I honestly don't know who I pissed off in 1995 or how. Years of not living vicariously through my 16-year-old self have made my memory fuzzy, but basically this one dude asked me to homecoming either as a joke or as some test of my friendship fidelity or as a needle to burst my newly popular bubble. Either way I was the only one not in on it.
Remember three-way calling? Remember how many lives it ruined?
A seemingly nice boy named Harry, who briefly dated this girl I was friends with, called me seemingly out of the blue to ask me to homecoming. My high school was super small. Thirty-five of us graduated in my senior class and the number was record-breaking. So we were all "friends" because we had to be. You couldn't accomplish much hating someone because that someone would most likely be your lab partner, in your basketball practice or acting opposite you in "The Crucible."
"Hey, Helena so who are you going to homecoming with?" he asked without so much as a "hello."
"Wanna go with me?" No one had asked me to anything before. It'd be two years until I got kissed and two on top of that before anything more.
"Iono, lemme think about it, 'kay," I said out of shock and also because I was friends with his "ex" and also because playing it close to the vest seemed right.
So that was that, according to me. I figured I'd just tell him "no" eventually, but I wanted to sort of bask in the fact that I'd been asked despite not even liking liking this guy. There was no like squared. Still, I felt kind of giddy. Someone I didn't like had asked me to something I didn't plan on going to and the world was beautiful!
What I didn't know was that two of my other "friends" were listening in on the call and that they'd put him up to this in order to "see what I would say." They'd been bored.
For the next week at school I kept walking in on the tail end of bitten-off conversations. Funny looks met me in the hall. And for some reason Harry's ex kept singing 2Pac's "All About You" whenever I came around: "Every other city we go, every other vi-de-o. No matter where I go, I see the same ho-oo-oe."
"You know they're talking about you, right?" asked my old friend Terry one free period out on the quad. Freshman year Terry and I had been tight. But then I made the cheerleading squad, got into a bunch of AP classes, starred in a few school plays and choreographed for the modern dance recital. Did I mention I was Student of the Year? Apparently conventional wisdom went that I was "jocking myself" a little too hard and it was up to the scrunchie-wearing Ra's al Ghuls to set things right.
Terry also explained that Harry had never, in fact, wanted to take me to homecoming and that no one had expected me to say I'd "think about it." I was a pariah for maybe three more days before all was forgotten. I can't remember if I made it to that dance. Two years later he not only asked me to the winter formal (I went) but also to prom (I went with someone else). All that is to say, high school makes no fucking sense whatsoever.
So when Roger Ebert (yes) hipped me to the story of 16-year-old Whitney Kropp, a "free spirit with few friends" who was nominated to homecoming court as a school-wide joke, I felt this kid's pain. Kropp innocently posted on Facebook (can you imagine if this online torture chamber was around when we were little thunderkittens) about how excited she was for the dance and then some Mean Girls decided to go all Carrie on her on burst her bubble:
"In the Homecoming Court! :)" Whitney wrote on her Facebook page, according to the Detroit News. "Little nervous but this is going to be fun :D"
"Probably not with Josh though," wrote back a sophomore girl.
"He couldnt do it cause of football plus he never goes to homecoming," said Kropp.
"That's not what he told everybody," said the girl.
God I hate girls. Women I love. But girls? Jesus. Thinking back on when I was one -- the hate thrown at me and the hate I threw -- I'm reminded of how many bullets I dodged. Thankfully Whitney's town isn't putting up with this bullying shit and have rallied around her quite literally. She's getting her hair done, nails done -- everything did. But I can't help but wonder what she'll do after Saturday's big show. Will she go back to being the "free spirit with few friends" or will she learn the rules of the game like so many of us do, and start playing to win with the rest of the jerks.
For me the lesson was pretty clear, to be cool you had to be cold. I didn't go like full Blair Waldorf, but I didn't shrink back into the wall flower garden either. By the time college and real life rolled around I'd been put through my paces -- threesome rumors anyone?-- and I'll never know if a different me would have emerged without the fire-walking commonly referred to as high school. Is all that suffering necessary?