Well, it’s the end of November and I’ve been thinking about mustaches. Maybe not since Libby posted her line about “mustaches at the roller rink” but certainly most of this month. A guy at work has been growing a mustache and he says it’s not really for Movember,* but it can’t be because the mustache looks good–it’s not a bad look for him, but he’s much better looking without it (of course, I would never say anything to him about it)–so it must
ache be something else. It’s not that I don’t like mustaches; I think they look good on some people, including my dad. It’s just that I can’t spell “mustache”–I always want to add an “o” and make it “moustache”–and Movember messes it all up for me by putting the “o” in there. I just noticed that the word “mustache” is just “must” and “ache” smashed together. Weird.
Anyway, in honor of Movember, and because October was Anti-bullying Month and I missed it, being in thesis hibernation, I thought I would share a mustache-related memory. A Movembory, if you will. This is somewhat embarrassing, but I realized I can’t just share happy/fun/good stuff. It’s Sarah in Small Doses, not Sarah in Good Doses, and maybe someone can relate to this.
I know this may come as a shock to some of you, but I was not the self-assured person you read today. I was once (okay, still am) awkward, too tall, mostly limbs, and believe it or not, somewhat shy. I think my outgoing nature is just a way to cope with being shy, which is another post for another day, but in addition to being all of these things, I was once a middle-schooler.** And, I’m a brunette. One not-so-great thing about being a brunette is that we are more prone to having facial hair.*** Myself included.
To be frank, I had (have?) a mustache. It’s not attractive. I didn’t ask for it. I certainly did not want it, even though it probably contributed to people’s assertions that I look so much like my dad, who, for 38 years, had a mustache. Now, I don’t care****, but in middle school, when mustaches were supposed to sprout on guys, not girls, it was mortifying. I tried plucking. I tried shaving. I tried waxing, which is just as much fun as “smothering a sensitive area with hot wax, covering it with fabric, and then ripping in the opposite direction of your hair growth” sounds. I tried creams that burned and gave me a hairless red mustache of stung skin. I had embarrassing talks with brunette family members about their methods of hair removal. I’m sure I cried. I know I cursed my fate at being a brunette, not a blonde like both of my siblings. Through all of this, I still had to go to school like a normal, non-mustachioed girl.*****
During this time, I played the trumpet, which few girls did*******, which also set me apart and made me weird. I had the misfortune of sitting next to a guy who, as it turns out, was a bully. The adult me can see that he probably had a crush on me, or maybe just didn’t know how to interact with people, especially girls, but for whatever reason, he picked on me every day. And he hit me, even though he had a good 30 to 50 pounds on me. One day he turned and said, “God, you’re ugly.” And one day he noticed the mustache. After that, he and another guy in the class made electric razor noises and moved their hands over their upper lips in mock-shaving motion, telling me that I should do that myself. Again, the adult me realizes how ridiculous all of this was, but 12-to-14-year-old Sarah did not. It’s bad enough when you have something you don’t like about yourself; it’s worse when other people notice and ridicule you for it, too.
My parents and the teacher were very supportive; the band director eventually told me to hit the kid back, which I did (quite weakly, I’m sure), and he stopped. And, this certainly wasn’t the first or last time I got picked on. I had glasses in second grade and was always one of the tallest in my class, reaching 5’9″ in seventh or eighth grade, which led to the nickname “Sarah Plain and Tall.” I was not a fan of Patricia MacLachlan for that. Nor was I a fan of the makers of the movie, Sarah T: Portrait of a Teen Alcoholic or the book of the same name adapted from the film. Seriously, people. Can you give a girl a break?
Adult me forgave this bully long ago. As I said, he probably had a crush on me or something, the whole “I’ll punch you ‘cuz I like you” weirdness that I never understood. And, adult he isn’t the same person as the boy from long ago. Maybe he feels bad about it, too. Or maybe he forgot about the whole thing. I, however, never forgot what happened. And, I can’t say that it didn’t somehow affect my interactions with guys and make me even more shy and awkward around them, at least initially. Because here’s something I’ve never admitted to anyone: I had a crush on this guy before we got to middle school. He and I didn’t go to the same elementary school, but we ended up in a summer program together and I thought he was cute. Of course, my mind changed the first time he punched me in the arm or said something cruel. But having someone you like–and who you think might like or have liked you–mistreat you is an awful feeling.
Many parts of that period of my life are fuzzy.******** But, I can place myself back in that room with the tiered floor and the weird fluorescent lighting and the matte black music stands that smelled like iron and chalky paint. I can hear the lopsided scales and the shuffling of chairs, can smell the valve oil and slide spit. I can hear his voice saying, “God, you’re ugly,” down to the inflection, and even though adult me knows this wasn’t true then and isn’t true now, that he probably didn’t even believe it himself, I remember this moment clearly and not my sixth birthday party. Or the first time I drove a car alone. Or my first ride on a roller coaster.
So, please be careful what you say and how you treat each other. If you have kids, don’t let them be bullies. Support things like Movember and Anti-bullying Month. And be kind to people–with or without mustaches–even if it isn’t the best look for them.
If you are interested in donating to Movember (which supports research and treatment for men’s health issues) or you’d like to know more about either Movember or Anti-bullying Month, please feel free to contact me here or firstname.lastname@example.org
*Movember, as in “mustache” and “November.” Or, as they called it in the ’70s: whatever month we’re in.
**Shocking, I know. You never guessed that I once went through middle school, but I did. I have always said that there is a special heaven for middle school teachers and I stand by that statement. It’s a very awkward time. For everybody.
***I know plenty of blondes who have mustaches, but their mustaches are usually, well, blonde, so they show less.
****And by “don’t care,” I mean “have learned to manage,” ie get rid of whenever it crops up.
*****Seriously, why don’t we just send middle-schoolers to a commune in the Arizona desert****** and let them be all awkward and hormonal and pubescent away from society, and then they can come back when they’re 20 and, you know, normal.
******Like BioDome. I bet you never thought I’d reference that little Pauly Shore gem, did you? Yeah, me neither.
*******I have to give a special shout-out to Beth, Erika, and Erin for being girl trumpet players with me. It was nice not being the only one.
********Like middle school mustaches?