Linda S. was the first bad girl I ever met. We were in grade school together, age eleven, and got breasts and periods before most of the other girls. It was our physical maturity that drew us to each other.
What fascinated me about Linda was that she knew exactly what to do about her maturity, while I was a clueless geek. She shaved her legs, used tampons, had boyfriends and smoked Marlboros. And she had style, wearing tight t-shirts, low-slung jeans and wide belts. She had beautiful long blond hair, a broad Slavic face and a big confident laugh. I could't understand why she wanted to be my friend.
Her Italian mother was divorced from her Polish father--the only "broken home" on our street at the time. The rest of the divorces didn't come until at least five years later in our Chicago suburb, including my parents'. Linda's mom, Carmella, always seemed to be cooking big pots of tomato sauce, and she scared me. Carmella was the only person who could wipe the smile off Linda's face, and she did it with shouts and hitting. Thank god I didn't see Carmella often; she had a 9-to-5 office job, so Linda and I could run around the house freely.
When I was in fifth grade, I was in a brief love triangle with Linda and my kindergarten best friend Wendy, but I eventually dropped Wendy for Linda. She was the only friend I wanted to be with. We liked to dance in the rain together, listen to pop music and put on glamorous shows for each other in the basement. I especially enjoyed lip-synching to one of Carmella's records, "Goodbye Charlie," by some singer like Dory Previn or Patti Page or whoever it was.
Anyway, Linda was seriously involved in all of my first kissing experiences: 1) She pinned her boyfriend Mike in the schoolyard one Saturday afternoon and forced him to make out with her to prove to me how long she could hold a kiss without taking a breath; 2) She instructed me and a neighborhood boy, Greg, to kiss each other on the lips because neither of us had ever done it before and it was time to learn; 3) We were bored one weekend night with no boys around and decided to practice French kissing with each other, which we did on my bed.
I haven't seen Linda in years, but I thought about her the other day after watching Madonna's 1991 documentary, Truth or Dare. While performing in Detroit, she gets a visit from an old schoolfriend, and Madonna describes her as a bad girl from a broken home who was a bad influence--she showed Madonna how to insert a Tampax, ran around with boys, smoked...
Basically, Madonna--one of our era's biggest bad girls of all--had a wild bad-girl friend in childhood just like my very own Linda. It seems like no matter who you are when you're a kid, it helps to have a bad girl around to guide you through tough times.
"Can I just say that I find it really irritating that everyone beats up on Britney Spears?" Madonna told Elle magazine in February 2001. "I want to do nothing but support her and praise her and wish her the best. I mean, she's 18 years old! It's just shocking. I was so gawky and geeky and awkward and unsure of myself."