Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Have a disgusting first kiss

In middle school we played a game called "zap" and the point of the game was someone would write a name on your hand and then you had to ask that person to "go out" with you. Yep, we invented a game with that much strategy, skill level, and entertainment value! The way it usually went down, someone would write the name of someone on your hand and you'd ask them out, and then your friends would burst into laughter like it was the funniest thing ever, while you blushed, screamed, and ran away regardless of what your zappee's response had been.

I was sitting in class when another girl wrote Evan's name on my hand. At twelve I still had yet to have any sort of real romantic feeling for a boy, so I didn't give a shit.

I said, "Hey Evan, wanna go out?"
Blushing and looking down he mumbled, "Are you asking for reals or is this a zap?"
Slightly surprised by this answer I responded, "Why? Would the answer differ if it was a serious request?"
My friends watching behind me were stalled by my answer. No one had ever considered this. I was changing up the game. Evan's friends behind him stared at me.
"What?" he asked.
"It was a zap," I said.
"Then no," Evan said.
"If it wasn't a zap... would you say yes?" I asked.
"I don't know."
"Hey, Evan, wanna go out? Not a zap."
"Um, can I think about it? I'll call you tonight."
I laughed and shrugged. It was fine with me either way, I was just curious, observing the situation almost more as a social scientific experiment than something that would affect my life in any way.

Evan and I dated for about eight months, which is considered married in 7th grade. We didn't really talk to each other or ever hang out or make eye contact. One day he emailed me, "Hey, is this your email? I love you! Evan." I was like, oh maybe I should like say hi to him at school now. It was the first time anyone had told they loved me and I for the first but not the last time, decided to never say a word back, but internally obsess until it turned my insides into an acidic river of bile.

Evan was an oboist in band and I remember thinking that "I don't think I could EVER be with someone who didn't understand how important band is." As I grew up I would think the same thing about dating boys in track, journalism, political science, writers, and comedy writers.

One day we both happened to sit next to each other in the cafeteria. We were surrounded by our friends and under bright white fluorescent lights sitting at long white lunch tables. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and diet cherry coke without looking up at my "boyfriend."

"So what was your first kiss like?" our friend Rebecca asked.
"Hasn't happened yet," Evan grunted. I grinned silently and manically because I didn't know what else to do.
"You guys have been going out for months! You better kiss or something!" Meggy exclaimed.
"Yeah right, gross," I said, laughing at the absurdity of the idea of me touching a boy.

Evan, however, had a different idea. He mechanically turned to face me, grabbed the back of my head and stuck out his tongue. Terrified I sat there awaiting my impending doom like Han waiting to be devoured by the Sarlacc. With both hands he secured my face in place like he was holding it steady to aim. He leaned in, tongue first, and crammed it into my mouth. Once we were locked in to the tractor beam, he opened his mouth as wide as possible, shoving his fat tongue all the way into my mouth and just letting it floppily sit in there. His mouth was opened much wider than mine, which meant that his lips were on the outside and spit and drool quickly seeped around my mouth. He had just been eating pepperoni pizza and I could taste it in his mouth. As a young sensitive vegetarian, I almost threw up at the taste of meat. Despite the utter disgusting pig taste, I started bouncing up and down with excitement. I am doing it! I am kissing! I thought. This is kissing, right? It's slobberier than I imagined but that's cool.

Evan was the first boy that I wrote erotica/porn about. This was still before the time that I had any idea what a vagina was, so I didn't know what sex was either. (What about me doesn't say late bloomer?) In the stories I wrote, the two of us would go into the practice closet in the band room and get naked and rub our 12 year old bodies on one another. Then we would come out and accidentally have switched socks with one another and everyone would know that we had sex!

When Evan broke up with me, I didn't really care, and I certainly didn't cry. I found out later that he had been playing videogames at a friend's house and then he said, "Hmm, I guess I'll break up with Barbara." and put down the controller and called me. He had done it matter of factly with the same matter of fact tone as if to say, guess it's time to feed the cat. The next day I didn't worry about wearing a cute shirt or putting on chapstick or wearing my hair down. I wore my hair in pigtails and my most comfortable baggy overalls, almost defiantly. I hadn't realized how trapped and uncomfortably chained down I had felt. I ecstatically rejoiced in being free to be myself. I sighed with relief as though I had been unshackled from a ball and chain and reveled in my new-found freedom.

My first period

The first time I ever got my period my mom made me buy tampons because she said pads were for nerds. I was like where was the fairy godmother of social grace last year when you let me wear elf ears to school? So she made me buy tampons and I didn't know how to put them in the hole because when you're 12 years old there is no hole. Putting a tampon inside of a 12 year old is kind of like threading a needle... if that needle's hole had been sealed up by a hymen. So I begged her, Mom can you jut put it in for me the first time, just to show me where the hole is, and she said "No, I will NOT molest you!" So I just crammed it in there, next to my pee hole but not secure or seatbelted in. And I wore a skirt that day, so you're welcome, universe. I might as well have written "Murphy's Law Bait" on my ass and headed in to school.

I was in a special gifted English class, which is weird, because I was clearly retarded. I could quote Albert Camus but I had no idea what a vagina was nor where it lived. I was walking around class, picking things up from the bookshelf and my tampon fell the heck right out on the floor in front of everyone. But I realized I hadn't told anyone I was on my period, no one knew, so I just kind of kicked it and walked away. And then a little boy came up to me. Not like a little boy, he was my age. And he whispered, "Barbara what's that bloody used.... oooh." And I said, "I don't know, maybe it was from the first period."

Pun was not intended.

I had no idea what a vagina was. None of the pictures were three dimensional and I had no idea that anything could or would go inside of there. I switched to pads and didn't try to do tampons again until swim season started. At that point I knew I was doing it wrong and had a vague idea that maybe I was missing a key part.

"So, um, how do you put the tampon in there?" I asked my friend Meggy.
"What? You just shove it in."
"Shove it in what?"
"But like hamburger or hotdog style?" I asked.
"Like if this is the hole..." I held up my hands and tried to show her horizontal versus vertical.
"If you're putting it in hamburger style you're either doing it incorrectly or you have the widest vagina ever."
"Can you show me where my vagina is?" I asked.
"Get some boundaries, girl!"

I would not realize what or where a vagina was for several years, even though I had one. When I thought about sex I just imagined someone fumbling around near my pee hole. The concept of anything convex down there remained foreign to me for about three years until a guy put a finger in there, and that would be the first time I realized what a vagina was.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I stood in front of my new fifth grade class while the teacher introduced me to the students. Their tiny faces stared at me, a new student to their class that had been together since kindergarten, and they analyzed me like an animal at a zoo. I was wearing a bright yellow baggy polo tank top and a jean mini-skirt, pink socks, and my hair was in pigtails. My teacher told everyone I was from public school and they shuddered as if she had told them I had just gotten out of juvi. I grinned wildly and didn't say anything when she led me to my new desk.

The girl who was sitting next to me was coloring her arm hairs individually with a yellow highlighter.
"Why are you doing that?" I asked.
"If you shave your arm hair it usually gets stubbly and gross, but if you bleach it, it just practically looks invisible." She looked over at my arms. "Here, you should try it. Maybe do your armpits too."

I had never thought about my arm hair before but as soon as she mentioned that a burning horror crossed my face and I quietly took the highlighter from her. I had just started growing body hair and was turning into a furry little monster so gradually that I hadn't noticed that it was disgusting. No one had told me that people weren't supposed to have body hair, but while I began coloring my arms, I reflected that my mom was hairless, had she highlighted herself? Or was she born that way? I knew for certain my dad wasn't highlighting any of his hair, why didn't he have to do that? It was the first time I had been confronted with gender roles and I was embarrassed and scared and awkward as I threw myself into them.

My desk mate was named Felicia and when I was assigned the desk next to her it was like she had said "Okay, I guess we'll have to be best friends now." She invited me over to her house that night and we watched My Best Friend's Wedding (my first romantic comedy) and she put makeup on me, my first time even seeing makeup, let alone allowing my face to be toddlers-in-tiarras made up. In one day I was forced to confront the impending difficulties of puberty and I developed an intense fear and embarrassment for my natural physicality.

The second day of class when I sat down there was already a note on my desk. It read:

"Hi Barbara! I love you! You're beautiful! Also, how old are you? When's your birthday? love, Andrew."

I guess that everyone in that class had prematurely sexualized themselves. Only recently aware of my body, and not entirely sure of what Julia Roberts would have done, I just wrote down my birthday on the back of the note and handed it back to Andrew.

"Um, you're older than me?" he said with audible disappointment.
"I don't know," I answered. "Is your birthday after the date I wrote down in chronological order?"
"Then probably, yes."
He sighed.

Andrew was a few weeks younger than me. Since then I have hooked up with gentleman ranging from two years younger than me to nine years older, and have come to the decision that it does not matter at all. At that age I felt embarrassed and guilty, like I had done something wrong by being born so prematurely. I decided it was wise to ignore Andrew for the rest of the day, which turned out to be pretty easy. Towards the end of the day we were getting up to go and Andrew randomly leaned over to touch my arm.

"Eeek you're hot!" he yelped.
"I'm warm?" I said.
"Yeah, warmer than me," Andrew replied. "Your skin is so warm."
"...I'm sorry," I mumbled, genuinely ridden with real guilt, I left the classroom. Andrew and I didn't talk for the rest of the year, but whenever it got really warm I was self conscious of my body temperature, and my newly acquired ability to sweat. I used to stretch out my t-shirt over the metal back of my chair, so that the cold metal was against my skin to cool me down. I'm sure I looked like a complete idiot but somehow I thought that was less weird than getting overheated.

After Fifth grade I never saw Andrew again. Eventually more men tried to hold my hand or touch my arm and I became accustomed to the phrase, "holy crap, you're so cold! Your hands are like an ice fish, girl!" And I would think, yay, finally.

Monday, October 3, 2011


In second grade there was a little boy named Eugene, who would come to represent the debacle of my romantic life. Eugene was an overweight, pink faced, sweaty little boy with glasses who I hadn’t given much thought to. One day in class I was reading a book while the other kids worked on their math worksheet that I had finished a week ago. (Teachers, if you’re going to photocopy all your assignments from the back of the book, don’t be surprised when kids do them all at once and turn them in laminated, indexed and corrected for you.) Eugene randomly and deliberately stood up in class, walked over to me, and dropped a pink and blue beaded necklace on my desk. Without saying anything or making eye contact he turned to walk away.

“Um, what,” I mumbled, picking up the necklace. “Is this, did you, is what is….”
“Huh?” Eugene turned around and looked at me. Eugene was super gross and moist.
“Why did you leave this here?” I held up the necklace at arm’s length like a snake.
“Oh, I made that.”
“Really?” I whispered. Other kids looked up.
“Yeah, I wanted to give it to the prettiest girl in class…” He said.
“Really?” I caught my breath. Maybe Eugene was the love of my life. Maybe he was the only one to see that my tangly messy hair was like a mermaid's.
“Yeah, but Sarah didn’t want it, so…”
“Excuse me?”
“The prettiest girl in class, Sarah, didn’t want it.”
I looked over at Sarah who was staring at me, daring me to take the necklace. She looked smug and calm while my cheeks flushed uncomfortably.
“She said I was disgusting and gay,” poor little Eugene said, hanging his head. “So I guess you can have it or whatever.” He turned to walk away.
“Because I’m second prettiest?” I asked. There was a still pause.
“What? No. I just thought you could have it. I don’t want it.”
“I’m not second prettiest?” I said. Everyone had grown quiet and was looking at me anxiously.
“I didn’t rank everyone.” Eugene said.
“Maybe you should have,” I said (wow, from the girl who would later call herself a feminist.)
“Please, just… I don’t want it. I don’t care. Throw it away if you want.” Eugene walked away.

In retrospect the poor kid was probably way more uncomfortable than I could imagine. He had just tried to give a home made gift to the love of his second grade life and been turned down, humiliated, and then I had called attention to it. It was as if Menelaus had launched a thousand ships and Helen had been like “oh, but, you know, I didn’t want that.” And he was like, “oh, really? Um, you sure? A thousand is a lot. I already launched them for you, because of your face, but okay.” And just when Menelaus thought he couldn't feel any more embarrassed, a bird came and crapped on all the ships and that bird was me.

I left the necklace on my desk and didn’t touch it. I went home and told my mom the story and she said “You need to give that back to him. That is an insult to think of you as an afterthought.”

That complex would stay with me, the more I was around men. Oh you asked Rebecca to the prom and she said no so you thought you’d ask me? No thank you! You got drunk at this party thinking you could french with Jen but she turned you down so you ended up in my dorm room? Fuck you, no way. I've defined myself as a consolation prize since seventh grade. I’m pretty sure if anyone ever proposes to me I’ll be like, which of my friends rejected you?

When I got back to class the next day, the necklace was still sitting on my desk, leering at me like a troll peeking out of a cave to remind you that you're ugly and not special. I could feel Sarah watching out of the corner of her eye as I slid it inside the tiny cubby of my desk. Later that day I made a show of throwing it away in front of a bunch of girls who giggled and cheered as the homemade present went into the garbage, after triple checking that there was no way Eugene could see.

The rest of elementary school every time I saw Eugene I felt like I was going to throw up. Before the necklace instance he had been a creepy pig boy that I never noticed. But now he was someone who did not think I was second prettiest but had noticed me enough to give me the necklace. I made excuses to run into him and blushed whenever he looked at me. He had unintentionally made me aware of my romantic value or lack thereof. Unconsciously I started laughing louder around him, just to show him how much fun I was having not being the second prettiest.


Over the course of a few weeks in third grade I convinced myself that the school was haunted. On a breeze-less day, I saw some branches move outside and I was like, “How did they move? There must be a ghost up there.” I soaked up Are You Afraid of the Dark and the Twilight Zone like a mini-goth sponge so it was relatively easy to convince me that anything was haunted. My imagination would take off like a racehorse. I saw a twig move and I quickly fabricated an entire plot: that a young boy had been murdered by a group of math teachers and he would haunt the school until someone dug up his corpse and unmasked the math teachers as the murderers that they were. These thoughts jumped in my head so randomly and fully formed that I often attributed the formation of such notions to be a psychic message that the ghost himself had sent me.

I spent my recess time and after school time going to the library to research murders and deaths around our school. There were a lot of murders and disappearances in my home town. It’s weird how small towns are always thought to be idyllic and a safe place to raise kids, and then you hear about some old man climbing into a girl’s bedroom, chopping her up, making it into stew, feeding it to her parents, and then collecting and spelling “I love you” with their excretement. I think my parents had been like, “Let’s move to North Bend!” And someone was like, “Oh shit where the green river killer dumps his bodies?” And they were like, “safer than in Seattle, where some black people live!”

Around that time, a girl named Katrina asked me over for a sleep over. Katrina was the first in a long line of girlfriends known as my unhealthy friend crushes that caused me to yell, “If you don’t want to hang out with me, that’s fine, I’m not going to beg you!” And then proceed to beg profusely. Her house was terrifyingly large. Her parents terrifyingly large and I did not want to be there. No one had taught me that it wasn’t polite to say to someone’s mother, “Sorry, my parents and my body don’t let me eat high fatty foods.” No one had taught me that I should say, “What do you mean say grace? Like… un-clumsy?” And no one had taught me that when a religious round woman asks you what your faith is, you’re not supposed to start rambling about ghosts and murder.

The next day at school Katrina came up to me to ask about the ghost. I was so excited. I had a friend and she liked spirits too! I took Katrina out to the far end of the playground during recess, where we sat behind a big tree and couldn’t see anyone else.

“We’re going to do a séance and figure out where he's buried so we can find his body,” I stated matter of factly.
“I do not want to find his body. I don't want to do that at all,” Katrina said.
“Don’t you want the math teachers to face justice?” I said.
“I don’t know….”
I started chanting in a weird language that I made up on the spot (improv, hey!) and dancing around.
“How do you know how to do that?” the Christian girl asked.
“I think Freddy the ghost’s spirit is guiding me,” I answered.
“That was his name? Freddy the ghost?”
“It used to be Freddy the human, actually.”
I tripped and fell on an old dusty yellowed baseball. I picked it up in my hands and screamed.
“This was Freddy’s baseball,” I gasped.
Katrina, who had stopped believing in my shit a while ago stood up and dusted off her knees. “I’m going to go play kickball.”
To me organized team sports were much scarier than a revenge thirsty ghost. I still have nightmares about dropping a ball I should have been able to catch or striking out in front of everyone. Embarrassment haunted me like a ghost I could never exorcise.
“Fine, I don’t need you!” I snapped to her retreating back.

After Katrina left, I spent the rest of recess chanting in my made up language and dancing around underneath the tree. Routinely I would take a break to run to the outskirts of the playground and dig in the bark hysterically, thinking that I might unearth some bones. I was so wrapped up in my energetic séance that I failed to notice when all the other children heard the bell and headed back into the school building for class. No one came up to me to warn me that recess had ended, can you believe it? And about fifteen minutes (which is hours in kid time) later I realized that I was the only one out there. Shame faced, sweating, and dirty, I ran back to my class room. When my teacher Mr. King, who was a very nice man, asked why I was late, it was probably with a worried confusion, but I heard it with incredulous rage. I turned bright red, shook so much I couldn’t talk, and about four tiny droplets of pee came out. That was the first time I peed my pants since potty training. Peeing my pants turned out to be my body’s fight or flight response defense mechanism. Like my body was like “oh predators, you know what will make them leave her alone? Urine stains on the back of the skirt.” But what the body doesn’t know is that third graders are the worst predators and what might be disgusting enough to scare away a lion, would only make a third grader write about it on a bathroom wall.

That was the first time I got detention. I remember being terrified about something called a permanent record, that didn’t really exist. During detention, Mr. King was very kind to me and just had me help him write out math problems for the following day’s class assignments. So actually I had spent a lot of mystical time and effort trying to make sure math never happened at our school again, and as punishment I ended up doing more math. I clearly needed to think these séances through better.

And so it begins

For teacher’s pet I got in trouble a little bit growing up. Being teacher’s pet and getting into trouble in no way prepares you for the real world. They’re like, “Oh you skipped gym to reread Darwin’s Origin of the Species? That’s adorable! You passed notes in class to let someone know the Heisenberg certainty principle? I can’t stay mad at you!” Teachers do not know how to punish dorky children, and they don’t want to. I think this gave me a misguided sense of invinvibility. Now I’ll be five minutes late to work and like, “What are you gonna do? Huh?” Or I’ll be smoking weed outside a comedy club and someone will whisper, “Barbara, be more subtle.” And I’ll be like, “What are they going to do? I look like Mary from little house on the prairie with nerd glasses.”

When I was in second grade I got in trouble for the first time. I was writing a short story in class about aliens coming to earth and studying human interaction. (Which I think symbolized me trying to talk to other kids. ‘Oh yes, kickball. A normal kid game. I am also a normal kid.’) My teacher caught me writing the story and sent me to the principal’s office for the first time.

Seven year old Barbara was like, “What’s a principal?”
My teacher said, “The person in charge of the whole school, all the class rooms.”
‘Weird,’ I thought. ‘I thought this was a senate not a parliament.’

The idea that there was a guy in charge had not even occurred to me. I was really stupid for such a smart kid. I just kind of assumed everyone was responsible enough and thusly capabale of governing themselves (gross, was I a tiny republican?). I had no idea where the principal’s office was.

“You know,” my teacher impatiently said, “where you go when you’re tardy or have a sick day.”
“Why would I be tardy?” I said.

I needed another kid to take me to the principal’s office. As soon as we exited the classroom I started sobbing. With snot dripping down my face while I shook uncontrollably, I’m sure that the girl escorting me was not thinking ‘Wow, I better invite her to my pool party.’ I was a combination of book smart and completely unaware of anything. I probably had some sort of aspergers. My teachers would be like, “She’s so smart, she writes poetry and reads philosophy.” And my parents would be like, “Her, the kid that’s hiding under her desk eating her hands?”

Once inside the principal’s office, I met the principal for the first time. She took my sweat and tear soaked story and read it while I sat and watched. She didn’t sit behind her desk, as if to say, ‘See, there’s no barriers between us even though there I have a career, a husband, and you have a monster costume out of paper plates!’ She helped herself to a bowl of peanut m&ms sitting on a desk and offered me some. (Remember when you used to be able to offer a kid a peanut product without asking for all their medical records and a rectal exam?) I sat there eating candy while the principal read my story, cracking up out loud over and over again. I wasn’t sure what she was laughing at. Was the story really that funny? Was she laughing at me for being stupid enough to write this? Maybe that’s what getting in trouble was: instead of kids laughing at you, just someone bigger with a therefore bigger laugh?

Eventually she put down the story and said, “You wrote this whole thing? You didn’t copy it from anywhere?”
“Um, yeah, no, I mean I wrote it. Yeah,” I said.
“This is great. Keep writing these funny stories. You’ve got a knack for it.”

And I didn’t get any punishment other than that. I was sent back to my classroom, where I promptly cried again, this time for no reason, and stayed quiet for almost the rest of the school year. But in the back of my head the seed had been planted. I was a funny writer. I could write stories.