On Discovering I was a Girl

Up until I was close to 15 years old, I had always been pretty much a tomgirl. I didn’t really care nor understand the world of flirting, makeup, and wearing dresses or skirts without having a pair of shorts underneath for the just-in-case moments that I hung upside down on the jungle gym bars at school, climbed trees to spit on people going by underneath, or if I wanted to ride through the neighborhoods with friends. Then suddenly, something inside of me started waking up in a painfully shy, pretty much mortifying discovery that boys were “others” and I somehow wanted them to see me as such.

So there I am. I had just started my sophomore year of high school in the small town of Ravenswood, West Virginia. We’d moved back to West Virginia to be close to Dad’s side of the family and none of us quite knew how to fit in.

That morning, I had stolen some of my big sister’s makeup to try on because all the other girls in school wore makeup. I smothered my face in Cover Girl’s makeup base in “tan” to cover my less than stellar complexion and applied liberal amounts of cheekblush, eyeshadow and mascara. I should say right here that my sister and I do not have the same skin tone or eye color. That this difference should matter in choosing makeup didn’t occur to me at the time. I then pulled on my Jordache jeans that barely fit over my newly formed hips and waddled out the door to get into the van. Dad was driving me to school that morning.

As Dad started up the van, he looked over at me and just stared for a moment. “Kathy, what the hell happened to you?”

I looked around and then leaned out the window to look at myself in the side mirror, “What do you mean, Dad?”

“Your face. It looks like someone threw up on your face.” Dad always has had a way with words. At least he hadn’t noticed how tight my jeans were on me.

“It’s makeup Dad.”

Dad thought for a bit while we drove along into town. I could see him thinking. “Well, it looks awful. Your face is orange and it looks like you’re wearing a Halloween mask. Here,” Dad reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, “wipe it off or something.”

I reached back behind the seat to grab the jug of water Dad carried in case the radiator overheated and poured some onto the rag. As we pulled up to the only stoplight in town, smack dab in the middle of the main street through town, I leaned out my window again so that I could look in the mirror while cleaning off my face.

As I’m rubbing at my face, smearing the makeup all over in attempt to remove it, the two most popular boys in my high school pulled up next to us. The captain of the football team and his best friend. They stared at me. I stared at them.

Then, the van started sputtering. I should say the 1960-something, rusted out, barely holding it together Dodge van started spitting and sputtering. Dad started talking to the van. “C’mon Betsy, don’t you give up on me.”

I looked back over at my high school crushes. They were still staring. I caught sight of myself in the mirror. That makeup had never come off. I now had two, large black eyes, reminiscent of a large raccoon. As I’m starting to die inside, the van decides at that moment to backfire with such explosive force that the muffler and bits and parts of the underside carriage rips off and falls to the road underneath us. It sounded like cannon-fire.

I think I fainted. Dad said I sunk to the floorboard of the van. I have no memory of the next few hours, which entailed getting the van off the road and picking up the van remnants so that Dad could piece it back together. What I do know is that was the day I started asking Mom and Dad if we could move far, far away.

I’ll tell you about our move to Texas another day.