I was reading a Salon article the other day about how Facebook made a woman feel like not so much of a loser anymore. She used it to re-connect with her grade school torturers and learned the happy lesson that kids are just mean, and some grow out of it once they reach adulthood. The End.
I wasn’t tortured as a kid and I wasn’t a torturer, either, and I don’t use Facebook to reconnect with people so that I can settle some karmic score. But the article did make me think of something, and because I hadn’t thought about it since maybe high school, now seems like the perfect time to embarrass myself.
For a short time in grade school, I was one of the Stinky Kids.
I wasn’t one of The Stinky Kids, and I don’t think my stinky designation lasted more than a couple of months, but I was nevertheless stinky for a time, and the way it was brought to my attention was so mortifying that I actually cringed when I thought about it the other day. I cringed.
Look, like I said, I wasn’t one of The Stinky Kids. There were a few of them in our class, but the two most notable were Mikki (for the girls) and Kevin (for the boys). Mikki smelled like a gross combination of hair grease and Jovan musk and Kevin smelled like farts. They were The Stinky Kids because they’d been that way ever since kindergarten. They smelled that way for years and all the time, and they had never not been The Stinky Kids.
There were other Stinky Kids, too, and their time as Stinky Kids far outlasted mine. One of them (who I’ll decline to mention by name because even though she’s not my friend anymore this still seems a little bit mean) smelled like cats (because she had a hundred of them) and permanent markers (don’t know why, awful when combined with cat pee). I was actually observing her odor to our sort-of-shared group of friends (more mine than hers, parentheses are fun!) when I first suspected that I might be stinky, too. I said something like, “Here she comes, man does she stink,” and my friends shared a strange look. Brief and subtle, but there. Being a pre-adolescent girl who was already highly attuned to female cruelty, I knew that look. It was the “should we say anything let’s not tell her who does she think she is” look, but the version of they didn’t want me to know it. I was supposed to be their friend, remember.
It wasn’t until a week later when I caught the look again. I’ve never been the type to abide these kinds of looks, so I asked them what was up. Actually, I think I demanded to know. And this, this is what makes me cringe, all four of them answered in unison, “You STINK!”
I knew why. Looking back, I can say that my parents were extremely hesitant for me to grow up. I was the oldest and (they presumed) the most likely to get pregnant in high school, run away from home, and come back to steal all their stuff when I turned into a junkie someday. This is also why I spent most of my adolescence grounded for saying things like “fine,” but I’m a gainfully employed grownup now so that shows how much they know. Anyway…
In addition to refusing to let me shave my legs (oh sure, fatheaded Drew in 6th grade, it was hilarious when you announced “ERIN HAS HAIRY LEGS!” to the whole class) or wear makeup, my parents were also resistant to deodorant. Yes. My parents denied me deodorant.
I wasn’t about to lecture them on everything I’d learned about puberty, and I’d received enough childhood asskickings to keep me away from stealing swipes of their deodorants from the medicine cabinet. My dad already counted cookies and pieces of candy in the house; I did not want to know if he measured his deodorant stick, too. So I went without deodorant, and I got B.O., and I had to go to school with it. And I stunk.
The day my friends told me I was stinky, I went home and screamed at my mom.
“IT’S YOUR FAULT THAT I SMELL BAD!” I yelled.
She rolled her eyes.
“MOM. How would you feel if you had to go to work every day without deodorant?”
“Actually, I’d like it if I didn’t have to.”
“Whatever. Either you buy me some or I’m using yours.”
I started using deodorant the very next day, even though I stopped talking to my friends for at least a week afterwards. It would have been useless to tell them it wasn’t my fault. They didn’t know anything about parents like mine. All of their mothers were terrified of having unpopular daughters (mine were clinically incapable of caring any less), which probably explains why my friends were wearing halter tops and I was getting straight A’s.
*** Side note – one of these mothers refused to say the word “sex” in front of her daughter, even though the mother had numerous kids of her own. Her daughter said “you know, like, tee hee, ESS, EE, EX?” all the time, which drove me crazy, especially because she’d already let some boy finger her in a closet by the fifth grade. Her mother never asked me why her daughters were so slutty, but I totally would have had an answer for her. ***
I’m not stinky anymore (I think), but I still retain some sting from that day in the grade school cafeteria. I’m always paranoid that I’ve forgotten my deodorant. I’m obsessed with clean-smelling perfumes. I would give anything to be one of those neutral-smelling people who don’t walk around shedding effluvia all day long, because they have obviously never been, not even for a short time, one of the Stinky Kids.