You're probably wondering how I ended up here, trapped in my locker, wondering if I'm going to run out of air or if the three slits in the top will be enough to keep me alive. Maybe you assume some bully put me in here, a sitcom classic which begs you to question how the bullies manage to stay in school. Scratch that, I suppose real life does as good a job at that as anything.
But this isn't about the bullies, and they didn't actually do this to me. I did it to myself, and for good reasons. No, I don't have a victim complex or the beginnings of Stockholm Syndrome. I genuinely did this to myself. I thought the stunt to follow would be worth it, but I also thought I hadn't pulled the door shut behind me. I was supposed to leave it cracked open, but silly me, I had to make life interesting, didn't I?
As soon as I realized the door had shut, I tried in vain to open it. No matter how much strength I put behind my skinny arms and bony shoulder, I simply couldn't muscle my way out of this mess. I would have to wait.
Unfortunately, this realization came just as the first bell rang, when all the other students had already gone on to their first period classes. The sound of everyone closing their lockers and talking excitedly amongst themselves completely masked the sound of my pitiful pounding against the steel in front of me.
And so here I rest, completely trapped within my blue-painted prison, trying not to stand on my books and backpack, waiting to be rescued. As soon as the bell rings, I'll start yelling and hope someone hears me, but I'm not going to hold my breath.
Who invented that expression anyway? Why would I hold my breath when I'm trapped in here? Jesus! That sounds like a horrible idea- oh shit, the bell!
"Help! Someone, please!"
The classroom doors open and I hear the sound of hundreds of students filling the hall, their footsteps and voices quickly drowning out my attempts at communication. I summon strength from somewhere and try again, shouting at the top of my lungs.
"Help! I'm stuck in my locker, help!"
Nothing. No one at all. I continue to yell until my voice is hoarse, but after five minutes the late bell for second period rings, and I'm left in the same predicament as before. No escape. No rescuers. At least one more hour until someone will come my way. I'm screwed.
And then my phone vibrates in my pocket, reminding me I'm a complete idiot. There are people out there who could help me, if I'd ask them. I pull my phone out and stare at the glowing screen. The light stings my eyes at first, adjusted as they are to the dark of my locker, but then I can clearly make out my Dad's name on the screen. Fuck. This could not have gotten any worse.
"Hello?" I ask, keeping my tone as cool and casual as possible. The hoarseness of my dry throat made this impossible, and instead I sound like I'm dying of thirst in the desert. My dad notices, though for some reason this is not his first concern.
"Clinton J. Fjeldsted, where the hell are you?" He scrells. Screlling is what my dad does when he's unsure if he should scream or yell, so his words come out in a loud, frantic screech. His voice usually breaks, too, and if it weren't directed at me, I might even find that part funny.
"I'm at school," I reply casually, coughing into my hand. "I think I'm coming down with something, though."
My dad, understandably, did not sound convinced. "I just received a call from the school, and they seem to think otherwise. So, where are you, really?"
Should I come clean? Or should I lie? Telling the truth is always the better choice, right?
"Well, if you won't believe I'm at school, then I can't do much for you. I mean, I'm definitely at school. Never said anything about being in class, though."
"If you're not in class, where are you?" The screlling was over. This new tone is worse. It's the danger tone he uses whenever he's already made up his mind that I'm up to no good, and nothing is going to change it.
I sigh. This isn't going to end well if I don't tell him soon. Those who know my dad don't think of patience as his primary virtue. I decide to come clean. "I'm stuck in my locker, if you really must know."
Silence. Then laughter, followed by more silence, then my worried and partially guilt-ridden father says, "Well why didn't you say so in the first place? And is there someone I need to beat up? Because you know I will, if I have to. Who put you there?"
"I did," I sigh. "Trust me, there was a good reason."
After a full minute, my father finally stops chortling. He may not have any patience, but I do; it's something I pride myself in. Hell, I just demonstrated it with this whole locker incident, didn't I?
Eventually my dad decides he's going to address the issue at hand and gets control of his emotions. "So, what do you want me to do, Clint? And do you care to share these reasons with me?"
I shake my head then realize he can't see it. "Not right now. I'd really rather I was outside of the locker before I told you."
"Okay, but you still didn't answer my question."
"Could you possibly come and let me out?"
"Well, I'm in Sharpton. It's going to be an hour and a half before I can make it back to Clearfield. Do you want to wait that long? How about I just call the school for you and tell them to come and get you out?"
"Um, not sure on that one. I think that would make me an instant celebrity, but not the kind that gets autographs, if you know what I mean. I'll figure my own way out, if it's all the same to you."
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, now that I realize I have a phone, I'm thinking I'll just text Angie and let her know where I am."
"That's a pretty good idea." My dad lets the words hang in the air for a moment, and I can hear him contemplating his next words. I start to dread what's coming next when he confirms my fears. "But, we're going to talk about this, and nothing is going to change that. You either need to tell me what's going on, or prepare to face the consequences. You're fifteen, Clint. Time to adult."
I hate it when my dad uses 'adult' as a verb, especially since he seems to only use it when he's telling me about consequences I'm about to face. But, this time, I also happen to know he's right. It doesn't happen often, but every so often he gets lucky, like a blind squirrel managing to locate his nuts. Don't think too hard about that one; it's a female squirrel.
"Yes, Dad. I know; we'll talk when I get home. Do you mind if I get to work on my current problem?"
My dad laughs and I can't help but smile. Despite his lack of patience, he has a great sense of humor, and it's easy to see where I got my wit from. "Clint, good luck. If I don't see you tonight, I suppose I know where I can find you?"
I roll my eyes and decide to play along. "Locker 1411. Don't forget."
"I won't. I'll let you go. Or stay, rather." He howls with laughter as he hangs up, and I find my eyes rolling a second time. He's such a tease, and it's more annoying than anything else. Parents!
After the call disconnects, I lower my phone and begin a text to my sister, Angie. I start by explaining the whole situation, then I growl in frustration and delete the whole thing. This has to be handled delicately, or I'm never going to hear the end of it. My sister is not known for keeping secrets, and I don't want her knowing why I'm in this locker until I'm ready.
I begin again, and this time I decide I'm going to lie. Maybe saying a bully did it won't be so bad, of course, then I might look like a victim, and I wanted that least of all. Being a victim and looking like a victim were practically the same thing when you're a freshman. It makes you bait for the worst bullies out there.
Even though I'd never had a problem with bullies, I don't want to start now, so I aim for the middle. I won't tell her the whole story, but I'll tell her where I am and ask her to help me out. That's as good as I'll be able to do.
As I start the text I realize how much easier this would be if I had any friends in this school. We moved to this town less than a month ago, and even though my dad said it's easy to make friends, my experience had always flown in the face of that. If I had made a single one over the past few weeks, however, I could ask them to help me out instead of relying on my sister. Oh, Angie! Save me!
I throw my head back to let out a deep sigh of frustration, and my head hits the back of the locker hard enough I see stars. The shock causes me to drop my phone as I reach up to feel the back of my head, expecting to feel blood. My hand comes back dry and sticky, and I start to freak out until I realize it smells like my hair gel. I'm good, no blood, but where did I drop my phone?
Just before the light fades from the screen I catch it out of the corner of my eye. When it landed it rolled behind me. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, then start to crouch, reaching down with my hand, hoping I'll be able to grab it before I get stuck. My fingertips brush it and knock it forward just as my backpack shifted and slid downward, pulling me off balance as my knees bent the rest of the way. I slammed into an awkward kneeling position on top of the books at the bottom of my locker, and a sickening crunch announces my phone's presence beside them.
I fumble around with my hand and find my phone, then hold it up to my face and grimace in the dim light from the slits above. The shattered face of my phone greets me. I carefully slide my finger across the screen and pray, the first time I have in years, then curse as nothing happens. My phone, the best lifeline I have to the outside world, is now broken.
Whimpering, I collapse fully into my position at the bottom of the locker. This sucks. I slowly bang my head against the side of the locker behind me, unsure what else to do with my body. Of all the bad situations I've encountered through my life, this takes the top spot, and I'm screwed.
My arms fall heavily to my sides, the right one falling into the small space between my body and the back wall of the locker, and the left one hitting the bottom of the locker door. It hurt, but I don't care. At least the pain makes me feel something; I'm still alive, for now.
At the fingertips of my left hand I find a small piece of loose metal. It gives a little, and as I force my thoughts to happier times which don't involve being trapped in a tight spot, I fidget with the metal, pulling it back and pressing it forward. Back and forth, pulling harder and pushing further each time.
Click. I look at the door curiously, then press against it. The door opens easily and I stare out at the empty hallway in wonder. My eyes sting from a mixture of the bright light reflecting on the white linoleum, and the tears of joy now running down my cheeks, and I kneel there for a moment, basking in the gateway to freedom before me.
After the tears clear I turn my attention to the piece of metal I'd toyed with. Written next to it in bright red letters are the words 'emergency open lever'. While wondering how such a label could help someone find the lever if they're trapped inside a dark locker, I twist at my hips and place a hand on either side of the locker and push up. My knees get caught at first, but I wiggle my way free and get my feet underneath me.
Pain shoots through my legs as my dehydration catches up to me, and a leg cramp assaults both legs at once, brightening my day as only a leg cramp can. The unexpected pain puts me off balance and I fall forward to the linoleum, smashing my face into the floor, nose first.
This time I don't need my hands to tell me if I'm bleeding as my nose decides to add to the dehydration issue. After lifting my face from the floor I see a pool of blood, and another series of drops already forming on the tip of my nose to increase the size of the puddle.
Pinching my nose with my right hand I try to stand again, but the weakness in my knees gets the better of me this time, and I stumble forward, one foot stepping into the fresh blood and sliding against the slick linoleum. I manage to catch myself with my left hand-snap-then scream in pain, moving my hand from my nose to my arm. The pain in my arm is intense, and I can't help but cry out as I roll about on the ground in agony.
The next thing I know there's someone standing over me and ordering other people around, though I can't concentrate on what they're saying exactly; I'm in too much pain. After what seems like an eternity, someone helps me to my feet and guides me down the hallway of watching students as tears continue to stream down my face.
I'd wanted to make a big impression, but this definitely wasn't what I had in mind. Who knows how long it'll take for me to live this down?
"Clint! Jesus, you look like someone beat the shit out of you!"
I look up from my seat in the hospital bed, meeting my dad's worried eyes with a look of shame. I never wanted him to see me like this. At the moment, I don't want anyone to see me, but it's time to face the music.
The doctor intercepts my dad before he can take two steps into the room. "Excuse me, are you Gabriel Fjeldsted?"
"Yes, that's me," says my dad as his expression changes from worry to impatience. "And that's my son, and I'd really prefer to see him instead of you, if you don't mind."
"I just wanted to be sure you were the responsible party," the doctor says, wearing a fake smile as his eyes fill with contempt. "I have to know who's going to fill out this paperwork, after all."
My dad's resulting scowl quickly sends the doctor out of the room, but that only means my now angry father has his full attention on me. I shrink a little, even though I've never felt afraid of my dad before. So far, things haven't worked out for me today, and it's not time to take any chances.
"Clint, what the hell happened? I thought you said no bullies were involved?"
"No bullies were involved," I say, sighing. "Other than myself, I guess. All this," I pause and gesture with my right arm to the blood on my clothes and the new brace on my left arm, "was my fault."
"Getting out of that damn locker. I goofed up, big time."
"Yeah, you did."
I wince at his tone, and his face softens.
"Clint," he says gently, "don't worry, I'm not going to punish you. A broken arm is punishment enough for plenty of shitty decisions. I don't know why you did what you did, but right now I'm more concerned about your recovery. Where's Angie?"
"Probably still at school," I reply, shrugging. This pulls on my arm slightly and I wince in pain. My dad gives me a look of confusion and I start rambling. "I never had a chance to text her. My phone . . . my phone's broken. I dropped it after our conversation and then accidentally knelt on it. Then I managed to get out of the locker on my own, but that's how I ended up like this. It looks worse than it is, other than the arm, that is definitely as bad as it looks."
"Shit. Maybe I should have called the school."
"It wouldn't have made a difference. I fucked up again. I'm sorry."
No response. I stare at my father and he's watching me, a pensive look on his face. Without warning he leans forward and wraps me in a hug, carefully avoiding putting pressure on my left side. When he pulls away I stare at him in confusion until he says, "You don't need to apologize to me, Clint. I may not understand all of your actions, but you've never given me any indication you're anything but a good kid, and you can come back from this. I've seen you come back from much worse. Your mother would be proud, if she saw you now."
I smile, my eyes tearing up for a third time today. "Thanks, Dad. I'm not really sure what to think. I still feel like shit, considering now everyone in school will think I'm a total spaz. What kind of guy locks himself in his own locker then breaks his arm? I can't wait to hear the nicknames."
"Don't worry about them."
"No, Clint. This is something I'm sure about. You. Are. Fearless. I've never known a person braver than you. You won't let this setback keep you down. You're better than that, and I know you're going to find a way to turn this to your advantage."
He didn't screll. He didn't even speak loudly. My dad just spoke to me firmly and with confidence, his energy spilling into me with every word. Even if the whole school now thinks I'm totally whacked, my dad believes in me, and that's something I can take to the bank.
"Okay, Dad. I hope you're right."
"I know I'm right, Clint." His hand gently strokes my shoulder and then pulls away, a smile forming on his lips. "Now, the question is, why were you in that locker in the first place?"
I groan. "I thought you said there would be no consequences."
"If you don't want to tell me, you don't have to, but I think I deserve it, considering the worry you just put me through. Of course, it's up to you."
I take a deep breath, then exhale slowly. The desire to tell him wars with my desire to keep it a secret, but I know he'll accept it, so why am I worried? Today, nothing has gone well, so maybe this won't either.
But he's my dad, and I know him better than I know anyone, except maybe Angie. He's always made his views clear, and he's never once left me in doubt of his love for me and my sister. This is the most trustworthy man I know, and he's never given me a reason to think otherwise.
"I'm gay, Dad."
"Okay. What does that have to do with you being in a locker?"
"That's it?" I ask. I expected more than this.
And like the great dad he is, my father delivers, laughing gently as he says, "Clint, your sexuality is between you and whoever you choose to have sex with. You bring a boyfriend around for dinner, I'll talk to him the same as I would a girlfriend. You can be gay and Angie can wind up being a lesbian and I'd support you both, no questions asked. The only part I'm remotely concerned about is why your sexuality has anything to do with you being in a locker."
I sigh. That part I don't want to explain, but he does deserve to know. I guess. "I wanted to make a statement. You know, with the locker symbolizing the closet and me coming out of it. The goal was to jump out and announce I was gay to the whole student body. They'd all be talking about it, and they'd spread the word for me. Instead, they're going to be talking about how I broke my arm, and then laid on the floor crying in a puddle of my own blood."
"Maybe. Depends on how cruel these kids are. Not all kids are cruel."
"Yeah, but I was supposed to show them how confident I am so they'd think twice about messing with me."
"What's to stop you from doing that now?"
"Now it will be harder."
My dad has this look he gets sometimes. It's a look he gives my sister and me whenever we're attempting something we've failed at many times. It's a look which communicates all the encouragement in the world. He gave it to me from the sidelines after I'd struck out three times in one game, and I hit my first and only home run on the next swing. He gave it to me when I couldn't climb the expert rock wall at the gym in our old town. I looked down and saw his eyes, and there he was, brimming with confidence. I made it to the top on my next climb.
And here he is, giving me the look again, telling me he has absolute confidence in me. His smile becomes a knowing one as he says, "Are you going to let that stop you?"
I only hesitate for a moment, then I see the ball coming at me, the rock wall above me, and I know what I have to do. "No. Nothing can stop me if I put my mind to it."
"See? Fearless. You'll be fine. You'll see. If anyone can figure this out, it's you. Now let's go see if your cast can come in rainbow."
"You said you wanted to make a statement, right?" My dad says, grinning. "Who says you can't still use this incident to come out?"