Locker rooms have always made me feel skinny—too skinny—as if the whole point of being naked is to be bigger than somebody else. Particularly someone of the same sex. Every time I find myself visiting one it’s exactly the same as all of the others I’ve entered, like viewing a drab scene in an excruciatingly uninspiring submarine film over and over.
Walking in, my street shoes echo off of the tiles checkering the floor, the walls, even the ceiling, announcing the arrival of the runt with an ominously resonant sonar. I breathe in deeply, filling my lungs, attempting to make myself as large as possible, like a blowfish hoping to convince the whales that he’s part of the pod. I find an empty locker while trying not to catch anyone’s eye. It’s bad enough that they can see my bony knees, my lanky arms, my tiny waist, my chest full of air making my ribs press out like a pathetic seahorse.
As I remove my clothing I squeeze my eyes shut (as if this makes me invisible). My lashes matte together in the compressed heat and moisture of my shame, and I beg them to stay that way as I remove my shirt, my pants, my briefs. I feel cold and meagre. I’d give anything to be wearing a full-body wetsuit.
I’d keep my blindness if I didn’t need to don my gym clothing. Unclenching my visual vice-grip the world is blurry, like seeing underwater. Murky, unintelligible life is happening all around me and all I can do is feel around the inside of my bag for my shorts, like a starfish probing the inside of its prey. As I redress I steal glances around the fluorescent tank of the sterile space observing the smattering of fellow “sea life.” There’s the lithe shark of a man in the shower: powerfully toned form covered in smooth skin, which glistens in the cascading moisture. The svelte seal with his deep dark eyes and proud chest. Even the squat figure with the hulking triangular back reminds of a majestic manta-ray taking up space with shape and quiet authority.
I see myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror. I am ugly like an eel. Smooth, slender, and awkward. No points of interest, no remarkable curvature or contrast of light and shadow. So elongated as to appear unsettling, I feel I make others uncomfortable at the mere sight of me. And I am powerless to change this. I’ve never been able to gain weight. Not from eating, not from exercise, not from biding my time. Thus I am cursed to remain agile, serpentine, an ultimately hideous creature. My own contempt prohibits self-pity. I feel a thousand eyes fixed on my suspicious movements, attributing them some sort of mischief.
As I finally leave the locker room, exiting the aquarium with its variety of beautiful beasts, it’s as if I’m breaching the waves for the first time and seeing the sun.