I’m going to tell my story of Spike the Bulldog.
My middle school was very small. It was also connected to a high school. Though the buildings were separate, we would see the older students around and knew most of them by name.
By seventh grade, I was totally over the immature boys who roamed the middle school hallways. I was ready for a more adult relationship, perhaps with someone on the high school basketball team. Pretty soon, I had developed a crush on a few of the players, staring at them whenever our paths crossed and making sure to like their Instagram posts even though they didn’t follow me back or otherwise acknowledge my existence.
Suddenly, an unbelievable opportunity presented itself.
The principal called me into this office. I thought I was about to get suspended for copying my friend’s math homework, but, to my surprise, the principal asked me to do a favor instead. He told me about an opportunity to dress up as our mascot, Spike the Bulldog, and cheer on the boys’ middle school basketball team that night. Absolutely not. It just felt like too much of a responsibility. Spike only showed up on special occasions, and every time he did, his performance was impeccable. I didn’t know if I could uphold his reputation. But as if the principal was reading my mind, he added that the high school would be watching because it was such a big game. Okay, that changes things. An opportunity to get closer to the older boys. I’ll do it. This was my chance to be noticed by the older students, infiltrate their groups and ultimately land a boyfriend.
On the day of the game, butterflies fluttered around in my stomach. The mascot was always kept a secret, which made us special. Everyone was always trying to figure out who had been behind Spike’s performance, and I couldn’t wait to perform and then reveal later on that it had been me that was Spike during the legendary game. First, the girls’ team had their game and I began to grow anxious as I watched from the crowd. Another person had volunteered to be Spike for that game. They did a subpar job in my opinion. Most of the time, they kind of just stood there awkwardly and pumped their fists in the air when someone scored a basket. I knew that I had more potential so I didn’t pay much more attention to them. Some high schoolers came in and out of the gym. I glanced at some of the basketball boys I was crushing on, hoping that someone would meet my gaze and smile. None of them did, but I shrugged it off and started to get into my mental zone.
As the girls’ game came to a close, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see a boy from my class. He was red and a little bit sweaty. He nodded at me and jerked his head towards the locker rooms. I figured he must have been the person in the costume before me. I nodded back and followed him. We stood between the girls’ and boys’ locker rooms in the hallway before. Looking around to make sure no one would see us, he shoved the costume into my hands and murmured, “Good luck,” under his breath.
I ran into the back of the girls’ locker room and began to frantically put on the bulldog costume. It was a lot harder than expected. The feet were massive, making it hard to walk, and the head was so hot that I began to sweat immediately. To this day, I swear I should have paid better attention to what the mascot was doing before me, because I missed a crucial detail to that costume as I put it on and entered the gym. Spike always wore a T-shirt with our school name on it. As I left that locker room, that shirt remained crumpled on the ground, as good as an old gym sock in the lost and found box.
When I entered the gym, everyone’s eyes darted to me. I had a moment of panic, but then quickly realized that absolutely no one knew who was inside this bulldog costume. So I did what any good mascot would do: I started running up and down the isles, high-fiving people. Since the feet were so heavy, I was stomping with every step and panting from being out of breath. I knew I must play hard to get with the high schoolers, so I came around to them last. Reluctantly, they gave me five as I awkwardly chuckled from inside of the costume. To be fair, I don’t know what I was expecting with the high school boys. Maybe I thought they would fall in love with me when they realized that I was Spike. It was wishful thinking. People gave me very little reaction and I wondered why people were not as hyped up by me.
As I turned to walk back down the steps of the last bleachers, I lost my footing underneath me and stumbled down, spilling onto the gym floor and landing on the court. The game stopped. Everyone stared at me, the disheveled bulldog on the ground. I think people gasped, but maybe I was just imagining that. I quickly got up and sprinted to the locker room out of embarrassment. That’s when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, something I’d neglected to do before leaving. Something looked off to me, but I couldn’t place my finger on it… my eyes darted to the school shirt, lying helplessly on the ground. The bulldog was naked. I quickly realized that I had been streaking as Spike the Bulldog through a middle school basketball game.
People talked about it too. The naked bulldog. Who was in there anyway? I came up with an alibi to my friends that my mom had picked me up after the girls’ game. I would never tell a soul at that school that it had been me, and my principal never brought it up.
Statement Columnist Nicole Winthrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.