Thursday, October 4, 2007

the slut


The small town high school I attended was as cliquey as they come. The cliques included the jocks, the brains, the weirdos, the heads, and of course, the sluts. I wasn’t enough of any of the categories to place myself in one. I hung equally with the jocks, the brains and the weirdos (and yes, the heads), deliberately distancing myself from the cliquers, who desperately wanted me to make a choice.

Classified only as “the New Girl,” kids either loved me or hated me, depending upon how you looked at it. Unhappy about the move, I was pretty unpleasant to everyone and in my (few) moments of self-reflection could hardly blame them for acknowledging my disdain. Oddly, it only served to make me more popular. Much as I disdained that title, too.

Katie was a slut. She slept with different boys but didn’t have the good looks, the background or the brains to allow her to fall into one of the more prestigious groups at school. I didn’t know what motivated her to behave in the way she did. I was flummoxed by the sluts. Why put yourself into a position of ridicule? Of shame?

Katie “dated” my friend Jack. In as much as she dated anyone, meaning she slept with him for a few weeks and apparently didn’t sleep with anyone else for the whole month of October, when they were “going” together. It didn’t last. Jack came to us at the end of the month to tell us why they had, rather unceremoniously, broken up. She gave him a STD. Oh God, we all ruminated, how could she do that to sweet Jack? What a terrible, terrible thing to happen to him.

It never occurred to us to ask each other, could Jack have given her the disease? We just assumed, since he was our friend, and Katie was a slut, that it must have somehow emanated from her… Like the Virgin Mary, she too must have been the victim of spontaneous creation: the disease started with her and only her.

I won’t tell you what the STD was. I will tell you the jocks “clapped” every time she walked into a room. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t like her so I didn’t really care. And I was amazed that she always walked into every room with her head held high. She faced down that most brutal of human creatures, the really nasty, popular high school kids. She did it every day, without calling in sick, skipping class or switching schools (all preferable, to this blogger’s way of thinking). She just did her thing, like she always had, and rode out the gossip with aplomb.

I didn’t clap, but I wasn’t nice to her, either. That’s why I was surprised when one day, having missed the bus (an almost every day occurrence since they left approximately 2 minutes after the last bell rang), Katie stopped her little pick-up truck and insisted that I get inside. It was raining, she was in the middle of the street, and I didn’t see any way to get out of it. I said no, no thank you, a couple of times, and she just looked at me, frustrated and said, Lisa… just get in. So I did.

She drove me the few miles to my friend’s house, chatting about this and that along the way. She was peeling from going naked in the tanning bed. She needed to get the brakes fixed on the truck. I responded politely, gripping the door handle, staring out the window, and praying we’d get to Evalie Drive as quickly as possible.

And then she said it out loud, surprising me, and, I think, surprising herself. “I know what everyone says about me. I know you and your friends think I’m a slut.” Umm. I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I just sat there, dumbfounded, still staring out the window. “I know what you think, Lisa. But you’re wrong.” Wrong? I looked at her heavily make-up’d face and tight jeans. Hardly.

“I didn’t do what Jack is saying. He gave it to me. But he’s popular, and I’m not. So everyone thinks what he’s saying is true.”

“Um. But he didn’t have it before,” I said, thinking, shut up, Lisa. I didn’t want any part of the conversation that was unfolding.

“He had it. He didn’t know he had it until I got checked out, found out I had it and told him, so he could get treated. I thought I was doing him a favor,” she said, frowning hard at the windshield. “I really liked him. And I thought he would want to know.”

“I hate how everyone here is so fake,” she continued, echoing the same thought I’d had daily since moving into town. “But I thought you were different, Lisa.” I felt the same sense of shame that I felt (often, in those days) when I let down my mom.

I didn’t know what to say. She dropped me off and I thanked her for the ride. I didn’t say anything to my friend except that I’d hitched a ride to her house, which she accepted without question.

The following Monday we stood at our lockers, situated in a key corner of our high school hallway. Key, because the parking lot for the lucky few with licenses and the drop-off hub for the school buses was right outside the door. So, virtually everyone had to walk by us to get to where they were going.

Just before last bell, Katie jogged by on her way to class. She hurried along, head down, hands deep in the pockets of her too-tight denim jacket. Self-consciously ignoring the stares that would quickly turn to taunts, if she risked making eye contact with anyone.

“Hey Katie,” I called. My friends stood there, open-mouthed, trying to accept this odd turn of events. And Katie stared, then cocked her head at me and grinned.

“Hey Katie…. Wait up.”


And slowly, tossing my hair, I walked her to class.