I wore the dress because it was Halloween. One day where we can dress up and pretend to be something that we’re not. Something we don’t get to be every day. Something more wild. Cooler. Louder.
My dress had a newspaper print pattern splashed with neon pink and green. My mom wasn’t crazy about it, but I loved it. It was cheap, so I was allowed to buy it when we were shopping for new clothes a couple months before. However, she hardly ever let me wear it. It was too “tacky” and too “loud.” But then, Halloween approached and I had a last minute idea. I was now 12 years old and adult enough to dress my own self up for Halloween, thank you very much.
I put on the dress. I slipped into my neon green jelly shoes. I sprayed red and black and glitter into my hair, which I curled and teased and sprayed and poofed. I did my make up with bold, bright colors. I morphed myself into something else.
I was Adam Ant and Cyndi Lauper. I was New York City and MTV. I was what I wanted to be every other day of the year, but couldn’t be.
Walking to school, it never once occurred to me that something might go wrong. How could it? I looked too awesome for the day to be anything less than absolutely fucking stellar. Everyone would envy my neon New Wave radness because how could they not?
Stepping into my first hour science class, a kid named Scott* who I’d known for a couple of years, but never spoke to, looked up at me as I strutted through the door into the classroom. His eyes lit up. A wide smile stretched across his face. “Look! It’s a hooker!”
I didn’t let it get me down. Why should I? He was the stupid idiot who didn’t know The Go-Gos or Culture Club. I blew it off, went about my day and forgot about Scott and his dumb joke. I forgot about his friend Jason** laughing until his face turned red. Because I thought that’s all it was. A dumb joke that had already died.
I was 12 years old. I knew Adam Ant and MTV, but didn’t know yet how little things could snowball; how they could gain momentum and grow.
Before I even made it through elementary school, I caught fragments of other kids whispering as I passed by. “Yeah, she’s really weird,” or, “Total weirdo. I don’t know what’s wrong with her.”
I didn’t know, either. It bothered me, but not to any crippling degree. Mostly, it was because I didn’t understand what was so abnormal about me.
Scott thought his joke was pretty funny. So much so that he called me a hooker every time he saw me. Here was a kid who never paid much attention to me, and suddenly, he noticed each time I entered a room. I continued to blow it off, but, eventually, as other kids heard it and found it funny, they picked up on it. And here’s the thing about 7th grade kids: they’re not always big on independent thinking. They mimic one another in an effort not to stand out. To avoid being a “total weirdo.”
Even worse, they tend to be gullible. Many of them, when they hear that the weird girl is also a hooker, they believe it. The more other kids made serious inquiries regarding prostitution, I began to feel annoyed. Angry. Worse yet, ashamed. When I had done nothing to be ashamed of.
I expected it to die down with time. Scott and his best buddy Jason laughed at me for a while, then they went back to ignoring me. They weren’t mocking me to be malicious. They weren’t trying to hurt me. They just wanted attention. They wanted to be the funny guys. At my expense. They didn’t have it out for me. It was worse than that – I was nothing to them.
The hooker nonsense followed me throughout the rest of junior high. I had friends who ignored it, who knew it was stupid bullshit. In a way, it helped me weed out the assholes and find my tribe. But, I still hated it. I didn’t deserve it. In moments of having a happy conversation with friends, some fucking tool would have to ask me about being a prostitute, bringing the whole mood down, and embarrassing me in the process just so that they, like Scott and his pal Jason, could feel like a comedian.
By the time I started high school, I made new high school friends. Older kids who didn’t have time for stupid hooker rumors. Kids from other junior high schools who had never heard anything about me. It got a little better, but there were still some gullible shitbags who clung to a rumor that they heard a long time ago. One of my worst tormentors tried to fuck me. I guess he thought it would be easy, what with me being a hooker since 7th grade and all. I never had so much fun telling someone, “no.”
Don’t get the wrong idea. It wasn’t just guys. Plenty of girls enjoyed believing in my fictional career as a sex worker. I didn’t understand feminism or sisterhood then, but something inside told me that each and every one of them was a goddamn traitor.
It was difficult, but what I went home to each night was even more difficult. I had to prioritize my problems. I had to learn to brush it off so that I could deal with the things that were even worse. I learned to navigate through the stupid things other kids said. When they called me “weirdo,” I went out of my way to show them how weird I could be. When they called me a hooker, I didn’t fuck them.
Throughout high school, neither Scott nor Jason ever spoke to me, or acknowledged me. I saw them around. And I resented the hell out of them.
High school ended. People went off to college. Started working at real jobs. Moved away.
One day, carpooling home from my boring data entry job with a friend, we stopped at an auto parts store. He was breaking up with his girlfriend who worked there and had to drop something off to her. On the way, he explained to me how it was over because she’d cheated on him. He’d caught her in the act with her coworker, Scott.
Yeah, it was that Scott. I didn’t tell my friend how Scott had made several years of my school life hell. I just said, “Yeah, I went to school with that dude. Kind of an asshole.”
I was too embarrassed to tell the whole story. Now, I’m not sure why.
Over the years, I had several run-ins with people who made fun of me. Girls who wanted to fight me over some stupid guy, or because they didn’t like my face. When I transferred from public high school to the cool alternative high school for weirdos like me, it wasn’t cool. It only got worse. There were a few fights. Nothing major. Mostly threats and name calling. I’ve heard them all.
One day, I walked from school to my crappy part-time job as three girls followed me and taunted me. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t care. It was just more bullshit.
None of these things ever got to me the way that Scott and Jason’s hooker rumor did. Their stupid joke lasted for several years. I couldn’t take a few punches and be done with it. It followed me. It embarrassed me. And worse yet, I wasn’t even a living person to them.
It’s always easier to be disliked than it is to be nothing.
These days, I occasionally see on Facebook the names or faces of people who made fun of me. Who asked me how much I charged for blow jobs. Who whispered and warned people to stay away from me because I was a weirdo and a hooker. I’m not connected to any of them, but many of my friends are. Because of this, I sometimes see things about them. Maybe what they do for a living, or where they reside.
If they’ve died.
I learned that Scott died in 2008. His buddy Jason died a couple of years ago. I do not know how they died, only that they became sick and their bodies failed them. The details don’t matter. What matters is that my tormentors did not get the privilege of having a long life line and I am neither happy nor sad. I didn’t know the adults that they grew into. I know they had wives. They had families. They had friends and went to dinner and laughed at things and went to work and paid bills. They had people who mourned them when they died.
I can never tell them how damaging their bullying was. I doubt they ever thought of me again or even remembered what they’d done to me.
And that is okay. I don’t need that kind of closure.
For three years, I lived in Paris. I’ve eaten dinner on a rooftop in Athens while looking over at the Acropolis. I’ve laughed in bars in Buenos Aires. I got caught in a tornado in Sturgis, South Dakota during bike week. I’ve pub crawled in Ireland, traipsed around Loch Ness, danced to steel drums on a Bahaman Island and strolled through the ruins of Pompeii. I ate a tainted burrito in Spain. I’ve had insane and amazing conversations with interesting people from Japan to Brazil to Yugoslavia to Egypt and Vancouver. I’ve survived hard and horrible things. I loved and had my heart broken. Endured losses. I fell in love and married a man who loves me completely, honestly, and without judgement. I’ve written stories and told them to people just like I always wanted to do way back when I was fielding hooker jokes on a daily basis.
I had my closure a long time ago. I found it on my own, without my bullies. I found it in the world, I found it in myself, and I found it in my tribe. I’ve been fortunate enough to live. Not just continue to breathe, but to LIVE.
It’s a shame they didn’t get more time. I hope that as they aged, they became good and better people. I hope they saw and did many things and accomplished the things that they set out to do.
There was no internet then. No Facebook or Instagram to deal with. I can’t imagine how things might have been if those things existed. I could say that things get better, because they do, but that isn’t enough. Things get better, but also, you get stronger. Life gets larger and bullies get smaller. And sometimes, you outlive them.
Now and then, I see Facebook conversations between one of my friends and one of the assholes or goddamn traitors who constantly made hooker jokes. I see them. I remember their faces. I remember their names.
Then I scroll on by, turn on some Adam Ant and get weird like a motherfucker.
* Not his real name.
** Not his real name either.