Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ripping Away the Mask

When I was in high school I went through a two year phase of absolutely Tammy-Fay level makeup abuse. At the time-- around 1980-1982-- our high school was divided between "jocks" and "freaks." Even if you were neither, you belonged to a sub-set of kids who aligned themselves more closely with one or the other. Jocks, Drama-Geeks (kids in the drama program), and Honor Dweebs dressed in preppie clothes, kept the look clean and wholesome. Freaks, Alterna-Geeks, and Punks went with lots of black, lots of hairspray and bizarre styles, leather, and metal. At the time I was unaware of how much the look identified me to others. I'm sure, now, that a lot of people assumed I was on drugs. They never would have assumed the same of the guy in the preppie Lacoste shirt... unless they stood close enough to him to get a whiff.

I never did drugs. I did wear WAAAYYYY too much eye-liner. I wore slashy jewelery and leather (or fake leather), and a lot of black and dark purple. Well, for the first couple of years, anyway. I had magenta hair at one point. The morning look required spiking it with a hair dryer directing the front almost completely vertical while I pointed the aerosol Aquanet into the wind stream. Basically my bangs were saluting.

I had three piercings in one ear and one in the other... I wore stainless steel safety pins in the holes. Feather earrings. Dog collars. Black nail polish. My friends called me Dusty or Olie, because that was cool. Later they called me Raven. Cuz I was COOL.

Teen punk witch. Yeah, baby.

One September night I was hanging out on the beach with my other misunderstood-so-whatever friends. The cops used to patrol the beaches on ATVs and in 4 Wheel Drive vehicles at the time. An officer stopped and came over to check on us. Were we drinking, smoking pot, doing things we shouldn't? He was friendly, but kids being kids... some of them got mouthy. I recognized the guy from the summer. Most of my time was morning to night on the beach from June to September... if it rained we went to my boyfriend, Timmy's place. He lived right on the best strip of beach and had an absentee mother.

Anyway, whenever I would see this same police officer during the summer I'd be in cut-offs and a tank-top, tanned and covered in salt from swimming, surfing, or goofing around on the beach. I always had my dog, a huge labrador who was always a beach hit, by my side. And I was polite and friendly to the cop. How he recognized me under all the makeup I'd started slathering on-- in the dark, no less-- is still a mystery.

There was a guy using the absolute filthiest language possible standing near me. He was, as teenaged boys will often be, trying to seem tough and cool by making sexual comments that were as dirty as he could dream up... and that was pretty dirty.

This cop... I realize now he was very young. He seemed old to me then, but he wasn't in his thirties yet. He pulled me away from the group, and I was terrified he thought I'd done something wrong. My only thought was "the cops are going to call my parents, and it won't matter if I wasn't doing anything." But he just wanted to talk to me.

I remember what he said like it was yesterday, and I will never forget it. He told me he remembered me from the summer and I was "a nice girl." Not that I seemed nice. Not that he'd had a good impression of me, but that I'd spoiled it. He said I "was a nice girl." He pointed at my face and said "that's quite a mask." And then he said:

"These guys are young and stupid, but I want you to know that you should never let a guy talk like that in front of you. If you let him talk like that in front of you he's going to think you don't mind. Make these guys show you respect. You deserve it."

Then he told us all to behave ourselves and left.

I didn't take his advice that night. In fact, I didn't take it for years. But I never forgot it, and I never forgot that a nice young cop thought I was a nice girl... and that I deserved respect. In my adult years his words would come back to me many, many times. And today, if you use lousy language in front of me-- or near others-- I will pointedly tell you to cut it out.

The "mask" has been off for ages. I stopped doing the black-slather thing not long after that incident, in fact. It got old.

But I was thinking about it just the other day. I still hang out with some of the same kids who were on the beach that night-- all in our 40's now, most with kids of our own. I was visiting my friend Roxy last week and looked down on that very spot, and thought of that cop. I never did get his name, though I would see him around now and then. He left the force maybe two years later. I can't help but wonder if he has any idea how much what he said meant to me, a drifty-sad kid who rarely got praise.

I wonder if he'd recognize me now, all these years later, with every layer of the mask stripped away.

It took me a while, sir... but I got there. Thank you for nudging me in the right direction. Your voice has come echoing through the years more times than I can count.


  1. Anonymous2:59 PM

    wonderful story. Am I the only one who read this and immediately thought "wow, what a great romance if these two meet again as adults?"

  2. That's kind of a cute idea!

  3. It is a shame that we never take the good advice when it's first given. But the bad advice, we jump on right away.

  4. Hi :)
    That was a great blog post.
    Thank you very much for sharing.
    The police officer was wise beyond his years.
    This story will stick with me.
    All the best,

  5. @Gwen: Hindsight's 20/20. This I learned is very true from my own (multiple) experiences :)

    I really love how the officer said you're a nice girl straight out, not seemed like one.

    Chrissy, that story is amazing.I just had to stop lurking enough to tell you so. :)

    -Rosalind @EtchInStone blog

  6. Amanda Brice8:10 PM

    I love Cyndi's idea!

  7. Beautiful story. I loved it!! Thank you for sharing.

    This kind of reminded me of Jennifer Echol's book Going Too Far (if you add the love angle like Cyndi suggested). You should read that one!!