Youthful Ignorance and Michael Jordan: A Betrayal Like No Other

If you were to describe me to someone who hasn’t met me, you might say such things as: “She will use any excuse to show you a picture (or several) of her cat“; or, “She is unbearably pedantic about Harry Potter”; or, ”It is probably not wise to ask her to share her cheese plate.” All of these descriptors would be accurate. But the characteristic of my personality that has perhaps gotten me into the most trouble is my unparalleled ability to trust the things that people tell me without question. I believed my high school friend’s claim that she was an extra in Remember the Titans (she wasn’t), and someone once convinced me that motorcycles didn’t have to obey traffic laws because their engine would melt if they stopped moving (it doesn't). But in one particular circumstance, this blind trust of mine got me in trouble in the most egregious way.

The year was 1996. I was a cultured, savvy nine year old who harbored only a single dream: I had to make it through a gruelingly long day of school before I could come home, snuggle up with my favorite babysitter, Connie, and watch basketball legend and Chicago hero Michael Jordan appear as a guest on the Rosie O’Donnell show. (That sentence could only have been more 1996 if I was playing Pogs and eating Dunkaroos during the viewing. While Ace of Base played in the background. What a time to be alive.)

I had been looking forward to this for weeks. Connie and I watched Rosie every day, and this was one of the most hyped events of the season. So I waddled off to school in the morning (I feel like most kids kind of waddle around, right?) and suffered through the excruciatingly long day, and when story time came around that afternoon, I was all out of patience. My teacher read us some dumbass kids book (I was reading the full-length Berenstain Bears novels at that point and had no time for baby books-- told you I was cultured) and then, in one fateful breath, she uttered the word that would change my life forever.

“Hell,” she said. We all gasped.

My teacher patiently explained. “Hell isn’t a bad word, guys. It just depends on how you use it.”

I was skeptical of this, but I loved that teacher, so I trusted fully that she would never steer me wrong. I pocketed this information for future use.

My sister and I got home from school and, as we were taking off our coats and shoes, it became clear that she was dead set on being a pest. (In hindsight, I was kind of a pain in the ass as a kid, so I probably had it coming. Or instigated it. Aggressively. It’s been twenty years, who can say?) So she said something annoying and I let fly the first retort I could think of.

“Shut the hell up!”

*Record scratch.* Connie looks at me in shock. The world stops turning. Birds plummet from the sky and Furbies fall silent. A lone star flickers out of existence.

“What did you say?” Connie asked.

“Oh, it’s not a bad word,” I replied calmly. “My teacher said so.”

“It’s a very bad word!” Connie said. “You are going straight to your room for a time out.”

Now, wait a minute. I’m receiving conflicting information here. My teacher, who I love and trust, told me specifically that “hell” is not a bad word. But Connie, who I also care very much about, is telling me otherwise. What the HELL is going on?!

Connie shepherded me into my room. I was absolutely overcome with righteous indignation.

“No no NO!!! You don’t understand!! She said it wasn’t a bad word!! It’s not my fault!!”

Connie shook her head. “Kate, that was a terrible thing to say to your sister. You’re going to sit in time out and then you’re going to apologize.”

Now, I attribute this incident to the development of another facet of my personality. I have absolutely zero tolerance for things I deem to be unfair. And I was outraged. Connie wouldn’t listen to me, and I wasn’t wrong, and then in a wave of unbridled horror, a thought occurred to me.

“I still get to see Michael Jordan, right?”

Connie sighed. “I’m afraid not.”

WHHHHHHAAAAAAATTTTT?!?! I stormed into my room and slammed the door, bursting into tears. Then I opened the door and sat in the doorway, so close to the hall that I was technically still in my room but would hopefully be able to hear MJ talk. But I couldn’t. He was too far away. So I curled up into a ball on the carpet and sobbed quietly to myself, because this was 1996 and there was no way to replay or look up this interview after it ended. Once gone, it was gone forever. And it wasn’t my freaking fault!

After my time out ended, I begrudgingly apologized to my sister, (Kerry, if you’re reading this, I wasn’t sorry and I’m still not), and then went on with my day, albeit remaining slightly peeved. The funny part was, I was the type of kid who was afraid of swearing, and a few years later in sixth grade, when I was played Truth or Dare H-O-R-S-E with my friends, I was dared to say… *gasp*... THE F WORD. I carefully took aim and shot the basketball. By an act of Satan himself (or the fact that I suck at sports), I missed. And then my girlfriends and I huddled around each other, and, heart racing, I whispered the fateful word. “Fuck.” I look around in terror. No one heard. No one died. God didn’t smite me from the heavens. What a rush! I thought. And I didn’t even get in trouble! And then I went home with the knowledge that I was changed, that I was now a Bada** Grown-Up no parent could tame. And then, a few months later, I did the unthinkable. I lied that I was sick because I had forgotten my library books at home and didn’t want to get in trouble. My mom picked me up. I put on The Price is Right. You’re a rockstar, Kate, I thought to myself as I curled up on the couch with a cup of bouillon. The world had better watch out.

And I still haven't seen that interview.