“Stacy, you look like you could suck dick…but your pussy is garbage,” Fernando Thompson blurted out in our school lunchroom. I was sitting at one table; he was sitting at another table in front of me. He was in my class. We were tenth-graders.
I stared at him. I looked at his buck teeth. I looked at his unibrow. I looked at his off-white flea-market jeans, but I said nothing. This was my strategy anytime anyone mentioned my vagina at school.
People were talking about my vagina at school because I let a boy from a nearby boy’s school put his hands inside my panties at my classmate’s beach party the previous summer. He told people that my vagina smelled bad. His name was Kwame, and he was my boyfriend at the time.
The first time I saw Kwame was freshman year. Kwame made our mutual friend, Jack, walk across three connected gyms at my high school’s basketball tournament to tell me that Kwame “liked me.”
I peeked past Jack to see what his friend, Kwame, looked like.
“Meh, I’m straight,” I said. He wasn’t ugly, but he wasn’t cute enough to make me interested.
“But he really likes you,” Jack pleaded. He was determined to walk back to Kwame with my phone number written on a piece of paper.
“I don’t know, Jack,” I said.
“Well…what if I get his number and give it to you?” Jack asked.
“Okay…I guess.” It seemed like a safe compromise.
So Jack walked back across the gym to Kwame to write his phone number down. Jack then walked back across the gym again to give me a paper with the phone number. Kwame stayed on the other side of the gym.
I looked down on the paper.
“KWAME 203-387-1111,” it read.
“What is that?” I asked Jack.
“A Kwaym? I tried saying his name. I said it so it rhymed with the word ‘same.”
Jack snickered. “No, it’s Kwah-May,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. I didn’t have time for this guy with this high-maintenance name.
“I think you guys are really gonna’ like each other,” Jack said. “You guys are both funny.”
“How do you know each other?” I ignored his comment.
“Basketball. We play AAU together,” Jack said. “You gonna’ call him Stace? Stace call him!” Jack said pointing air guns to me as he walked back across the gym to Kwame.
Eventually I got curious enough to call Kwame. I didn’t know then that I was supposed to avoid males who let their friends talk for them. His mother picked up the phone.
“Hi, may I speak to K-Kwam…eh?” I was really trying not butcher this name I thought his mother created.
“Kwame! Telephone!” His mother shouted. I could hear Kwame’s feet walking towards the phone.
Then I heard his mother’s voice again. She was speaking low.
“Kwame, there’s a girl on the phone. Who is this girl?”
“Moooommmm stop!” Kwame said frustrated.
He put the phone to his ear.
“Hello?” It was the first time I was hearing Kwame’s voice.
“Hi, it’s Stacy from Hopkins…Jack’s friend.”
For the next few weeks we talked on the phone at all times of the day and night. The night before the last day of school, we stayed on the phone until it was time for me to take a shower and get ready for school. A lot of times we watched the same T.V. shows together over the phone. We were even on the phone the night that car crash killed Princess Diana.
Sometimes Kwame had intense conversations about our ninth-grade philosophies. He didn’t think girls should wear sneakers, rather dress shoes, boots and sandals instead. He knew he would never go to a black college because he said he would be more employable as a graduate of a predominantly white college. He also didn’t like girls who wore weaves. Even though I frequently wore sneakers, I knew I would one day attend a historically black college, and sometimes liked to wear the hairpiece from one of my dance costumes as a ponytail, somehow I thought he would make a decent boyfriend. So we became a couple, which eventually led to us meeting at the beach party.
The party happened right at the end of freshman year. My friend Rachel and I were together at the party. Her boyfriend, who was friends with Kwame, met her there too. After we all found each other at the beach, Rachel and I walked off to separate parts of the beach with our boyfriends.
Kwame and I stopped walking after a few seconds. We kissed. It felt like he tried to put his entire tongue in my mouth. He unbuttoned my jeans. I unzipped them. He put his hand inside my floral, maroon panties that my mother bought me from one Victoria’s Secret in one of those 5 for $25 sales. Kwame’s kind of waved his fingers over my girl parts and then released his hands from my jeans. The whole encounter lasted for about five minutes, and it felt very scientific. There was nothing romantic about this beach make-out session. It was like we had a relationship to-do list, and this was a task that we needed to cross off.
We didn’t talk on the phone for a few days after our beach session, which was odd. Then I got a phone call from his friend, who also went to my church, saying that Kwame decided to break up with me. I have a hunch that Kwame was listening in on the call. This was back when three-way calling and “clicking over” was a big thing on house phones.
Shortly after the break-up phone call, Kwame called me a few days later and told me that I was nasty. He didn’t say how, so for the entire summer, I had no idea why he said that. But that was classic Kwame – he would stir up trouble and then run. Kwame was the type of boy who would call my house, but if my father picked up, he would hang up the phone.
I didn’t get any answers until school started again, and we were sophomores.
According to the tenth-grade gossip from 20 years ago, Rachel made out with her boyfriend at the same time I was with Kwame at the beach party. When Kwame and Rachel’s boyfriend got back together, they smelled their fingers and discussed the results. Apparently, Rachel smelled like butterscotch…and apparently I did not.
Kwame told our mutual friends at my school, and his words spread quickly. It felt like people were always whispering about my vagina. We had a student lounge at our school, and every time I walked into the lounge, people stop talking and/or start snickering. The most obnoxious of the bunch were Fernando, of course, and another classmate named Leah. I’m sure if Instagram existed back then, they would have made countless memes about me. The crazy part was that there were so many things that I could have ranked on Fernando and Leah about…especially Leah. I could have teased her about her pimply skin, her hair that she forced into a baby ponytail every day, or her weight…but I never did. I just waited for them to stop.
There was only one girl, who had enough courage to confront me and ask me straight up what happened. We were waiting for our parents to pick us up after school one day.
“Did you let Kwame finger you?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said confidently.
“Well he’s telling everyone you stink,” she said, just like that. She never talked to me again after that.
I didn’t respond. I didn’t have any words. I felt betrayed by Kwame, embarrassed that the girl brought it to me like that, even if she was the only person to confront me. I also felt betrayed by my classmates, who were supposedly my friends, but ditched our friendships for a good laugh. I was humiliated. They were laughing.
My ex-friends insisting that I had a smelly vagina seemed like too big of a mountain move. I was already dealing with other mountains. My parents were splitting up, my great-grandmother, the matriarch of my family, had died, and I was still adjusting to my grandmother’s death from the previous year. Dodging vaginal disses at the same time was a lot.
I did not care about how complex vaginas were at the time and that practically anything could throw off their scent – new soap, old soap, medication, foods, beverages, using new laundry detergent on towels, not washing enough, excessive washing, physical activity, tight pants, the days before your period, the days after your period, your actual period, wearing panties at night, a cold or other illness…I didn’t care. Neither did my classmates.
“The pum pum is so unforgiving,” my friend once said, imitating her Jamaican mother.
The truth was that I did wash my ass before I met Kwame at the beach that day. I was excited about hooking up with him. I felt very prepared. But according to Kwame and a bunch of my classmates, I was not. According to them, I was this smelly chick.
Everything eventually died down by my junior year, but sophomore year was hell to say the least. Because of my experience with Kwame, I wouldn’t let any guy near any part of my body. I didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to agree with Kwame’s findings.
I had like three or four more boyfriends in high school and talked to other guys on the phone, but I never let any of them touch me. I only let a select one or two kiss me. And if any boy in the state of Connecticut didn’t like me or wasn’t interested in me, I automatically assumed it was because they heard what Kwame said about me. I felt marked. I didn’t let anyone touch me again for years…not until I got to college, and I met this guy named Michael.
Kwame and I somehow remained friends for another year after the VaginaGate scandal. He was even bold enough to start dating my friend Tanya. I didn’t say anything, but as retaliation I kept talking to him and going on dates with him and never letting him touch me. He would often try to convince me to lose my virginity to him. Yeah right. I would tell Leah all of this, knowing that she would tell Tanya. It warmed my heart every time Kwame and Tanya broke up. Rumor also has it that Leah liked him too. She went to his house one day and gave him head after school. Can I remind you that Leah and Tanya were my friends before Kwame came into the picture?
My sophomore year in high school was the year that I learned about loyalty.
A few years ago, my friend and I were bridesmaids together in a wedding. We were dressed and ready to go, but she put on a few more layers of deodorant before we left the hotel.
“I just want to make sure I smell good,” she said.
“Yeah, but that much Monica? Do you really need that much deodorant?” I asked staring at her white armpits that clashed against our peach dresses.
“When I was in elementary school, I started wearing deodorant after I knew that I needed deodorant,” she said. “I was the smelly kid in class. No one forgets the smelly kid in class.”
Actually, I think it’s really us – the so-called “smellies”- who don’t forget.
I think of Kwame every time I use a baby wipe.