In 1954 I was a college sophomore, the only one in my part of the dorm who never had dates. A girl, I’ll call her Sally, offered to fix me up—in all senses of the word--lend me clothes, make up my face, and provide me with a blind date. My initial reaction was no, but she, for reasons I’ll never know, was too excited about the “project” to take no for an answer. I told her I had a boyfriend back home but she dismissed him as irrelevant since he’d never visited. She insisted it was more than time for me to start going out. I don’t know why I agreed, but it probably had something to do with how long it took my boyfriend to respond to my letters.
On the night of the date, I went to her room to get ready. We were about the same size so her clothes fit me, but I wore loose clothes; she liked clothes that clung to her body. When I put on the dress she wanted me to wear I said it was too tight. She countered that I looked great. Fortunately, my feet were bigger than hers so I couldn’t wear her high heels. Dismayed by my “poor” taste in shoes, she found a hallmate with a pair of heels that were not as high as hers. At least I could walk in them though I wasn’t sure for how long.
Pleased with what she’d done so far, she sat me down and covered the front of the dress with a towel. I could feel stuff being smeared on my face, lines being drawn under my eyes and over my eyelids, more stuff smeared on my cheeks and lips, then a pad patting my face. She handed me a mirror, her pleasure in her work clearly evident. I looked at myself but couldn’t find me. If I was uncomfortable wearing her dress and someone else’s shoes, the makeup covering my face made me even more so—something I didn’t think possible.
We left her room and walked toward the common room filled with males and females eyeing and cooing. While we headed for the two guys who were waiting for us, she prattled on about how good I looked and what a fun evening we were going to have. Her enthusiasm made me nervous. She introduced me to my date, a guy who looked familiar. “I think you’re in my English class,” I said.
He stared at me for too long then nodded. “You look so different I didn’t recognize you.” He added, “You look great.”
Before I could think of something to say, Sally took charge. “Let’s get out of here. I’m thirsty.” Her boyfriend put his arm around her, fondling her breast, which made her laugh. She pushed his hand away and kissed it. My date and I followed the two of them, walking down the hill to the main part of town where we headed toward a bar with music playing so loud I could hear it from a block away. I hoped that wasn’t where we were going. It was where we were going.
Sally’s date led us to an empty table and grabbed a fourth chair from the next table that seemed already occupied by the look of glasses and plates of half-eaten food. She and I sat down. The two guys left and made their way through the crowd. Sally gushed about her boyfriend but it was so noisy I could hardly hear her. I nodded every now and then, which seemed to satisfy her. They returned with a large pitcher of beer and four glasses. Sally’s date filled the glasses and handed them out. He put his glass out and toasted, “To a wonderful evening with gorgeous gals.” I winced. Gal? A man from the next table came back, grumbling about a missing chair. Sally’s date ignored him and said, “Let’s party.”
The three of them downed their beers before I’d taken a couple of sips. My date filled the others’ glasses and looked at mine, then at me, grinning, “Hurry up and finish, woman. Time’s a wasting.”
Too much noise. Too many people. Sally and the two men laughed and bantered. I nodded, as if I were part of the conversation but couldn’t think of anything to say. When my date put his arm around me I could smell his beery breath. I watched his hand move down the front of my dress. I stood up and said I needed to use the restroom. No one seemed to notice that I carried my purse and sweater.
It took me awhile to get through the crowd and even longer to find the ladies bathroom. One stall was empty and I went in and locked the door. I must have been there longer than I realized because I heard Sally call my name. I flushed the toilet, waited a few seconds then came out.
“You’ve been in there forever. You okay?” Her lipstick was smudged—from kissing I guessed.
I said the only thing I could think of. “I just got my period and I don’t want to ruin your dress. Besides, the cramps are pretty bad. I better go back to the dorm. Tell the guys I’m sorry I had to leave.”
Sally looked disappointed but then shrugged. “Okay, maybe next time.” She left. I waited until I couldn’t see her, then found a side door which led out to an alleyway and the street.
I practically ran back to the dorm. It was a relief to take off her dress and her friend’s heels. It was even more of a relief to scrub my face until I could recognize myself.
I dislike being in bars, being with people drinking, with music so loud it hurts my ears, yet I’d agreed to do this, wearing someone else’s clothes and shoes, with makeup that created a person I didn’t know. I felt ashamed of agreeing to be turned into someone I was not and never wanted to be. Sally never offered to fix me up again. My date never asked for another date. A painful lesson I promised myself never to repeat.
I joined the outing club of a nearby university and spent weekends camping and hiking. No drinking. No makeup. No loud music. No man’s hands touching my body without being invited. I was who I was and it was okay.
How do you know who you are?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.