I miss visiting with my friends and family in these days of COVID-19. Normally, we’d be getting together and having stimulating and ridiculous adult conversations like how old we were when we first heard the F word.
Nowadays it’s no big deal, but back in the 60s and 70s, that was “the baddest word in the world.” It wasn’t of course. It’s simply a word for sex that can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb and in many cases, to describe a dangling participle. But Americans are so squeamish about s-e-x.
It was 1962. I was 10, in the fifth grade.
An older (Read: 12) and much wiser-in-the-way-of-the-world girl showed me some graffiti on the back of the old, whitewashed cafeteria, which was near the playground, which was near my house.
“Do you know what that word means?” she said with a knowing look and raised eyebrows.
As a matter of fact, I didn’t. It was an interesting word that rhymed with a lot of other words and I liked words that rhymed: Duck. Cluck. Buck. Tuck. Suck. Muck.
“It means love,” she said.
I eyed the many times it was scrawled on the cafeteria, right next to “Jimmy + Lana” and “Delores + Steven” and “You are 2 good 2 be 4gotten.”
All of the graffiti related to love in some way. Except one that said, “Kill Jimmy Kartone.”
“Who is your boyfriend?” she asked.
I kind of liked David Persimmons, who sat behind me in music class, but he had no idea I lived, let alone that I sat in front of him in music class.
Although, he did once glance at me after my mom gave me a bad home perm and utter, “Ugh.”
“Here,” she said, and slipped a tube of red lipstick into my hand.
“Just write his first name if you don’t want to tell me,” The Older Girl-in-the-Know said. “It’s okay. Look. Everyone does it.”
Indeed, the entire side of the old building was covered with “love” messages.
Easily led and wanting to fit in — two traits that would lead me to trouble for most of my life — I took the lipstick and wrote Vivian F—- Dave and Dave F—- Vivian across the top of some older, faded “Roses are red …” verses.
We went back to the playground and I pretty much forgot about the incident.
That is, until one of the town’s policemen showed up at my house the next day.
I had not taken into account three factors:
- My mom had a fascination with “Gone With the Wind” and had named me Vivian Lee and I was the only Vivian in the entire school system.
- We lived in a very small town.
- The head of school maintenance was my neighbor.
My parents were humiliated, my brothers were in awe and I was forced to scrub off the cafeteria scribblings — all of them.
I was confused, embarrassed and I still had absolutely no idea what I had written and why everyone was so upset.
I wanted to die with Jimmy Kartone.
Worse, I could not explain it to my parents.
How could I explain that I didn’t really love — or f—, whatever that meant? — David, I only kind of liked him? Which only meant — if he kind of liked me — we might hold hands briefly during the annual Turtle Days Festival.
I thought about trying to blame it on Scarlett O’Hara, the only other Vivian I knew, but she spelled Vivian with an e. Besides, she was in Hollywood undergoing multiple shock treatments — an ironclad alibi.
A week later, I asked another girl who was a teenager what the word really meant and she told me.
Pow. Another defining moment.
“A boy and girl do WHAT?!”
“Oooh … disgusting.”
“And people like this?”
“There is no way that’s how I was born. No way.”
My Mom and Dad’s Sunday naps were suddenly suspect.
I had to write, “I am sorry I wrote bad words on the cafeteria” 300 times, but I wasn’t too upset.
I was too busy being glad that our school system had a lot of boys named David.