Call Me Barbara

I was relating this story (again apparently) to my wonderful client Tanya Perez, when she stopped me and told me that she had actually gone home and re-told it to her son (the last time I told her :/ ). I figured maybe it was something that more people would find useful. Enjoy.

As 90% of the civilized world did in the eighties, I had a perm. It looked quite good on me, if I do say so myself. My hair takes a perm well, and doesn’t relax much, it always seemed to me to feel very natural. In fact, when I cut it all off my senior year, numerous people commented that they always assumed it was natural.

You never realize how good you look when you’re young, until it’s too late.

The perm was part of my plan to reinvent myself. I started high school in my sophomore year instead of my freshman because my previous school went from grade 7 through 9, and so a transfer to a new school district (which started high school at grade 9) blessed me with never experiencing the joys of freshman year of high school! I was determined that I would not be the shy nerdy kid I had been for the past few years. Not being a freshman might be nice for missing the hazing, but it also makes you a new member of an established tribe, friendless, and surrounded by people who aren’t. But still, a fresh start is a fresh start.

Towards that end, one of my more daring moments was on the first day of class. PE to be precise. We hadn’t been issued uniforms, and we were pretty much told to do whatever we wanted on the PE field to pass the time. So when the other boys in the class decided to ask me to play touch football, I steeled myself for humiliation, took a deep breath, and said OK. This is probably one of the single bravest things I’ve ever done in my life.

Now, teenage boys are not known for their common sense. So it will amuse, but likely not shock, most people when I point out at this point that we decided to play on the basketball court (I assume the grass was wet), the asphalt basketball court.

As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that I’m actually quite well-coordinated, but since I detest almost all sports, I was convinced at the time that I sucked at them. So when the first play commenced I ran for all I was worth, turned to see the ball headed straight for me, and jumped to catch it! Unfortunately, instead of the awesome catch, and touch-down I was imagining, I stumbled, fell, slid forward on my knees, and in the process shredded my pants, and the knees inside.

I was a bloody mess, but actually (along with the very intense pain) I was more amused and embarrassed than anything. The other thing I was, much to my surprise, was a hero. The other players were in awe that I was so dedicated to the game! Blood was pretty much the coolest thing to adolescent boys of my generation (probably all generations). What a great start for the new me!

Ya. Congratulations. I think band must have been later in my schedule. We met on the multi-purpose room stage. Pretty standard for most school bands of the time. Band was after lunch. It was one of the things that usually helped to get me through the day. Usually.

Her name escapes me, but she was a bitch. A fairly cliché bitch I might add. For some reason she decided I was her target. I think these things are usually triggered by jealousy, but I can’t imagine what it was she coveted. For all I know she had a crush on me. Nevertheless, the one drawback of the perm for me, was the unintended similarity to one of my life long idol’s. This wonderful little ball-breaker noticed that with my curly hair, and rather pronounced, somewhat Jewish seeming nose, I bore a very strong resemblance to the fabulous Barbara Streisand. And so her nickname of Barbara was bestowed upon me, with absolutely no thought to the consequences of a teenage boys high school social life. Don’t get me wrong, if I had to live my life over as a woman, I would hope to god it would be the freakishly talented Barbara Streisand. However, I didn’t want to be a boy version of her in high school.

In a fateful second she changed my life forever. Of course the only thing you can do to combat a bully they would tell us, was to ignore them.

Now, I have to take a time out here to discuss this option. IT BLOWS. Nobody should ever ignore a bully. If nobody will help you, talk. Try to befriend them, don’t run away. If they won’t talk and you feel threatened, jump their ass and try your best to beat the hell out of them. I don’t give a crap what anybody tells you, your self-esteem is way more important than your physical health. If you get knocked down, you get up until you no longer can. They will never bother you again, and you will love yourself for it.

So I ignored her, and the others who laughed with her, but the damage was done. From that day on some random jock, or group of popular kids would smile and say “Hi Barbara” when passing me in the halls, and I would act as if I heard nothing…you always ignore a bully.

High school passes quicker than you expect, or in some cases fear, it will. The magic of college is the once again promise of recreating yourself. Hopefully by this time you’ve learned the lessons that adolescence burns like scars into our very souls. Or at least you’ve learned it never pays to be a weeny. So on my first day of class, who should walk in, sit down right beside me, and say “Hi Barbara”? One of the very popular people who I had hated for the last three years. He was not only popular, he was handsome, voted best dressed our senior year (an honor I coveted, but could never afford), and now attending my very first college class. I wouldn’t put up with it. He was not going to come in and ruin my college career, too!

In a rare moment of chutzpah (not seen since the dreadful events of first day PE), I looked straight at him, and said “Don’t call me that”. To which he replied “What?”. “Don’t call me Barbara”. “Why not?” he responded. “Because it’s not funny”, I replied. “Isn’t Barbara your last name?”, he asked.

Apparently all of the jocks who had been calling me Barbara for the past three years thought it was my last name. Oops. Turns out they were actually all being nice. Guess who was the snooty one who had ignored them all through high school?

2 thoughts on “Call Me Barbara

  1. Lynne says:

    It’s a wonder any of us ever survive adolescence. This is a wonderful story, with an entirely unanticipated (by me, anyhow) ending. But I’m really sorry you had to endure that.

  2. […] to have something in my words. So I began to write life essays. One of my most profound was Call Me Barbara, but the one that I found to be the most life altering, was the story of my half-brother (still in […]

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