would be funny to close the door on us from the outside. We didn’t see it coming, just the quick slanting angle of the closing door, a sharp change in light, and then quickly receding snickering, taunting from outside. We knew that no one would be back in the locker room for at least another hour.
Miranda. I thought of how earlier in the week, when I tried to explain photosynthesis to her, she wrote her name over and over in cursive inside her trapper keeper—the one with pink cats and a unicorn on the cover.
I thought of how our mascot was the Unicorns.
I thought of how when she sweated, the moisture would glisten on the skin right above her lip.
I was sweating. We had a presentation together that day and class was starting. I had the poster board with me, made of carefully drawn pictures of the sun and plants, of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and arrows. The clock ticked on. Steven needed to go to the bathroom, but could not go. The locker room was only a locker room. It did not have toilets. This was a poor-kid school in Arizona. We did not have such things.
The hour, the hour of our presentation, the hour of our happy union, when Miranda would realize that it was a good idea to go out with a kid who knew his chlorophyll from his chloroplasts, was coming to a close. I thought of Miranda Cruz, waiting, looking at the door.
Outside, the sun belted down. The cacti sucked in light, and converted it to energy in the buzz of a desert summer.
I imagined myself outside in the sun, among the cacti. I was the Last of the Unicorns. Standing on a small hill, overlooking a meadow where once we had all, all together, feasted on buffelgrass. I stood alone.