I walked to school with Roberta. She was a wealth of information.
On my first day of high school, she told me to never say the word “rubbers” because that topic could take a turn for the worse in just a matter of seconds. I squinted and nodded in acknowledgement. And then I thanked her. Roberta had thick eyebrows and when she said something, she had a way of manipulating those brows into one long brow and that facial gesture made everything she said seem true.
Once we entered the doors of high school Roberta completely ignored me because of protocol. She was a mentor, after all. I was a freshman and although she was two years older chronologically, she was a sophomore academically. Roberta only cared about the chronological. Everything else was school calendar birthday roulette.
Here’s the thing about the rubbers, I thought she said “rudders” and because I was so naive, I really didn’t even know what a rudder was for sure, much less rubbers.
My first class of the day was Business English. I always called it “my first class” or “first hour” while some kids called it “first period”. Ha, not me. I read a Catholic Girls Guide To Sex” and I knew what a period was and no way was I going to live with the double danger of these two words: rudders and periods.
Anyway, I stopped at my locker and brought along my dictionary to my first-hour class and as soon as I had the chance I looked up the word rudder to see what kind of trouble could possibly come out of this word. And that is how I learned that a rudder had something to do with a boat.
So if period also meant period, that meant that rudder could mean rudder and rudder.
Whew, this was obviously crucial information. I avoided any conversation that had to do with boating, sailing, swimming, and apparently even synchronized swimming was now taboo. Well, basically anything to do with water was now forbidden.
Considering I grew up on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, my conversation bank had just about been tapped empty right there. All I needed was for one person to say, “cooler near the lake” and I would panic.
One day, Roberta and I were trekking home from school and I remember explaining to Roberta that way too many people seemed to have sex on their minds. She nodded her head in agreement and then looked at me with that one eyebrow and said she heard about a girl in eleventh grade that got pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat in a public restroom. We decided we were going to start putting down a double layer of toilet paper and squat so nothing like that would happen to us.
And, of course, that is why I still shy away from water sports and public restrooms.