The Best Time I Learned My Last Name Means Blow Job

As a shy, late bloomer with a nervous twitch in my eye, I didn’t particularly enjoy high school. I was consistently the last one to get a joke, with the exception of dirty jokes, which I usually didn’t get at all. This sense of being on a different wavelength from my peers led to a paranoid, left-out feeling—like nobody knew I existed, and at the same time, they were all laughing at me behind my back.

One night after dinner in tenth grade, my mom said there was something she wanted to “talk about.” My first thought was that my mom had seen one of those TALK TO YOUR KID ABOUT SEX commercials and I’d have to confess I’d never even kissed a boy, which I knew to be pathetic at my age. To my relief, it wasn’t sexual relations my mom wanted to discuss, but our last name. Which is Greathead. Spelled like it sounds: the word GREAT, then the word HEAD.

My mom said she knew it wasn’t the easiest last name to have and asked if I’d ever been teased. I proceeded to tell her about an incident I’d kept to myself for years (for fear of how much it might upset her as a parent). The summarized version is this: one time in middle school, my French teacher, Monsieur Chameron, had lost his temper at me and said: “If your last name is Greathead, then how come you’re so stupid?”

It took me a moment to realize my mom’s silence wasn’t for loss of words, but because she was completely unimpressed by this story. When she finally spoke it was to ask: “And is that the only time… having the last name… has been an issue?”

The truth was no. There had been other issues, like when the track team had voted to make T-shirts with everyone’s last names printed on the back, but the T-shirt company had refused to include mine. (They were a “family company,” they said). Another time a substitute teacher made us go around the room introducing ourselves and when it was my turn and I said, “Hello, I’m Kate Greathead,” the sub got very angry and threatened to send me to the office, and everyone laughed. Then there was the time someone had “defaced” a poster I’d made for the science fair by drawing an arrow between my first and last names pointing to the word GIVES, which had been scrawled over my diagram of photosynthesis. I could’ve cared less about the stupid poster, but the vice principal had made a big fuss and there had been an “investigation” to find the “responsible party.” No students were ever charged. There were a handful of similar incidents but I didn’t bother telling my mom about them because they didn’t make a lick of sense.

Or did they?

The next day at school I was in middle of gym class, trying to focus on serving a volleyball, when something clicked in my head and all of a sudden I realized that my last name meant something perverted. After class I found my best friend, Sam, who confirmed this to be the case. But what, exactly, specifically, did it mean?

“What do you think it means?” Sam asked.

My best guess: “The tip of a man’s penis?”

After 30 seconds of staring at me, similar to the way your doctor stares at you when you tell him you have a brain tumor, Sam filled me in on what the rest of the school had apparently known since 8th grade: Greathead means blow job. Processing this information was like finding out you’ve been going around your entire life with the words SUCK PENIS tattooed across your forehead—and no one was kind enough to tell you. Because they assumed you knew.

Their assumptions were wrong. Because as a shy, late bloomer, with a nervous eye twitch, I was not the most cunning linguist when it came to slang for oral sex. And, no, never once, not for a split second in my seventeen years on this planet had it occurred to me that my last name—that which was typed on my birth certificate, written in permanent marker on the label of my first yellow raincoat, scribbled in the skies of my Crayola landscapes, proudly penned in newly acquired script on the tops of my spelling tests, in the flaps of my favorite paperbacks, called out in classrooms, announced at piano recitals and track meets, printed in yearbooks, class rosters and postcards from the dentist, signed over and over and over in the margins of notebooks because you never know, one day you might be famous and need a pretty signature—in addition to signifying Which Kate?…This Kate!, was slang for… that act.

Growing up means having holes poked in the fabric of your childhood. These holes multiply and meet each other, forming bigger holes, which keep expanding; eventually there are only a few threads left, not enough to bear the weight of your innocence. So began the rest of my life as Kate Greathead. Spelled like it sounds: G-R-E-A-T-H-E-A-D.

Kate Greathead is a writer and a storyteller. She lives in Brooklyn.

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