Tales of Bette: The All-Night Graduation Party. Raymond and Company. June 1, 2004. An Excerpt...
"I wanna tell you how sexy you looked doing the 'Lady Marmalade' dance at prom. Last year too. I threw a dollar. I don't think you saw," Raymond said confidently.
Bette started turning red as she stopped laughing and collected herself. Brock G and Ted got wide eyed looking back and forth at the two of them.
"You really think so?" Asked Bette, she wasn't laughing, she had an intrigue to her face and voice.
"Oh yeah. Total turn on." Raymond grabbed his crotch, bent over slightly, and spoke in a slight grunt. "I hadn't gotten any since November. I wanted to be that chair." He grunted harder after.
Brock and Ted took a small step back from their friend. Brock whispered to Ted, "She's going to do something to him."
Ted whispered back, "It's not gonna be good."
"You can call me," Bette said with a little grin on her face.
All three guys got wide eyes. "Yeah, sure." Raymond said with a sarcastic laugh.
"I'm not joking." Said Bette. She held out her hand and twitched her fingers to him. "Give me your yearbook." She looked Raymond straight in the eye when she said it.
He handed Bette his yearbook, still a little stunned. Bette opened the back of it and wrote on the hard back cover. "You know, I remember you were one of the people who said something nice to me when I first dressed up for Winter Spirit Week freshman year. You may not believe this, but that was a real turning point for me. It meant a lot to me." She wrote a message in the book. "Do you remember?"
"I don't. I'm sorry." Raymond cringed a little.
"I wore my green flapper dress. It was one of the only times I ever had a reason to wear it. I really liked that dress. You said it looked nice on me. You weren't creepy or gross about it. You reminded me that there are more than two or three non-creepy guys out there." She signed her name in the book. "Even if you grabbed your dick just now." She reached in her pocket and grabbed her lipstick. "I understand you're probably peacocking for your buddies here. There's a wager or a dare or something going on here. I'm not going to ask, but I'm going to help you win. You were sweet to me when I was going through a hard time. I never forgot that."
Raymond looked back at Ted and Brock G and they had stepped further away than he realized. He silently mouthed to them in an exaggerated way, "Oh my God." And looked back to Bette casually.
Bette applied a layer of lipstick and put it back in her pocket. "But it's funny you bring up prom. No one asked me. I brought a friend, a freshman. I always thought I was radioactive or invisible or too weird to nearly all guys." She put her kiss mark in his yearbook next to her message and phone number. "But if you're serious, you can call me." She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, snapped his yearbook closed, and handed it back to him.
Raymond gave her a flirtatious smirk as he took it out of her hand. "Either way. I'm already a winner." He could see how red her face had become as they spoke.
"Either way, Raymond-Ray." She said with a slight shake of her head and a laugh. She waved with her fingers to all three of them as she walked away.
He could see that she covered her face with her hands as she walked away.
Bette wasn't always confident. She thought she was radioactive or invisible or weird. How did Bette become radioactive?
Bette and Jenna walked to school with Jenna's older sister Theresa. Theresa was in fourth grade and made the walk easier. They had played together all summer and was never mean to them. When they got to school and got in the building, Bette and Jenna realized, they weren't going to be in the same class that year. They only had been in the same class in Kindergarten, and even then, they were only becoming friends then; by now, they knew they were best friends, it wasn't fun knowing they wouldn't be in the same class.
When Bette got to her classroom, the teacher, Mrs. Davis, sat everyone in alphabetical order by last name. She didn't know Anne Walker or John Yates before that year, but it was a matter of time before she would. Mrs. Davis had everyone make paper dolls of themselves as a project to have some fun. Something about the project didn't click with Bette. She found colors of paper she liked: red, gold, and black, but everything she cut out didn't fit right over her paper doll. John laughed at her color choices and said they were ugly. Anne made beautiful cuts and was quite talented for their age. Bette saw an artist next to her, and she felt foolish. By the time Mrs. Davis told them their time was up for work, she hadn't finished anything on her paper doll. She and one other boy were the only ones who didn't complete the paper dolls of themselves. Twenty-three paper dolls hung up, Bette's wasn't one of them.
Over the school year, she heard about kids playing together outside of school. She realized certain kids lived on the same block or their moms and dads were friends with each other or were playing soccer or hockey and grew to be friends that way. When she asked her parents to sign up for dance class, she was too late for fall sign ups and would have to wait until the next school year.
It was late January on a Monday. Over the weekend, Bette's mom had bought a whole bunch of clothes from a rummage sale for Bette. She was excited about them; they were fun and cute. When she went into school that day, she noticed Monica Carlson peering over her shoulder at her a lot. Monica and Bette didn't talk much; Bette noticed. It was after lunch and recess in the coatroom when Monica went over to Bette and yanked on the back of her shirt, pulling the tag, "I knew it! M.C.! You're wearing my old t-shirt." Bette pulled herself out of Monica's grip and turned.
"My mom just got this for me."
"You're a liar. And poor! My mom cleaned out my dresser and gave my old clothes to the church for the poor kids. She said so!" Monica teased.
Bette could feel the tears of embarrassment welling up. No. Not now.
"Maybe it's because you're fat," barked Cassandra, hanging up her coat. "I've never seen you eat a vegetable at lunch. No wonder your mom had to get rid of your clothes, too many Little Debbies."
Monica got a stunned look on her face and stomped out of the coatroom. Bette wiped the tears off her face and sniffed hard. "Thanks for sticking up for me," Bette forced out.
Cassandra smiled, "I have the same shirt. She could'a done it to me. She also hogs the good swing at recess, you ever notice that?"
"She said it was my fault they got rid of the seesaws during Christmas break. I got that bloody nose from the handle in October!"
Bette knew she was a little different, but at least she had an ally now.
Bette's mom handed her a compact mirror one day, dropped it, and it cracked. Seven years bad luck. It happened the second week of school; she thought about it a lot in third grade. She considered it her 'bad luck year.' Another school year where she didn't get to be in the same class as Jenna. Jenna's family moved across the neighborhood that year and they didn't get to walk to school together anymore. She walked with Cassandra, which was okay, but they weren't in the same class either and didn't like a lot of the same things.
In class, she drilled and practiced her times tables again and again, but when it came time to take the tests for them, she blanked every time. She had to get extra time with two other kids in class and was embarrassed for getting special treatment. Same with reading. She knew she was in the low reading group. She was easily distracted and could never focus on reading the stories, they bored her.
When the class did art projects, hers were the ones that didn't turn out. When they made paper-mache ghosts, Bette's balloon was the only one that deflated overnight, leaving her with a dented ghost. When a substitute teacher put everyone's names on paper Christmas stockings, the sub put 'Betty' instead of 'Bette,' which she hated being called by anyone but her mother. Anytime there was something to do with paint, she was the only one who had dirty water spill on herself or a paint brush mark her clothes. And so many broken pens staining her shirts. She was a jinx that year and rarely did other kids pick her to be her partner for anything.
She found herself missing out on fun things too. Her parents took her on a long weekend trip to her grandparent's home the weekend of Valentine's day, and she missed the class party and all the candy, cards, and fun that came with it. At the end of the school year, she got the stomach flu and missed the class trips roller skating and the beach. She was determined not to miss the trip to the zoo, but got sick and vomited on herself there. Bette considered it her greatest miracle that no one ever found out, except Tina, and she never told a soul.
Bette hated third grade and was grateful when it ended. Bette learned what it meant to be radioactive that year, and never forgot it.
Another school year where Bette didn't get to be in the same class as Jenna or Cassandra. But the year was better. Mrs. Augustine was a fabulous teacher. She reminded Bette a little of her Grandma Wheelan: artistic, sweet, gentle, and she didn't treat the kids in class like they were little kids. She talked to them, not at them, and Bette noticed.
It was the first year Bette had her first big crush on a boy. TJ Swenson was nice to Bette. He didn't obsess about the same stuff the other boys did like Michael Jordan, Power Rangers, and Goosebumps. He treated boys and girls the same. On Halloween, when Bette dressed up in a homemade Batman costume with green sequin trim, TJ thought it was cool. He dressed as Frankenstein's monster and thought their greens matched. It was the first time she didn't feel invisible to a boy or to anyone. It was the first time she didn't feel like a freak for something her mom made or did for her.
The invisibility returned just as quickly when TJ and his family moved away shortly after Thanksgiving. Bette didn't have friends in class; the one person she liked, was gone.
Mrs. Augustine was a great teacher Bette remembered for years. Even though Bette didn't like art projects, Mrs Augustine was, by far, the most encouraging teacher Bette ever had. She taught them new techniques and new ideas. She showed them water color paints and oil pastels and how to turn mistakes in your work into art. Bette was still an admittedly bad artist, but she didn't hate it anymore.
Fifth grade sent Bette to middle school and she felt smaller and more insignificant than ever. She got to be in the same three class grouping as Jenna, but not in the same main class. They always had the same math, science, and history homework and got to sit together at lunch with Cassandra, but they didn't get to see each other that much. New kids from other elementary schools ended up in the middle school. Kids who had gone to Pebble Lake Elementary with her, were there too, many she just never noticed before.
It was late October, just over six weeks into the school year and Mr. Barrow had the class rearrange desks from their previous state of alphabetical order by last name. She ended up in a desk cluster with Jane, Sam, and Jason Kay. It only took a few days and the right amount of prodding, but Jason found the right sores to poke on Bette. He called her ugly. Anything good she had ever done, he had done it too, and bigger, better, and first. He could always make her feel bad. When her first crop of black heads came in and he called her ugly that day, she barely made it to the bus without crying. She was radioactive again, and Jason Kaye could see it. No one wanted anything to do with her besides Jenna and Cassandra, at least, it's how it felt.
One day during a quiet reading and work time, Bette was trying to remember something she had watched on a video with her father. She wrote in a notebook: copper clappers kept in a closet. Kempt? Copped?
She heard a whisper from the adjacent desk, "Copped by Claude Cooper."
"The kleptomaniac from Cleveland." Bette grinned knowingly at Mark Hall. "You've seen those Johnny Carson tapes?
"My Dad has them. I think I've watched them more than he has," said Mark. "You were muttering the words."
"Mine too. I was trying to remember how the whole thing went."
He leaned slightly towards her and whispered, "I can say the whole thing. Both parts."
"Neat- Is...is that Sailor Mars?" She was looking at the rudimentary drawing in his notebook.
"Yeah," He said brightly. He quickly caught his volume and lowered it. "I visited my grandparents in Florida this summer and Sailor Moon was on every afternoon. They didn't have cable, so it was the only thing that wasn't a soap opera."
"I visited some cousins this summer. We always had to get home from wherever by 2 PM so we could watch it."
Mark had a big smile on his face. "That's cool, Bette. I thought-"
"Sailor Moon? Anime? I thought only ugly freaks and fags like that that stuff. Guess I was right," said Jason Kaye.
Bette looked back down at her notebook and kept writing. She swallowed hard, sniffed back a tear, and wrote in her notebook: If I catch him, I'll clobber him.
Bette liked going to school dances. Jenna, Cassandra, and Tina were fun; lots of other girls were fun and social at the events too. Even if she wasn't good friends with the other girls, Jenna and Cassandra were good fun. But a middle school dance wasn't a dance unless someone ended up in the bathroom crying. When Bette and Jenna did a move involving a hand catch, they missed. Jenna caught her step, but Bette fell. There was pointing and laughing. The physical pain hurt, but the humiliation hurt more. She was the one who ended up in the bathroom crying that night.
Her breasts started coming in that year, solid B-cups by Christmas time. She considered it an absolute miracle she got her first period over that break and she didn't experience it at school. There were a couple girls who had, and the idea of it happening to her terrified her. When she got back to school, she was still moody and hormonal and didn't like how she felt. She knew this feeling would be happening every month for years, and hated everything that day. Jenna and Cassandra hadn't had their periods yet, and didn't want to talk about it with her.
At a dance in spring, Jenna and Cassandra both had boys ask them to dance. They were cute blondes. Bette had black hair, pale skin, black heads, and weird pubescent proportions. She was an invisible, radioactive, weird ghost.
Summer after 6th grade
Bette decided it was time to reinvent herself. No more sad, lonely little girl. She was going to be 13 that fall: time to grow up. When her mom took her clothes shopping, she didn't buy clothes in the kid's section anymore. She like some of the clothes in the teen section, mostly the cuts of jeans and cuts of t-shirts, but shopping with her mom was fun. Lorna took Bette to stores where there were women's consignment clothes. Because Bette was young and barely an adult size, there were lots of options in the small section for her and liked what there was to offer. Lots of expensive women's clothing with original tags marked down to low prices. Lorna rarely said no to Bette's choices.
In August, Bette got to go to summer camp again. Being in one of the older groups there, she got to do more adventurous things than she had in previous years: river kayaking, the high ropes course, swimming in the middle of the lake, and horse-back riding at a trotting pace. The fun thrills came to a screeching halt when her bikini top broke open and she flashed a bunch of kids, including a boy, Norman, she went to school with. Both were humiliated in the process. No one talked to them the last three days there except to tease them about her breasts and his erection. Bette was used to being radioactive and invisible, Norman wasn't and they commiserated together.
Bette told Jenna that she liked Norman after the summer camp incident. She and Norman didn't have any classes together, but when she saw him at lunch, she would try to sit at her table so he would see her, but more often than not, his back would be to her. She tried to chalk it up to coincidence.
It was a few weeks into school when the announcement was made for Puzzle Club. She liked Puzzle Club. She was invisible, radioactive, and weird, but not at Puzzle Club. She was sharp there. She was her best there. It was once a week, sometimes less, but she liked it there. It wasn't a place where she was invisible, radioactive, or weird. She and Jenna, and Cassandra had gone the last couple years, but they didn't love it as much as she did. Her parents encouraged her to go, it made her happy there.
Bette slogged through gym class that day. She hated soccer. She lacked the speed and coordination for it; a terrible runner. She was grateful when Mrs. Golden blew the whistle at the end of class on the field. Get me out of here. She walked, wheezing back to the locker room from the field.
"What's Puzzles Club," asked the large yet somehow soft voice.
She knew the question was for her, no one else in gym class went to Puzzle Club besides her, but she was still shocked when she looked up and saw Ozzy. He sat behind her in geography and rode the bus with her. "Holy shit, you mean me!" No one else was near them. Ozzy didn't know her, her humiliations, her insecurities. If Bette was radioactive, he didn't see it, he didn't know it.
She didn't realize it yet, but Ozzy was not just a new friend, but he was a lead-lined box. Before the day was over, she was still radioactive, but she wasn't invisible anymore. Ozzy saw her, and not for the radioactive, weird, ugly freak she thought she had been. She was Bette Wheelan, not the sad little girl she had been, and vowed never to be again.