ast week at middle school, Marcel’s gym clothes disappeared out of his locker.

“I know I locked it!” he insisted of the state in which he had left his gym locker.

He hadn’t, though, and so the lock along with all of the finery it had protected—one sixth-grade boy’s smelly gym shirt and shorts (the latter borrowed from his less-than-gracious younger brother)—were gone.

The coach was kind. She endured Marcel’s Mulder-esque claims that he could actually see his missing gym clothes through the holes of another locker. She even collaborated with him on a note that the pair of them affixed to that very suspicious locker asking that its owner come and speak with the coach when they found it there. Finally, she excused Marcel from dressing out and refused to take our check for $10 to replace the shirt.

‘I’ll cover you,’ she told him—or words to that effect because, really, in more than 20 years of doing her middle school, gym-coaching job, what hasn’t this woman seen? What stories has she not heard? Spend even a little time with my son and you know that this kid is totally going to get his gym clothes stolen. Unlike my son, however, she knew the truth really was out there and, within two days of launching a full investigation into The Case of the Missing Gym Clothes, she solved it.

The coach called Marcel out of math class to return his gym shirt to him. Another boy had used a Sharpie to write over Marcel’s name in order to assume it as his own. His clever ploy was discovered by the vigilant coach and some sort of punishment meted out, but those shorts and the lock that failed us all are lost to the mists of time.

Sometimes, when Marcel talks about the boys in his gym class (“Henry, Crazy Henry, Alfredo, Marlon, Jesus, but you really say it that way, Jasper…”), I think that these sound like names tossed around at a writers’ meeting for Oz. No one’s shivved anyone (yet) and the convention of showering after P.E. must have been killed well and truly sometime during the ‘90s so at that’s one less horror to deal with, but there is an aggregation of middle school testosterone and lousy decision-making that seems to play out in and around the gym, a force to itself.

Aggression bubbles forth in predictable ways; Marcel periodically regales us with stories of trash talk and the occasional shoving incident. Stealing something the owner hardly wants themselves is especially mysterious to me. It is the act of someone who could and so they did, I think, and I feel uneasy.

Today they are only 11, I tell myself. They are babies, yet. And I feel better for awhile.