All Apologies: I Was a Lowdown Prep School Hazer

We gave Big Fun the nickname "Big Fun" because we were in the common room watching Heathers one time and Martha Dumptruck showed up with a T-shirt that said BIG FUN on it. Someone turned to Big Fun and said, "That's you, you fatass. You're Big Fun."

Just like that, he had a moniker.

Big Fun was a chunky kid, and not chunky in a cute way. He had fat everywhere you wouldn't want fat: In his fingers, toes, wrists, and ankles. He had big fankles and he made the problem even worse by wearing Birkenstocks, so you could watch the fat dripping down his ankles and melting into his feet. One time, Big Fun walked into the common room and one of the other kids was like, "Big Fun, how many times have I told you? DO NOT WEAR SANDALS IN FRONT OF US. It's making us sick." He trudged back up the stairs and put on sneakers.

We didn't care for Big Fun because he was fat, of course. But we also found his personality to be repellent. We thought he was an arrogant loudmouth.

Now, as coincidence would have it, I was also a fat arrogant loudmouth when I was that age. I tipped the scales at nearly 280 pounds, and I also had fat everywhere you wouldn't want fat. I thought hanging out in the common room with my hand down my pants was funny, because I was a gross person back then. You don't have to be a psychiatrist to understand why I personally hated Big Fun. I was an unhappy young man who didn't like himself all that much, and I was the subject of teasing throughout much of my childhood. Here was a perfect doppelganger on which to take out my anger.

We had done our fair share of mean things to Big Fun in the past. We hurled verbal abuse at him (and at each other). We ordered pizzas and subs under the name Big Fun and had them delivered to the dorm, until the restaurant stopped taking orders under that nickname. I'm sure we used the pay phones in the basement to call girls in other dorms and tell them that Big Fun wanted to eat them out. We also had a thing called Naked Police where, on the first night of the school year, every other guy in the dorm would strip down and bum rush a new student's room, making sure to sit on his bedspread with legs spread wide and making him feel as awkward as possible. You pack that many stupid young boys into one prep school dorm, and weird shit like that happens constantly. Anyway, Big Fun was a Naked Police victim. I'm almost certain that the experience was more confusing for him than humiliating. "Why are you morons naked in my room? Don't you feel kind of stupid?"

And unfortunately for Big Fun, our dorm was laid out differently from every other dorm on campus. All of the rooms were situated along twin stairwells that wound up either side of the dorm. There were only two hallways connecting the stairwells: At the bottom and at the top. Big Fun's room was situated just above that top hallway, so once we were done with any pranks, we had a relatively easy escape route through the hallway and back to our cozy rooms.

We had a Lights Out policy at school. The freshmen (called preps) had the earliest bedtime, and they earned progressively later bedtimes for each successive class. Preps usually had to obey this rule, because they had the rooms at the bottom of the stairwells that were situated directly above the faculty apartments in the dorm, so the teachers could hear any shuffling feet or moving chairs through the ceiling. But if you were older and lived higher up in the dorm, you could more or less disregard Lights Out—and we did.

Someone in the dorm had discovered that the surgical tubing we used in biology class would swell like a circus balloon if you put it under a running faucet. Once it was full, you pinched it at the end and pointed it at your target. When you let go, the tubing would push the water back out with a marvelous amount of force, like a miniature fire hose.

That night, we waited very patiently for Big Fun to fall asleep. It was probably well past midnight. Someone would go and listen at his door periodically to see if they could hear anyone moving inside. Once we were convinced that he was asleep, we took sturdy cables and wrapped them around his doorknob. Then we tied the cables to the stairwell so that the door was essentially locked from the outside. Then we filled up the tubing with water and brought it to his door.

We slipped the end of the tube under his door and let go. Water started spraying into his room and we could hear him waking up and saying "What the...?" Then we heard him spring out of bed and try for the door, only to find it hopeless to exit. We kept cycling in fresh tubing and flooding the room. He banged and banged on the door, begging to be let out, and we didn't stop. He could hear us laughing.

"Prank" is such a gentle word. I could look back on this incident with a friend and be like, "Hey, remember that prank we played on Big Fun?" and it would sound very benign and chummy. But that wasn't the reality. The reality was that there was a deeply unhappy human being on the other side of that door, someone who was still trying to figure out his identity and didn't deserve the indignity of being harassed by the very kids he wanted to befriend. Eventually, Big Fun stopped pounding on the door and went back (presumably) to his bed, probably to pray that we'd stop and just go away, which we eventually did.

I think about it sometimes and I think about what it would have been like to be on the other side of that door. Obviously, this was not among the more sensational cases of kids hazing other kids. Some kids are killed in hazing rituals. Some kids are sexually abused in hazing rituals. There are worse instances of hazing in the world than what we did to Big Fun. And yet, all of it is hurtful and destructive. Knowing that people don't like you is one thing. But to know that they hate you so much that they're willing to stay up until the wee hours just to do something horrible to you... to dedicate themselves to making you miserable... Well, that's a pretty awful thing to think about.

I know that misery quite well, because I had been hazed and teased many times before and after prep school. When I was in elementary school, I had horribly chapped lips, and my mom would force me to wear a balm called Lycell on my lips all day long. Lycell was a gross white paste that didn't absorb into your skin, and so I'd get on the bus praying that the kids wouldn't notice me and my freak lips. I'd stare at the window and keep my mouth shut, hoping that would work, but I was always discovered within seconds. (Cue the chants of "Drew has herpes.")

Later on, in college, the captain of the football team wrapped my face in duct tape because he hated my guts. So I have a passing notion of what it would be like to be on the other side of that door. If I had been a smarter or a braver student, I wouldn't have gone along with it. But I wasn't. Not even close. I thought it was HILARIOUS at the time. And even now, I have to stifle my cruelest impulses when an old friend brings up the name "Big Fun" and I feel the urge to laugh out loud. It's not right for part of me to think that whole thing was funny, but here we are. The immaturity never seems to fully extinguish.

I have kids now, and you can see the pain in their eyes whenever they get teased or bullied. Especially very young kids. You can see the confusion when someone shoves them or hits them, that whole "Why would someone do that to me?" look in their eyes that that makes you want to bury your heart in the ground. I hope they don't get tormented and locked in rooms that suddenly fill with gushing water, soaking their clothes and shoes and whatever else happens to be lying around. But I also know that I can't stop it. There have been numerous efforts across the country over the years to curb teasing and bullying and hazing, and they've certainly made an impact. But they'll never erase the problem entirely, because kids are too stupid and annoying to know better. Someone will be hurt, and then that person will take it out on someone else, who will take it out on someone else, and on and on it goes.

Big Fun ended up transferring to another school, likely to be tormented by a new group of immature assholes. Sometimes, I wonder what happened to him. I wonder if he made it out of that gauntlet alive, with his dignity intact. There's someone with his name on Facebook, but I can't tell if it's him or not. Even if I knew it was him, I wouldn't have the sack to make a friend request. Who wants a friend request from someone who was a complete dick?

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