Breaking Down

By Loren Mayshark

Two cars driving down a long road during a snow storm.

A blustery, white January day on Dutch Hollow Road in western New York. I was a benchwarmer freshman on the junior varsity basketball team in a school with about two hundred students. This meant the team was composed of both freshman and sophomore players, and I’d had to work hard just to make the team. A group of fellow JV players and I were waiting after school with an hour to kill before practice. We sat around the dingy lobby, gawking at the cheerleaders’ smooth legs. Some of the cheerleaders smiled sheepishly; others flicked their hair at us.

After the cheerleaders had passed, the boys turned their attention to me.

“Your mom’s a whore, Loren. That’s why she’s down at the bar every night hunting for dick.”

“Fuck you, Jesse. You’re just trying to distract people from the fact that your ma is fatter than a beached whale.”

“Yeah,” Jesse said, “she’s as fat and useless as you are, but at least she doesn’t have a hunchback, you sideshow freak.”

I was born with both scoliosis and Scheuermann’s disease and I was a porker. As I bent over, doing bizarre cat stretches for my curved spine before practice, my teammates would say it looked like I was getting ready to take it up the ass.

On this particular day an upperclassman named Lucas had already bitten me on the shoulder as I was getting a drink from the water fountain, and I had been socked in the nuts by another teammate.

Jesse, emboldened by the fact that he was protected by his ripped older cousin, Danny, stole one of my basketball shoes, pulling it off my foot while I was stretching in the lobby. He ran around with the shoe, pushing it into my face and pulling it away when I grabbed for it, saying things like, “Nice try, chubby tits. Don’t wanna hurt your hunch!”

Lucas yelled, “Careful, Quasimodo, you might strain your humpback!”

I got up to chase after Jesse, but he tossed the shoe to his cousin Danny, who passed it to Randy, the star player. It came back to Jesse, who went outside, grabbed a handful of snow, and yelled, “Watch this, bitch!” as he packed it into my sneaker. I felt a balloon of sheer fury swelling and screamed, “You’re dead, asshole!” Some of the cheerleaders shrieked.

I charged Jesse, hurling him into the thick glass wall of the vestibule with such force, I nearly cracked the glass. I quickly shifted position, pinning him in a headlock and banging his head against the wall. His cousin Danny ripped me away and twisted my arms behind my back. As I stood helpless, Lucas came running in and sent his fist into my pillow of a stomach. I started to retch and weep and Lucas hit me again.

Jesse had staggered to his feet, and I saw with some satisfaction that blood was trickling from his forehead. “It’s payback time, you whiny fat bitch!” he said. He hauled back his right fist and smashed it into my mouth. The room began to tessellate. Little white specks were floating everywhere, and I heard Randy yell, “Let him go, he’s hurt bad!”

Danny released my arms and I fell to the ground. I lay there for several minutes, groaning. Then I got up and walked out, past the gaping cheerleaders, into the driving snow, with one shoe on.


I turned, expecting another assault, but it was Chris, a fellow benchwarmer. He ran out to give me my other shoe. I mumbled, “Thanks,” shoved my soaking sock into the shoe, and staggered toward home wearing nothing but basketball shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt. It was four degrees above zero, and the wind was driving snow diagonally in my face, but my shame and the adrenaline kept me warm.

About two miles down the road, the adrenaline began wearing off, and I started to tremble uncontrollably. I looked out at the white that enveloped the countryside. I could taste the salt of my tears and the snowflakes that drifted into my mouth. I thought I was going to die. That would show those sons of bitches, I thought. They’ll feel like shit when I’m dead. I thought about everyone who would show up at my funeral and how awful they would feel—my divorced parents and my Judas teammates. I kept going, weeping. I knew I couldn’t walk much farther. When I looked at the snow-cloaked tops of the conifers, they began to spin. Gazing up at the sky, I felt something like sleep closing in.

The world was frigid and still. I had never felt so desperate, so alone. It felt as if everything was teetering in the balance. Just when the knife of despair was at its sharpest, a maroon Chevy Cavalier came through the snow and stopped beside me. A chubby man got out and, without a word, helped me into the car. He was in his mid-fifties, his salt-and-pepper hair accented with solid-gray patches above his temples. He wore a puffy, navy-blue winter jacket, and he was eating a pack of orange cheddar crackers that were made into little peanut butter sandwiches. I declined his offer of a cracker, and he said, “Suit yourself, young man.” Then he asked, “What’s going on? You know that you could have died out there.”

“I know,” I said weakly.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “What happened?”

I started telling him the story. “I was waiting for basketball practice to start, but then a group…” My voice quavered but I pressed on: “A bunch of my teammates stole my shoe and—” I lost it again and started to weep uncontrollably. He waited patiently and then said, “You’re lucky, you know.” He paused. “I almost didn’t pick you up. Thought you were on drugs.”

All I could do was meekly say, “Thank you, sir.”

As he pulled into our driveway, he said, “Thank Jesus that he guided me to you.” I nodded and thanked him again. Before I left he said, “Keep Jesus in your heart and stay away from drugs, and you’ll make it, young man.”

When I got to my house, my mother wasn’t home. I went upstairs, pulled off my clothes, and got into bed, drawing the covers over my head. I didn’t leave for a week. I had caught a bad cold and played it up because I never wanted to go back and face anyone again.

Category: Featured, Memoir, Nonfiction