A Note is Passed by Jodi Sh. Doff

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

broken female doll lying face down in dirt


Most Memorable: August 2018

Written in ink, on a piece of lined paper, ripped out of a spiral notebook, folded seven times, tucked twice into itself, the way we all did in junior high school. On the outside in big letters, scrawled all around U ASKED 4 IT. SORRY, BUT. FROM EVERY-ONE. SORRY.


I’m loud.

I’m too loud.

I say things at the wrong times.

I have too few secrets.

I have too many secrets.


Fourth and fifth grades, a small gang of girls shoplifting candy. Sixth grade, hiding in the attic smoking cigarettes. Seventh grade, looking at dirty pictures in my father’s “art” magazines. We were nine, ten, eleven, then twelve years old together.


A note is passed, and it’s over.


I’m thirteen and I look eighteen, don’t know what to do with that.

I’m thirteen and any contact with boys were things you keep secret.

I’m thirteen and have so many secrets I think everything else is public knowledge.

I’m thirteen sitting alone in my room, music and static dripping out of my transistor radio / onto the bed / onto the floor.



The reason no one likes you is because:

1) You’re embarrassing to be by because you’re so weird, and because you’re whole thing is embarrassing.

2) You say things at the wrong time. Like when you said that to Judy about her smoking in front of her little sister and what you said that time at Martha’s car on her camping trip. Those are what come to mind but there are many more.

3) You think you can get attention from boys by doing retarded things. And it’s sickening.

4) You dish out stuff, but you get very mad and hurt and violent and stuff like that.

5) They don’t hate you but they’re all getting sick of you. And don’t think it’s just from me becase [sic] everyone else told me to write it and of course I am going to get the worst of it. But other kids are signing it too.

6) We’re just ashamed to be seen with you. Why don’t you calm down? (not ashamed just embarassed [sic] sometimes, Joanne)



Lorrie – I agree with most of it

Joanne – I agree with some of it.

Pam – sorry, I had to right [sic]


Every living thing has a survival instinct, a go-to strategy. Mine tells me to hide in small dark places.


When I was small, I played under the bed, watched television from underneath the couch, hid in the small shadowy space between the giant evergreen and our house, spent hours in the dark of my closet, played in the triangular home I’d made by leaning the mattress from my bed against the wall. The crawlspace upstairs where my mother stored the vacuum cleaner was just big enough for it and me, with a window that looked out onto our street. A connecting crawlspace led to the room of “extra” things that smelled of moth balls: warm clothes, winter coats, blankets. My grandmother’s walk-in closet had the same smell, with a wisp of old-lady-lilac-talc on the edges. I was content sitting in my grandmother’s closet with her heavy shoes and black Persian lamb coat.


Anywhere I could see you, but you couldn’t see me.

Anywhere I could see you, but I couldn’t see me.


When the note was passed, I was thirteen and no longer fit in the crawlspaces, the closets, under the bed. There was a bottle of vodka in our liquor cabinet. I crawled in and stayed there for twenty years.


Anywhere I could see you, but I couldn’t see me.

Anywhere I could see you, but you couldn’t see me.


Four years and four summers of birthdays and slumber parties, running home after school to watch Dark Shadows together, seances under a blanket in my living room, sneaking out of the house, learning to smoke cigarettes, “kissing clubs” with neighborhood boys.

Between bells, the first ending one period and another marking the beginning of the next, walking the hallway of Island Trees Junior High School to the next class, headed in opposite directions, we pass each other. A note slipped surreptitiously into my hand the way teenaged girls do. A note, even though I’d stopped to talk. A note slipped into my hand as they walked away together, shampoo-commercial shiny hair, knee-socks, whispers, and giggles, looking back over a shoulder here or there.

I’m standing in the hallway, kids heading in every direction around me, pushing, rushing, laughing. The note has to be untucked, then unfolded. I untuck and unfold and unravel struggling with all the noise: the slap of kids’ leather shoes and the squeak of Keds rubber soles, kids’ laughter and shouting, the noise of rushing and growing and learning and flirting. The noise of thirteen is deafening. When I remember, in the video in my brain, a sea of lonely rushes in, drowning everyone. The breath bubbles of kids dying buoys me to the top. I float along the swift waters of rejection, down the halls, out the door, onto the street and into the sunlight, and I can’t recall feeling anything. Hurt, angry, lonely, confused, embarrassed, enraged, ashamed. Anything would’ve made sense. But I don’t remember feeling a thing. I remember feeling nothing. This is how I survive being unlovable.



I don’t remember asking for it.

I don’t remember feeling like anyone was sorry.


For the next twenty years, I will have one friend at a time, and leave before I begin to get comfortable, before a heart opens to trust.


I read it every year.

This is what happens when you let people get close.

This happens when you have expectations.

This is what comes of wanting love.

A New York-based writer, Jodi Sh. Doff’s work frequently includes autobiographical elements of addiction, alcoholism, and Times Square. She’s been a featured guest of the Sex Worker Literati Reading Series, the KGB Radio Hour, and In Bed with Susie Bright and studied with Spalding Gray, Louise DeSalvo, Gretchen Cryer, and Stephen Elliott. Her work appears in O, Bust, The Fix, and several anthologies. She advises the Art of Memoir at Lesley University’s MFA program and is a copyeditor with Hippocampus Magazine. Visit her online at: onlythejodi.com.


Share a Comment