The year was 1986 and I was in 2nd grade. It was quite the time for a child in the 1980s. The era of big hair, big money, the Cold War, the war on drugs. The Oprah Winfrey show had just debuted and was making waves in households across the nation. MTV was in it’s 5th year of broadcasting and had well established itself as the voice of the youth. My young mind was being bombarded with intense images of rock stars with long hair thrashing around wildly while scantily dressed women were gyrating their hips in a display of sexual freedom I had yet to understand.
The 8pm family sitcom line-up was the anchor to our weekday evenings. With TV characters like the smart-alecky womanizing Mike Seaver from Growing Pains, or the sarcastic alien from ALF, who was to be my role model? Who was I to relate to as a young boy to fine-tune my moral compass? I was just a young adolescent boy trying to navigate my way through the world.
My young impressionable mind was also being influenced by the great cinema of the 1980s. The movie Goonies had just been released the previous year, meaning I had recently watched it at home on VHS. It was a movie about young boys, about my age, searching for treasure while trying to escape bandits. It was intense. Emotions were high and language was a bit loose. It was just the kind of excitement a kid my age would appreciate. Not to mention, the movie the Christmas Story was gaining momentum as the movie to watch over the holidays. Another movie about a young boy, about my age, finding his way in life while dealing with parents, teachers, bullies and discovering the power of language. Scenes and quotes from the movie were already becoming infused in the pop culture collective. So it’s really no surprise where this story leads.
It was during recess at school. The day was wet and grey from rain, so we had recess inside our classroom after lunch. I really didn’t mind indoor recess. I usually just sat quietly by myself and drew pictures. I was the introverted shy quiet kid. Indoor recess gave me the chance to be alone and explore my creativity without feeling like a total weirdo. It’s not that I didn’t have any friends. I was just more of a 1-on-1 kid. Playing boards or other games with a larger group didn’t appeal to me. Plus, all the “cool” kids would fight over who got to play the good board games, or they were just plain too rowdy for me. It was more recharging to just do something by myself. But on this particular day, my friends and I had a brilliant idea. We were going to make a list, but not just any list. A list of bad words. Like, really bad words. The F – – – word and its combos, along with some of it’s friends.
I’m not sure who the mastermind of this project was, but I regret to say that it may have been me. I can’t even begin to envision the thought process I had. How did I even broach the subject?
“Hey guys, let’s make a list of dirty words.”
However it went down, I had my team in place. The three of us huddled over a piece of lined notebook paper letting our minds recall words we had heard from movies, TV, and our parents. Most likely, we had heard most of these words from other kids at school. But that didn’t matter. We giggled in deviant delight as we wrote them down. We were good kids. We all got good grades and were well-behaved, rule-following kids. But as we scribbled down these terrible words, the years of oppression were lifted and we were liberated from the constraints of life that were imposed on a 2nd grade boy in suburban America. Freedom motherf*ckers!
Our little project was not meant for anyone. We meant no harm. These words weren’t being used in offensive sentences, they were simply just listed. Written down in perfect 2nd grade penmanship. We were simply entertaining ourselves. That was our plan at least. A plan with no end game. What were we supposed to do with this list once recess was over? We had no idea.
As recess came to a close, the panic started to set in. Neither of us wanted to be caught with illegal contraband at school and we had to dispose of it. It’s not like we could burn it and I didn’t want to put it in my folder to take home. Between all the commotion and panic, somehow it ended up on the floor and was confiscated by the lunch lady. Sh*t was starting to get real!
None of us were actually seen in possession of the list, so it was turned over to the teacher for her to conduct her own investigation. F*ck! This actually worked in our favor though. with no eye witnesses, there was only very little circumstantial evidence against us. We would have to heavily rely upon our perceived character to avoid a guilty verdict.
Later, I was questioned my about my involvement in this list. Did I write those words? Did I know who did? the teacher asked.
God damn, the guilt was already starting to build, but I kept it together. I LIED! I denied it all! I didn’t know who the hell wrote those words! Because of my squeaky clean reputation, my word was worth it’s f*cking weight in gold. The teacher believed me! Man, that was close. But the guilt started to grow larger. I wasn’t ready to deal with this sh*t.
My reputation was solid for a reason. I was a good kid. A really good-ass kid. It wasn’t just for show either. I did know the difference between right and wrong. It was who I was. So when I got home, the guilt continued to spread. Like, ‘you’re a piece of sh*t you lying bastard,’ type of guilt. And even though I was in the clear, the guilt was eating away at my soul like a god damn rat. A god damn dirty f*cking rat.
I sat alone in my room feeling like a f*cking piece of sh*t. I had the weight of the world on my 8 year old shoulders wondering what to do and how to make that sh*tty feeling go away. But I knew. There was only one way to shake that feeling. I had to confess. Damnit…
I walked downstairs dragging my guilt like a heavy boulder. I approached my parents sitting on the couch and then, I confessed. I confessed everything! I confessed to the writing of the words and lying to the teacher. I purged my soul and was ready to except the reign of terror that I deserved. But somehow, for some reason, they didn’t yell at me. They were disappointed for sure, but they didn’t yell and scream and send me to my room. My honesty was applauded. I’m sure I was punished, but that’s not what I remember. I remember the feeling of gliding upstairs to bed feeling light as a f*cking feather. That boulder I was dragging around had turned into a balloon. Freedom! The truth shall set you free! F*ck yeah!
But was that all it took to really learn my lesson?
Sometime that summer, the same thing happened with me and my cousin (my idea again). I thought I was a little smarter this time though. This time we tore the paper up into small bits before throwing them in the trash. But we put them in a trash can in a room nobody uses. So when my mom went to take the trash out, she saw little bits of paper with partial cuss words written on them. F*ck!
Ok, so maybe it took me a little longer to learn my lesson.
Now, as an adult, I’m usually very conscious of my language, especially in front of the kids. The few slips I have had in front of them were warranted. Like when I spilled a whole can of white paint inside the black interior of my car. So it was a big surprise when I heard my daughter casually say “damnit” when she made a mistake doing her homework the other day.
I wonder who the f*ck she heard that from?