There must be certain advantages to looking like a boy when you’re a pre-adolescent girl. At least, I’m pretty sure there are. I just never figured out what they were or how to use them.
At the tender age (and tender physique) of 10, a righteous act of sibling envy led me to copy my sister’s young Scott Baio haircut. With bulging eyes, navy blue braces splayed across my disproportionally large teeth, and no apparent chin to speak of, I looked like the lovechild between a young Rodney Dangerfield and a thumb (I can only imagine the circumstances in which Rodney Dangerfield copulates with a finger). This, combined with a unisex name and the natural speaking volume of a muffled fart, most people mistook me for a boy.
Instead of fighting the harsh tides of femininity, I conceded to coasting on the sweet waves of manhood. I found refuge in just ‘being one of the guys’. I played football every recess, wore saggy Lee Pipes every day, and would bring in my copies of the Matrix Soundtrack and 311’s Greatest Hits to school, making sure the ‘PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT’ stickers were blatantly visible to my classmates. I figured that if I was going to be the quiet kid, I might as well be the mysteriously badass quiet kid. The other kids would look at me and be forced to think, “Wow, look at that gir….dude. He must be cool and super deep, he owns a popular movie soundtrack that has a song by Rob Zombie on it.”
It wasn’t like I didn’t have friends, though. I had quite a few in fact. My elementary school was extremely diverse for a mostly gentrified city, so almost 100% of my friends were non-Caucasian. More specifically, the majority of my friends were extremely petite and adorable Vietnamese and Korean girls, who acted as human highlighters to emphasize how non-petite and non-adorable I was.
For those few friends who whittled away at my emotional brick wall, they had the dubious privilege of watching me do hour-long impersonations of strange old British women whom I’d based on BBC soap operas my Mother watched. I also enjoyed cross-dressing and hosting dinner for my family dressed as a French butler, mascara mustache and all. This somewhat compromised my original M.O. of being a mysterious badass, but it didn’t matter to me. At heart, I was a big ham (I suppose at face I was a bit pork-like as well). I’d learned in my early years that if I could make my parents laugh, I could evade punishment, so why not see how far laughter could take me?
Not very far, it turned out. The second I felt scared, awkward, shy, or nervous (even a light breeze could incite one of these emotions), I crawled into my shell, and the jokes disappeared. There were many moments in which humor could have greatly diffused a situation, but I couldn’t access it, as it was locked away with the rest of my socially normative behavior.
One example of this mental lockdown was when I was hastily en route to the girl’s bathroom one fine Spring day in 4th grade. As soon as I grabbed the steel handle to the door, an authoritative yell echoed from down the hallway. A middle-aged, frizzy-haired female teacher trotted sternly towards me as I prematurely began my bathroom break.
“What precisely do you think you’re doing, young man?”
Nothing. I had nothing. My eyes glazed over in a thin layer of tears, acting as some form of self-defense shield to prevent me from seeing this horrifyingly awkward reality.
“That is the girl’s bathroom. Were you trying to sneak a peek on the ladies, young man?”
Still nothing. Well, something. At this point all sorts of bodily liquids were leaving any orifice they could find at an alarming rate. I had to say something.
“Imagirl,” I muttered it so quietly that if she hadn’t already had her bug eyes incredulously transfixed on me, she’d never have known I said anything.
“…Excuse me?” She softened a bit, not entirely sure what I’d said, but starting to put the pieces together.
“I’m a girl, ma’am”. I said a little louder, praying for some Pinocchio transformation moment, upon which declaring that I’m a REAL girl, I would immediately sprout age-appropriate boobs and long, flaxen hair.
“Oh! Oh. Well. Well. Well, well, well. Hmmm. I am very sorry about that,” she stammered, as though she was choking on all the blood that was quickly rushing to her cheeks.
I said nothing. After an eon of a second, we fumblingly parted ways towards our intended destinations. Although to be fair, the only place I wanted to go after that exchange was under a large pile of Downy fresh comforters and hibernate for the rest of my adolescence. But the bathroom would just have to do.
There were other such excruciating moments during these years. For reasons I will never understand, my elementary school thought it would be appropriate to start hosting two open admission clubs that would congregate in the library during lunch: the “Miss Manners Club” and the “Gentlemen of Quality Club”. These school-sanctioned clubs were run by two elderly female teachers who deemed it necessary to teach 10-year-boys how to open doors for ladies and for the girls how to host tea parties. And dammit, it may have been the most horribly sexist thing ever, but I wanted so badly to learn how to be a girl. Yes, being one of the guys was all good and well, but it was thwarting all of my schemes to try to get my crush to like me.
I resisted the club at first, but almost all of my female friends immediately joined and gushed about how there was going to be a MAKEOVER day at the end of the week. Makeover Day??? My mind chewed on this nugget of information for days. I fantasized about emerging from makeover day, a She’s All That worthy moment, my hair somehow not looking like an albino Ringo anymore, and of course there would be frosted pink lipstick involved. Oh! And my crush would see me and ask me to the sock hop at the end of the year so long as both of our moms were okay with it. It was going to be magical.
I began to incorporate small artifacts of femininity to try and prepare myself for MAKEOVER DAY. I wore those small, glittery butterfly clips in my hair one day, but my guy friends just laughed and smacked my head throughout the entire day, innocently claiming that they thought they saw a bug on my head, heh heh heh. I wore my ‘nice’ blouse the next day (‘nice’ meaning made entirely of crushed blue velvet), but was mocked for wearing a magician’s cape for a shirt.
Before I had a chance to wear my sister’s neon scrunchie, MAKEOVER DAY was upon me. When the lunch bell rang at 11:40am that day, my stomach lurched, not out of hunger, but from sheer terror and panic about my plan. My attempts at girlhood thus far had failed horribly, and who knew if makeup could even save me? Maybe I was just too ugly to salvage. As my friends happily skipped to the library, I death marched behind them, praying that maybe the boys wouldn’t even notice anything different. Or I could just wash my face off if it didn’t look good. Yeah, that’d work! Everything was going to be okay.
The teachers who ran the clubs were too old to move the tables to accommodate the large horde of small 11-year-old girls, so the first five minutes of MAKEOVER DAY was spent doing manual labor to rearrange the decades-old tables which were apparently filled with mercury. Exhausted from moving most of the tables, because I was the beefiest girl there, my glamourous Rachel Leigh Cook fantasies were starting to dim.
“Okay ladies!” the slightly toadlike teacher clapped her hands to draw focus. “Are you ready for MAKEOVER DAY?” Her enthusiasm was way out of proportion to the reality of the event. It was like an elementary school version of Oprah, but instead of everybody getting cars, everybody got pink eye from sharing the teacher’s gently used (read: been in a drawer since the 1980s) Mary Kay eyeshadows!!!! We, the girls, saw right through her act. There were no lighted mirrors or stylists in the background, their shears snipping the air with unbridled excitement. We realized that the MAKEOVER DAY we had in our heads was not the MAKEOVER DAY we were going to have on our faces.
If Schindler’s List had a makeover scene, it would probably look a whole lot like Lake Hills Elementary School’s Makeover Day. Twenty girls crammed around a medium-sized table, quietly waiting to use the teacher’s chalky eyeshadow palettes (most inexplicably shaped like seashells) they brought from home, or potentially Goodwill. I selected a base color of sky blue with a deep purple shadowing, to really achieve that nice young, perky assault victim look. Once the eyes were done, we were given a cotton swab to use as applicators for the dog penis-esque lipsticks (truly, it was uncanny. Also, I’m sorry about that one). In fluttering fluorescent lights and with only three compact mirrors to share between us all, we had no chance for anything remotely resembling success. I still hadn’t seen my results, having blindly applied my makeup, but I was unjustifiably feeling confident about my results. I don’t know why this spark of hope reignited within in me, but taking part in of the female beauty ritual gave me that womanly confidence that ladies in those commercials with the vials of blue liquid being poured into diapers (I was oh so sheltered) were always talking about.
As girls scattered at the sound of the school bell, I held my chins high and sauntered back to class, just dreaming of how speechless the boys would be at my glorious new look. Particularly the boy. I suppose it would be prudent to discuss the inspiration for ‘the plan’. His name was Casey. He was Hawaiian, played football, and most importantly, laughed at my jokes (my standards were clearly sky high).
The boys who played football at lunch were still congregated outside the classroom as I neared them, tossing the ball around and most likely daring each other to eat some piece of moldy food they’d found during recess. All at once, my stomach quivered in fear and decided to seek refuge all the way down in my butt.
I’d made a huge mistake.
These boys lived on ripping each other to shreds, why would I think they’d make an exception for me? Oh yes, the plan. No. Fuck the plan (sorry, Mom. It’s all that bad music I listened to). They were going to make so, so much fun of me.
What happened next always reminds me of sci-fi movies, where one single person in a crowd sees the UFO in the sky, and becomes immobile, stunned, and one by one all the other passersby take notice of this frighteningly huge alien thing.That’s a pretty accurate summary of what happened.
They were all staring at me, and I them. I cracked a questioning half-grin to try and break the awkward tension, and they erupted in laughter. Rosie O’Donnell, Papa Smurf, and Mimi from The Drew Carey Show were some of the tamer names I was bequeathed. Thankfully, they were so out of breath from laughing so hard that they couldn’t find the air to spew out more insults.
I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t let my makeup run. I could make my legs run, though, which is exactly what I did. I ran like it was 3rd & down on the ten and I had the ball clutched between my eyeshadow-stained hands.
Casey, it should be noted, did not take part in the name-calling ceremony, though he did chuckle along with the rest of them. I couldn’t fault him for this, even in my state of mortifying despair, as I would have done the same if the tables were turned. Kids are stupid, and when gathered in large numbers, that stupidity is multiplied to the umpteenth degree. The girls in The Miss Manners club were stupid for thinking they looked better with pastel warpaint on their faces, and the boys were stupid for acting like stupid assholes.
That being said, I would never relinquish those experiences. By the time I finally did get age-appropriate boobs and long, flaxen hair, I had already developed a personality; one that was a tad thicker skinned than before, sure, but I had learned to stop taking myself so seriously. I learned that I could make people laugh with me before they had a chance to laugh at me, which has been the fire that has driven me since then. When asked by counselors or teachers what I wanted to do as a career, I always responded: “I want to make people laugh.
I still do. And I hope I have. And if not, fuck you.*
*Seriously, Mom. How could you let me listen to such corrupting music? I’m ruined. Also, sorry.
I’ve been on a lot of bad dates. As a former internet dater, there is no avoiding them. I’ve been told I’d look cute pregnant on a second date, I’ve had a guy’s dog pee on my shirt, and one time I got my thumbnail caught on my date’s coat while hugging him goodbye, shredding it halfway down my finger and causing me to bleed profusely over us both. A guy bought me an expensive outfit on our first date (okay that wasn’t sooooo bad), and I’ve paid for the whole tab because my date was at the time “technically” homeless and jobless (which he conveniently remembered to tell me seconds before the waiter left the check). Nothing, however, compares to this one date.The date.
His name was Rien. Si vous parlez Français, you know this name literally means ‘nothing’. This should have been my first clue.
I met Rien through the ad-riddled, poorly designed website, Plentyoffish.com (truly, just a garbage dump of html. Whoever designed that site should take a good, hard look in the mirror). At 20, I was far too young to be using an online dating service, but I was still debilitatingly shy at the time and figured at least the awkwardness of first dates would help mask my awkward personality.
Rien was a “business consultant” who majored in “Buddhism” at some “accredited holistic university”, I shit you not. He was also a formal fitness model. I should have been more skeptical that an incredibly in shape and attractive man would be using an online dating site, but after a lot of google searching I verified his name to his face. And it was a nice face. He sort of looked like the groom in The Hangover, what’s-his-face (Edit: Google checked. Justin Bartha. Dated one of the Olsen twins), except not as hot. After a few benign messages back and forth, we agreed to get coffee one afternoon at a popular café in the University District.
I wore my cleanest clothes and did my hair up in a jaunty ponytail to give off a hint of athleticism, although walking across campus from one class to another at a decent clip was about my physical limit at the time. I arrived before Rien, so I nervously settled down and waited in the open-air patio in the alley behind the café, which had plastic deck chairs whose legs shuddered like Catherine O’Hara’s sprained knee in Best in Show (is that too specific a reference? It’s worth looking up to get the full visual. I’ll wait. Seriously, you’re already on a computer if you’re reading this. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3io93ee0GTY. I even did all the work for you!). After five minutes of sipping my cappuccino veeerrry slowly (as to not give the sense I’d been waiting long, of course. There are rules, you know), Rien appeared from the back door and flashed a preternaturally white smile as he casually strolled over to the bird poop Jackson Pollock-ed table.
Pleasantries were made, we asked the obligatory questions about our respective jobs/schooling, and we lightly tossed flirtatious banter back and forth. It was…fine. In my starry-eyed youth, however, just ‘fine’ conversation was more than I had ever expected, especially with someone whose stomach looked like the underside of a muffin tin (I’ve clearly missed my calling as a romance novelist with my staggeringly great abdomen similes).
After about an hour of conversation that rivaled plain oatmeal on the excitement scale, Rien suggested we grab a meal, perhaps at that “charming looking” (that should have been my second clue) vegetarian restaurant across the street? In my dumb-dumb delusion, I gleefully accepted.
We were the two only patrons in the restaurant, as it was that awkward post-lunch/pre-dinner timespan. Rien ordered a draft beer and Caesar salad. I liked that. Plain and simple. But it would be neither. I ordered a Diet Coke and something non-offensive (my own meal seems irrelevant at this point), and soon after sipping our age-revealing beverages for a few minutes, the waitress brought out Rien’s salad. The second the ceramic chimed the table, a light flicked on in Rien’s eyes: a manic, yet pretentious look that I’m sure Whole Foods employees see on a regular basis (“What do you MEAN you’re OUT of the Synergy Brand Green Chia Kombucha? I will DIE, sir.”).
“There is cheese on this salad.” Rien said, appalled, as if the waitress had garnished the plate with grated kidney stones.
“Um…it’s a Caesar salad…” the waitress retorted cautiously, probably only half anticipating what an asshole this guy was about to be.
“I can’t HAVE cheese, or ANY dairy products. I will get completely bloated and it is not pretty. This isn’t what I wanted.” Rien patronizingly explained.
“Well, I’m sorry sir, but you didn’t specify anything about your salad!” The waitress was starting to stand her ground a little more firmly.
“I’d like to speak with your manager. I don’t like your attitude.” Rien crossed his overworked arms, which awkwardly squeezed his hamburger bun pecs out (seriously, I am a true romance novelist. What am I doing with my life?).
The waitress was clearly taken aback by this move. She furrowed her Rockabilly pin-up perfect eyebrows and turned back, mumbling furiously (I don’t blame her), and therapeutically running her fingers through her Veronica Lodge blue-black hair as she stomped back toward the kitchen, where she most likely reevaluated some of her career choices. Or spit in my meal that had yet to arrive (I wouldn’t blame her).
All the while, I’d been inching ever so slowly down in my seat, desperately hoping to somehow slump off into a parallel universe, one where enraged lactose intolerant dickholes were only a thing of legend.
Rien turned to me, taking no notice of my roasted beet red cheeks, and declared that this whole situation was “BULLSHIT!”, and that it was time to go. Without paying for his half-finished beer, Rien stormed off and motioned for me to follow like he was some brooding Greaser, beckoning his absolutely mortified Sandy.
To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t just book it in the opposite direction. Perhaps I had the foresight to know that one day this whole debacle would make a mediocre essay (way to go, past Sidney! Always have that end game in mind). Instead, I idiotically followed Rien as he huffily continued up the street, ranting about “that bitch waitress”. We continued to aimlessly walk until we passed by the neighborhood’s staple Mexican restaurant, known for its charmingly out-of-place board game decor from when the property was a Wizards of the Coast-esque geek boutique.
“Let’s go here,” Rien declared, stopping abruptly in front of the restaurant.
Of course! What better dining selections for those who shun dairy than a MEXICAN (well okay, Americanized Mexican, if we’re getting into semantics here) restaurant? I looked to him, searching his face to see if it was just a ruse. It was not. The man wanted to go to a restaurant that probably buys shredded cheese by the industrial-sized barrel.
Rien immediately beelined for one of the dark teal pleather booths against the far end of the restaurant, and proceeded to prop his back against the wall and kick his legs up directly on the seat, completely disregarding any semblance of decorum.
The restaurant’s host had been on the phone when we arrived (I like to pretend someone was making reservations for this restaurant that had chess piece light sconces), so he did not immediately welcome us. The lack of lightning fast service was clearly unacceptable to Rien. In fact, it seemed to personally offend him. Thus, Rien decided to take a plunge into the brisk waters of awkward racial stereotyping.
“YO PADRE!” Rien literally snapped his fingers at the waiter, as one does trying to get a distracted dog’s attention.
The poor man walked quicker than he rightfully should have over to our booth, and kindly asked us if we would like to order something.
“Yeah, I want the veggie burrito, but I CAN’T have dairy. That means, no queso, no leche. NADA, okay? Comprende?” Rien’s Spanish dripped with a shockingly awful Speedy Gonzales accent.
I somehow mustered the words to order a cheese enchilada platter, because if I was going to die a slow, painful death on this date, I might as well have some hot greasy cheese numb my senses a little. If food be thy medicine, then goddammit, let it be my Vicodin.
Rien did not seem to notice, or at least acknowledge the fact that he was a total fucking asshole. As we waited for our food, Rien began, out of thin air, to barrage me with inappropriately specific questions about my sexual history. Did I like being tied up? Threeways? College lesbian adventures? When I just shook my head and quietly requested a blanket moratorium on the topic, he simply delved into his own hateful diatribe about his former girlfriends (Who were these girls? Were they clinically sane? Holyshitweretheystillalive?), and all the stuff they wouldn’t let them do, because, and I quote, “hot girls are bigger fucking’ teases than the butter faces”.
I swallowed down some rage vomit that was desperately attempting to project itself directly onto Rien’s face, and quietly excused myself to the restroom. In the checker board patterned stall, I evaluated the situation. Do I call somebody? What would I say? Who will believe me? Why, why, why did I shower for this? Valid questions all, I texted some of my friends to at least tell them where I was, lest Rien got cotija in his burrito and mass murdered the entire restaurant staff.
When I emerged from my momentary sanctuary, I noticed Rien wasn’t chaise-lounging in the booth. ‘IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!’ I internally exclaimed, but as soon as this glorious thought filled my body with the warmth of a thousand suns, I saw the shining glint of a cactus-shaped shot glass in the corner of my eye. Rien had apparently decided my bathroom excursion was the perfect time to sidle up to the bar and take a tequila shot. As I death marched back to the booth, something suddenly clicked. A state of zen, nay, numbness settled over me. I felt like Zach Braff in the first 10 minutes of Garden State, but with a less indie, more mariachi-based soundtrack. I could get through this. I could tell this delightfully funny story of my bad date to my friends. Oh, the foreshadowing.
I don’t remember much of the actual meal, except for the small delight I took in eating his cheesy kryptonite directly in front of him. When Rien wasn’t being a prick, he was as boring as his dry veggie burrito. When the check finally arrived, I firmly insisted on paying my half (and an apologetic 35% tip to boot), because I would be damned if I’d let him feel entitled to any ‘payback’ for fronting the bill.
In my mental compartmentalization, I hadn’t noticed the torrential downpour that was already starting to pool on the sidewalks. I panicked. I lived about 2 miles away, and was wearing nice shoes that didn’t deserve a fate as awful as the traumatized girl wearing them. Did I accept the offer of a ride home? Were $50 shoes worth it? I decided they were. They were really fucking cute.
We ran to his overcompensating BMW and for the first time on the date, felt grateful towards him, or rather, his leather seats warmers. I had quickly devised a plan to have him drop me off a couple blocks from my actual building, to ensure that he wouldn’t know exactly where I lived. Freedom was close. I was already making plans to jump into my warmest pajamas, consume a cow’s worth of milk products and leave bad Yelp reviews for his consulting firm. But as we drove up the street that was a straight shot to my ‘place’, Rien suddenly veered the car into an abandoned alleyway.
This is it. He’s going to either rape me, murder me, or both, in either order, I frantically thought. Now I was going to be just another Dateline story and this would validate my mother’s belief in anything Chris Hansen or has ever spewed to overly concerned parents. Rien jerked the brake and my throat closed up, as I slowly reached my hand in my purse to grab my keys, Wolverine-style, in case I needed to punch him in the nuts. But Rien didn’t turn the car off. The brake lights still blaring, he jumped out of the car, rounded to the front of the hood, and proceeded to whip his unsurprisingly small penis out, and pee directly onto his car, floodlit, glaring directly in my direction.
I’ve visited Thesauraus.com multiple times, and I still haven’t found the words to express just how I felt during this sequence of events. The relief of not being molested and/or killed combined with the surreal horror of seeing an unnaturally lit man staring at me while he took A League of Their Own worthy pee. His expression was inexplicable as well. It was a placid, neutral look, but the heavy rain caused a Clint Eastwood squint that chilled me to my core. I bore a mental hole staring down in my lap and prayed that this was the extent of his batshit crazy behavior.
And by the grace of Buddha, it seemed to be. Rien casually zipped himself back up and slid into the car, backed out of the alley, and silently continued up the street as if the detour from hell hadn’t just transpired. He kept the same emotionless air the rest of the thankfully short trip, but when he pulled to the curb of my street, it was like pulling the blinds up when you’ve slept too long, and it’s jarring to see the sunlight.
“I had a really great time today! You’re a fun girl!” He seemed too earnest to be mocking, but I had no idea what the hell was happening anymore. In my disoriented confusion, I somehow mustered a quiet “uhhhhhhhhthanksokaybye” and did my best to not flat out sprint back to my dorm.
Once I felt safely secured in my room (I manically looked over my shoulder almost the entire walk back), I pulled my phone out to call someone, someone, though I wasn’t quite sure I could speak yet. There was a little envelope flashing on the screen, indicating a text message.
It was from Rien. It read: “I had a really great time today! You’re a fun girl :)” His parting words to me, verbatim. I’ve never had a smiley face creep the shit out of me before. Naturally, I never responded, and somehow, that was enough to keep him from ever contacting me again.
When I started writing this story, my curiosity got the best of me and I looked Rien up on Facebook. To my wickedly morbid delight, he is now married! And by the looks of her very, very thin figure, she probably doesn’t eat cheese either.