My brother is eight years older than I am. I was a big surprise. A wonderful surprise, my mom would be quick to tell you. Although having a baby at forty is a commonplace fool’s errand these days, back in 1970 it was pretty unheard-of. Women around my mom’s office referred to her pregnancy as “Mrs. Fey and her change-of-life baby.” When I was born I was fussed over and doted on, and my brother has always looked out for me like a third parent.
The day before I started kindergarten, my parents took me to the school to meet the teacher. My mom had taken my favorite blanket and stitched my initials into it for nap time, just like she’d done for my brother eight years earlier. At the teacher conference my dad tried to give my nap time blanket to the teacher, and she just smiled and said, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore.” That’s when I realized I had old parents. I’ve been worried about them ever since.
While my parents talked to the teacher, I was sent to a table to do coloring. I was introduced to a Greek boy named Alex whose mom was next in line to meet with the teacher. We colored together in silence. I was so used to being praised and encouraged that when I finished my drawing I held it up to show Alex, who immediately ripped it in half. I didn’t have the language to express my feelings then, but my thoughts were something like “Oh, it’s like that, motherfucker? Got it.” Mrs. Fey’s change-of-life baby had entered the real world.
During the spring semester of kindergarten, I was slashed in the face by a stranger in the alley behind my house. Don’t worry. I’m not going to lay out the grisly details for you like a sweeps episode of Dateline. I only bring it up to explain why I’m not going to talk about it.
I’ve always been able to tell a lot about people by whether they ask me about my scar. Most people never ask, but if it comes up naturally somehow and I offer up the story, they are quite interested. Some people are just dumb: “Did a cat scratch you?” God bless. Those sweet dumdums I never mind. Sometimes it is a fun sociology litmus test, like when my friend Ricky asked me, “Did they ever catch the black guy that did that to you?” Hmmm. It was not a black guy, Ricky, and I never said it was.
Then there’s another sort of person who thinks it makes them seem brave or sensitive or wonderfully direct to ask me about it right away. They ask with quiet, feigned empathy, “How did you get your scar?” The grossest move is when they say they’re only curious because “it’s so beautiful.” Ugh. Disgusting. They might as well walk up and say, “May I be amazing at you?” To these folks let me be clear. I’m not interested in acting out a TV movie with you where you befriend a girl with a scar. An Oscar-y Spielberg movie where I play a mean German with a scar? Yes.
My whole life, people who ask about my scar within one week of knowing me have invariably turned out to be egomaniacs of average intelligence or less. And egomaniacs of average intelligence or less often end up in the field of TV journalism. So, you see, if I tell the whole story here, then I will be asked about it over and over by the hosts of Access Movietown and Entertainment Forever for the rest of my short-lived career.
But I will tell you this: My scar was a miniature form of celebrity. Kids knew who I was because of it. Lots of people liked to claim they were there when it happened. I was there. I saw it. Crazy Mike did it!
Adults were kind to me because of it. Aunts and family friends gave me Easter candy and oversize Hershey’s Kisses long after I was too old for presents. I was made to feel special.
What should have shut me down and made me feel “less than” ended up giving me an inflated sense of self. It wasn’t until years later, maybe not until I was writing this book, that I realized people weren’t making a fuss over me because I was some incredible beauty or genius; they were making a fuss over me to compensate for my being slashed.
I accepted all the attention at face value and proceeded through life as if I really were extraordinary. I guess what I’m saying is, this has all been a wonderful misunderstanding. And I shall keep these Golden Globes, every last one!
Excerpted from Bossypants by Fey, Tina Copyright © 2011 by Fey, Tina. Excerpted by permission.
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