Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of female writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find here, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.
In seventh grade, I went on a class trip to a camp in the mountains of North Georgia. On the first night, I made a plan to meet up with three classmates — yes, that included boys, because I was 12 — outside the girls’ cabin after lights-out. New to Nashville via Muscle Shoals, Ala., I was creating new friendships and testing boundaries. I wasn’t the ringleader. As I remember it, the four of us — two boys and two girls — were a sort of constellation of subtle rebellion.
The crescendo of our sneaking out was the sharing of some gummy bears and sunflower seeds on a walk around the camp. My buddy and I tiptoed sock-footed to the end of the driveway where the boys were waiting. We giggled in breathless whispers. We made it just out of the reach of the porch lights when we heard the sound of concerned voices and the slamming of screen and car doors. There was yelling and gravel crunching under feet as we stood frozen in the dark. We recognized the futility of running away, but we made our way toward the cabin as fast as we could with shoeless, tender feet.
We were busted. We knew that our strict PE-coach and science-teacher chaperones would have words and admonitions for us. What I had no way of knowing was that the words spoken to me in those following moments would challenge me and embarrass me, and that they would shape the way I lived my life for years to come.
In the common area of the girls’ cabin, with just a paper-thin door separating us from our eavesdropping female classmates, we were reprimanded. Actually, “we” were not reprimanded — I was. Because I was the new kid in town at a very traditional “Old Nashville” middle school, I accepted that I would take the brunt of this doling out of rhetoric.
It wasn’t so bad, this talking-to. That is, until one teacher/chaperone — who didn’t even know me — stared me down and said, “With a reputation like you are getting at Harding Academy, you’ll wind up pregnant by the time you are 16.” Harsh words for a 12-year-old, especially one who’d ventured outside her cabin just to engage in the G-rated activity of coed snack-eating.
I was gobsmacked by the absurdity. She was bestowing this reputation on me, a kid she’d didn’t know, merely because she didn’t know me. I can hear her words reverberating through my mind today, even at the age of 36. It was indicative of a “new kid” status, preconceived notions about the way I dressed, the music I listened to, the fact that my parents made music for a living. I recognized all of this in that moment, but it didn’t keep me from using that teacher’s words as motivation for years.
Ever since that day, I’ve carried those words with me, recalling them at peak personal moments: standing atop the Great Wall of China at age 20; working alongside John Seigenthaler at the First Amendment Center; eating dinner at a prince of Cambodia’s home in Phnom Penh. I’ve recalled that moment at every graduation, every first day of every new job, while marrying my sweet husband in the presence of friends and family, and when I started my consulting business. I have in all these moments thought to myself, “And I’m still not pregnant, bitch.”
Sure, that’s a very middle-school reaction to a middle-school occurrence. But just as that teacher must have felt out of control when she said that to me (at least I hope she did, because what grown woman says something like that to a child she doesn’t know?), I too feel out of control in regard to my reaction. The craziest part is, in addition to knowing that I shouldn’t hold a grudge anymore, I’m also at an age when a woman like that might question why a woman like me is not yet pregnant. I spent so much time trying to prove her wrong that now I find myself at an age when it is more complicated to try to conceive.
The fact that I don’t have a child is by no means that woman’s fault. But here I stand, 24 years later, still thinking about her words. I do know that if I ever have my own children, I will do everything in my power to keep them away from women like her.
Despite the tendency for older generations to bash younger ones, I will be mindful of how I treat young people. I will listen to them, instill confidence in them and mentor them. I will not judge them for the way they dress, their subtle rebellions or their growing pains. This may be the strongest and most empowering revenge I could take in response to the hurtful words of a woman whose name I can’t even remember. She’ll never know, and that’s just fine with me.
She’ll also never know that, while serving my school-appointed penance in the mess hall at the camp, I joined all the other kids who got in trouble during the trip putting her silverware in our armpits. Rebellion can be gross sometimes. Maybe I’m still a little rebellious, because today, I am cheering on my 12-year-old self.