For some reason, I can't shake this one particular memory lately.
It must have been 1985 or 1986. A friend of mine was coming by to pick me up. Tamara wanted to ride bikes, but I knew that was just code for heading to the mall parking lot to circle the perimeter until some boy noticed her.
Secretly living in gender/sexual no-man's land, my female friends' desires to dress in feminine clothing and put on makeup for males was a mystery to me. There had been many attempts to cajole me into lip gloss and cute tops, and each time I felt like a freaking clown. Of course, a lot of those attempts were carried out by well-meaning fourteen-year-olds armed with blue eyeshadow and discounted, brand name knock-off t-shirts. They would swivel me around on a bar stool borrowed from the basement to face the mirror after they'd sighed over their handiwork and assured me that I'd love it. I never did. I don't know what my friends saw, but I saw a kid whose electric blue mascara didn't seem to be teasing out her beauty the way they claimed it was.
In order to avoid another disheartening bout with a friend's makeup kit, a bout with which I had already been threatened earlier, I put on a light dusting of of my mother's brown eyeshadow, one of her more fitted tanktops, and a pair of her earrings before Tamara picked me up. I thought I looked passably girly, and I knew by the creeping sense of shame and embarrassment I felt that I must be close to the mark.
We rode our bikes to the mall. I could feel my mother's earrings bobbing heavily on my earlobes, and the top stuck to the thin sweat that rose on my back. My attire was unnerving me. I wanted to head home and wash my face. Tamara's apparent boredom with the mostly empty parking lot gave me some hope, so I waited patiently while noodling around on my bike behind her, weaving my way around painted lines. Then, I looked up, and I felt cold.
She was talking to a couple of guys and waving me over. I pretended not to notice and kept riding my bike in slow circles.
"Schmutzie!" she called.
I kept my head down, trying to make it look like I was really concentrating on the asphalt or being deeply philosophical or something. She called out a couple of times more, but nothing was going to make me go over there. The boys looked scruffy. I could imagine their goat-scent worked into their jean jackets. I didn't want to be seen like this, in eyeshadow and earrings. The whole thing smacked of sad facades and desperation.
Later, when she was done talking to them and we were walking our bikes out to the street, she complained about my behaviour.
"You made me feel stupid," she said. "They thought you were weird, you know."
"I felt weird."
"You always feel weird."
I pulled the earrings out and pocketed them so that I wouldn't have to feel them bounce around on the ride home. I felt stupid for dressing up to ride in circles in a parking lot like a creep. I worried that maybe I really was a creep, a creepy creep who gave other people the creeps. It depressed the hell out me. When I got home, I mulled over what kinds of things I could wear that wouldn't make me feel so weird and would keep my friends' makeovers at bay, but nothing came to mind, so I pulled off all the clothes I had on and stretched out naked on top of the bed covers. I would just be naked like the Emperor in that story, only I'd know I was naked. If I was going to be creepy, I at least wanted to feel comfortable while doing it.