The first house we ever toilet-papered belonged to somebody we didn't know at all. My friends and I had chosen the house for being a safe-but-not-too-far distance from my house, very distant from the Hidden Valley security guard shacks, somewhat secluded from other houses, but close to a variety of trees and shrubs and fences—places we could hide if we needed to.
We did a terrible job that first time—a few throws over a tree and the rest wadded up and tossed around the lawn before we ran away giggling—but the experience filled me with adrenaline.
My house had become a popular house for sleepovers, because my mom would let us "sneak" out as much as we wanted. With my core group of friends—Catlin, Anabelle, Lauren, and Lauren—I would walk around the empty golf courses that were off-limits during the day. We would lie on the impossibly fine-cut grass and talk about secret stuff, because that time of night in an off-limits place was made for secrets.
It was my mom who had first mentioned toilet-papering.
"You guys have never toilet-papered a house?" she had said. "Ever? How weird."
That first night, my friends and I left through the sliding glass door in my bedroom, my mom whispering behind us, "Don't get caught! I'll leave a light on for you guys."
After that, I became obsessed with toilet-papering houses. Strangers' houses, houses of people I vaguely knew, houses I wished I lived in, houses I used to live in that were now occupied by other tenants, the house of the teacher I had never had class with but who I heard was mean, the house of the people who'd refused to buy Save the Rainforest T-shirts from me the year before when I was trying to win a Cat in the Hat hat by outselling my classmates.
Everything about toilet-papering houses was gratifying: the supply organization, the sneaking around, the security guards driving around looking for vandals like us, the potential for punishment. But possibly the best part was riding my bike past the house the next morning to check whether it was cleaned up or not. Knowing that the evidence of my vandalism was available for all to see in the light of day made me feel powerful. I liked thinking about the confusion I'd inspired in residents the next morning, and how I'd never be suspected because I was just a little girl.
That year we were twelve, and friend dynamics were beginning to feel more complicated. There was always some issue between us. Catlin would be mad at one of the Laurens, or Anabelle and Lauren would be fighting, or Catlin and I would be competing for one of the Laurens' attention, or Anabelle would be convincing us that Catlin wasn't our friend. The five of us rarely hung out all together. This was fine with me, as it was easier to sneak around with only two or three people. It also allowed me to rotate who I would take with me toilet-papering so that I could satisfy my insatiable enthusiasm for it without anybody getting burned out.
But eventually my core group of friends became bored with it and I had to recruit different friends, and when the new recruits became bored with it, I asked my cousins to sleep over and made them go out with me, and when they got bored as well, I asked people from school who I didn't consider friends but who were willing to hang out with me, and when they became bored with it I finally gave it up, unwilling to go by myself.
My friends still liked sleeping over and sneaking out, but only to meet up with boys. I was fine with this in theory. We didn't hang out much with boys at school, and it seemed exciting to hang out with people outside of a classroom setting. But usually we would spend the whole night calling different boys, trying to find someone who would be willing and able to meet up with us, wasting it on unsuccessful coordination. It was time that would have been better spent, in my opinion, toilet-papering houses.
Sometimes, though, we were able to arrange for boys to meet up with us. We had a few spots around the neighborhood that were safe from parents and security guards: a mysterious half-buried empty pipe large enough for ten of us to crawl into, a house that was being renovated that was often left unlocked, and Lauren's stepbrother's bedroom, which was a separate granny unit next to the main house.
We would play Truth or Dare and take turns kissing each other and, if it was my turn to determine what the dare would be, spitting into each other's mouths a certain number of times. Eventually all my friends would disappear with a boy to participate in non-dare-based kissing, and I would be left with someone like Lucas, who had a lazy eye and who I was strongly attracted to despite my own desire not to be.
I was never sure if I was attracted to him because of or despite his lazy eye. He was cool and confident but still managed to be nice, which wasn't something the other cool, confident boys in my class seemed to be able to pull off. He didn't seem to be self-conscious or apologetic about his lazy eye, which I found intimidating and inspiring, but also unrelatable.
Because of my confused feelings, I tried hard not to develop a crush on him, and my efforts were mostly successful.
"What street do you live on?" I would say, trying to sound courteous, which I felt was the opposite of flirtatious.
"Powder Horn Road," Lucas would say, simultaneously looking at me and through my neighbor's open window.
"Oh, that's a really nice part of town. What do your parents do for a living?"
Sometimes after Truth or Dare, I would be left alone with Duncan.
Duncan sat in front of me in both morning English class and afternoon Science class. Every day in English after we were given our assignment, he would ask me for a few sheets of lined paper. I would roll my eyes, rip them out of my binder in dramatic faux indignation, and tell him that he owed me quite a lot of lined paper and that I was considering charging him interest for my lost resources. In Science, if I was wearing my giant furry platform shoes, he would turn around in his chair and pet them and tell me he liked them and I would tell him they were my least favorite shoes and I was just trying to wear them out so I wouldn't have to wear them anymore. If I didn't wear them he would ask me why I wasn't wearing them.
Duncan was my age, but he looked a lot younger, like a weirdly tall five-year-old. He had a bowl cut, a slight stutter, and was bow-legged, and I was fully in love with him.
One night, someone we knew had been given access to some house near where we were. It was a friend of Lauren's older brother whose parents were out of town. We went to the house and someone turned on some soft-core porn that was in the VHS player. We shared three cans of beer between the six of us. Lauren sat to next to Nick who sat next to Brad who sat next to Catlin. I sat to the right of Catlin and Duncan sat next to me, at the end of the couch. The sound wasn't working, so there was no narrative for the couple on screen as they took each other's clothes off on an overcast beach, and no character motivation when the man began to caress the woman's breasts and stomach. I felt annoyed that the TV was on and that we were all just sitting in silence, wasting the time we had together.
When the movie ended, our friends broke up into twos to go make out, and Duncan and I walked around outside until we found some quiet cul-de-sac where we sat down and talked about my giant furry platforms, which I stupidly wasn't wearing; English class; homework; the quality of the cafeteria food; and a cold that Duncan may or may not have been coming down with, he wasn't sure.
Talking alone with Duncan was as good as or better than kissing him would have been. It felt so intimate, and I was eager to see what would happen when I saw him in class on Monday.
"Duncan wanted to kiss you," Catlin told me the next day. "He told his friends he wanted to but he didn't want to give you his cold."
"Aww," I said.
It was endearing to me that he wanted to kiss me but hadn't. It pointed to a possible shared fear of intimacy and/or sexual exploration probably caused by a sensitivity to people that made us thoughtful and emotional, which had the potential to mean that we were alike in ways our friends couldn't understand, which could someday bring us together in a more meaningful and beautiful way than what our friends were able to experience with each other by kissing so quickly.
"You had him all to yourself during the porno," Catlin said later. "You could have done anything."
"Porno? What porno? Oh, that weird silent film that lacked even the most basic plot structure? Oh, Duncan was sitting next to me during that? Oh, I hadn't noticed." I felt a pang of semi-horny regret for the missed opportunity. But there was nothing I would have done differently, I reasoned. It had been the perfect night.
When Anabelle and I hung out without our other friends, she liked to sneak out and meet up with older boys. And by "older boys," I guess I mean "men." More specifically, tattooed men with facial scars who hadn't lived with their parents for years and who offered us beer and weed when we knocked on their door at 9:30 p.m. Maybe I sensed trouble, or maybe I just wasn't as bad or as cool as Anabelle was, but I would beg her to go back home with me when it was still early, only a couple hours after Community Youth Curfew, well before I ever wanted to go home when we were vandalizing property or hanging out with boys our own age.
I wanted to be outside, shrouded by the anonymity of the night, causing mischief I wouldn't be held responsible for, inspiring feelings I couldn't really understand in people I would never know. I did not want to be sitting politely in some stranger's apartment, hoping he didn't want to molest us.
"I want to be outside," I whispered. "Let's run around on the golf course and let the security guards chase us around."
"I don't want to," Anabelle said, loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear. "I'm having fun here."
"Let's move the flags away from the holes," I whispered. "That sounds so fun."
"I don't feel like it," she said. She walked away from me and started hugging a shirtless man with an enormous back tattoo that read MAXINE. I sat back down on a couch, inhaling secondhand pot smoke, and wondered why I wasn't attracted to these adult men that Anabelle found so appealing. They were creepy and seemed filthy and talked about stupid things. I found their shirtless torsos repulsive and their high-pitched stony laughter menacing.
It occurred to me that it was possible I was a lesbian, even though I wasn't attracted to women. Maybe I just hadn't noticed being attracted to women. But I wasn't attracted to men, either. Sometimes I was attracted to boys my age, sometimes to older thirteen-year-olds (and sometimes, shamefully, to eleven-year-olds). But my crushes were so childlike and innocent compared to Anabelle's obvious horniness for a man who seemed so capable of actual sexuality.
There were other indicators too, such as the prevalence of overalls and striped T-shirts in my wardrobe, or the fact that I liked South Park and Comedy Central's Premium Blend, which I now recognized were shows that none of my girl friends ever watched.
I was temporarily comforted by the fact that I had felt compelled to tape posters of male celebrities all over my bedroom walls—Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kurt Cobain, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Hanson—but I soon realized that this group of men conspicuously favored long luxurious hair, which I thought could be an indicator of some hidden homosexual desire.
I had heard about gay people marrying members of the opposite sex before realizing they were gay. I told myself that it was a good thing I was figuring it out before I had wasted most of my life mistakenly thinking I was straight. Maybe I could start embracing my lesbianism now, and by the time I was an adult it would be no big deal. Maybe I was lucky.
Then again, I really did feel attracted to Duncan, and thought about him a lot in a way that seemed romantic. I imagined running my fingers along the edge of his bowl cut. I wore my giant furry platforms just to get his attention. When I found a note from him to one of his friends on the ground at school, I took it home and analyzed the handwriting using handwriting analysis websites, and then folded the note and put it in the small jewelry box where I kept things I wanted to cherish. I had definitely never felt that way about any girl.
Still, I hadn't even thought to kiss Duncan when we had been alone. Did that indicate that I wasn't interested in kissing or being sexual? Perhaps I just wasn't a sexual person. Or perhaps my lack of initiative was more indicative of my fear of rejection. If so, did that fear necessarily mean I was heterosexual? Maybe I was confused. Maybe being a lesbian would somehow postpone my need to address my sexuality. Maybe I was attracted to boys my age because they sort of looked like adult lesbians.
It would be just my luck to have to be a lesbian, I thought, annoyed but resigned, in the same tone someone else might think, Ugh, I'm going to have to write my report tonight. I decided that if I did turn out to be a lesbian, I would simply refuse to be attracted to women, realizing as I was having the thought that it didn't make any sense.
I heard the shirtless tattooed man tell Anabelle that he wanted to show her his collection of Playboys that he kept in his bedroom and I leaped up, yelling that we needed to go. I didn't want Anabelle to look at a man's Playboys. I didn't want her to be a sexual person, because that might mean that I was becoming a sexual person, and I did not yet want to face that.
"WE NEED TO GO! We need to go right now," I said, pulling Anabelle by her arm, inexplicably giggling. I was being an insane spaz and I did not care. "We have to go! Right now is when we have to go, and I'm going, and you're going, too!" I said.
Anabelle knew it and the creepy tattooed man knew it and I knew it: I wasn't cool. I was an embarrassing loser, a pathetic virgin, and probably a lesbian.
We didn't see any security guards out, but I ran home through the golf course as quickly as I could anyway. Anabelle yelled after me to slow down the entire way, but I ignored her.
After that night, I made deals with my friends if they wanted to sleep over: "If you want to visit a boy, we have to toilet-paper a house first. Otherwise, you can sneak out of your own house." It was great leverage, because my friends had attentive and protective parents who made it much harder to sneak out of their own houses. Plus my house was in a better location, central in terms of many of the favored boys.
The last house I ever toilet-papered belonged to the family of a boy named Mark, who had my bus route and who I found annoying. He was loud and secure despite being painfully uncool. His family lived a couple of blocks from mine and they had a dog statue at the end of their driveway. I don't know why, but the dog statue pissed me off. What the hell would you need a dog statue for? I thought. Just get a real dog, losers. Because I hadn't been out toilet-papering for a couple months, I had a lot of pent-up vandalism energy. This time, I wanted to do more than just throw toilet paper around. Anabelle and I filled two two-liter soda bottles with condiments, garbage, and leftover spaghetti, added a little bit of water, and shook them to create a chunky, liquidy jelly. We took these bottles, along with some eggs and toilet paper, to Mark's house in the middle of the night. Not only did we empty the bottles of sludge onto the front door, steps, and exterior walls of the house, and throw eggs onto their garage door and car, and cover their trees with toilet paper, but we also picked up and carried their bird bath from the yard and placed it on the driveway, dragged their dog statue into the middle of their lawn, and moved other various lawn ornaments and flower pots into what I believed was an aesthetically awkward and embarrassing display. The whole operation took well over an hour. When I was satisfied with our work, we went to the house next door, to an open garage where some tattooed men Anabelle knew were drinking and hanging out. I was so pleased with myself that I even took a few sips of beer while Anabelle recounted our shenanigans to the guys. We stayed over very late, and when I started falling asleep on the outdoor couch, one of the tattooed men suggested that Anabelle and I go home.
Before we woke up the next morning, Anabelle's mom called my house demanding to know where we had been the night before. My mom swore we had been at home all night, but her lies did nothing for our case. We were caught. The security guards had talked to Mark's neighbors to see if they knew anything about the vandalism, and they had given them Anabelle's first and last name, and the security guards had called Anabelle's mom looking for us.
"Shit," Anabelle said. "Fuck. Shit. Fuck." Anabelle's mom was very strict. She had once been grounded for three weeks for taking her hair out of a ponytail at school, and I'm pretty sure I'm not leaving any details out of that story or exaggerating it. Anabelle and I both knew that she was a goner. We said goodbye as though she were dying.
I thought about Mark, wondering what he thought about what Anabelle and I had done to his house, or if he had any idea that it had something to do with him.
I tried to imagine what it must feel like to be a twelve-year-old boy who is the random target of two twelve-year-old girls. I wondered if he would tell his friends or if it would be a shameful secret that destroyed his confidence and instilled in him a fear and distrust of women that would last into his adulthood, eventually costing him thousands of dollars in therapy and prescription medication or, worse, leading him to an out-of-control pill addiction, a life of crime, and ruined relationships with everyone and everything he ever grew to care about.
I didn't hate Mark before we toilet-papered his house, but I hated him now, because this bleak image of his future made me feel guilty, and that is how I have always chosen to deal with guilt.
Anabelle and I were each given forty hours of community service, but I never worked a minute of my share of them, because my mom didn't make me.