It’s that (un)magical time of year again, where an entire day is dedicated to making fools out of people. Or, if you were me in seventh grade, that was every day.
I’ve always had a difficult time telling when people are joking. Granted, I have gotten much better at it over the years, but what I’ve come to realize is that there is a distinct difference between a joke and a prank. People can share a joke, can laugh together, be part of it together. But a prank is decidedly far more one-sided: It’s Person A perpetrating a ruse against a completely-unknowing Person B.
I have no doubt that there exist pranks that are harmless, or “softball” pranks, as I call them. From my experience, however, most pranks are mean-spirited, if not outright malicious. And that is why, even all these years later, I still flinch when I (inadvertently) click on a hoax headline and the website it takes me to says “April Fool’s!”. I know that I’m not the specific target of the prank—I know, in my mind, that it wasn’t an attempt by the website creator to purposely fool me, Amy Gravino, a person said creator has never even met.
But when you have been the target of a prank, when you have been humiliated, singled out, and aimed at because people know you are gullible, it’s hard to forget what that feels like, in your heart. When I clicked that website, I could still hear the laughter at my expense, laughter from my classmates who moments earlier I had thought actually liked me, but who were now laughing as I stood there alone, cheeks burning with embarrassment.
So I flinch. I pause, for the most fleeting of moments, and have to remind myself that it’s okay. Even though that laughter is faint now, it never fully goes away.