“Well, look who it is, … ” Chet Dickson passed the table where Bethany sat alone in the Samuel James Middle School cafeteria. He finished the sentence with slurs said at a whisper so no one else but Bethany could hear.
“Shut up Chet!” shouted Bethany. “I hate you!”
Every eye in the cafeteria turned toward her as Chet walked on snickering under his breath.
Tears flowed down Bethany’s face. Everyone else had already gone back to talking to their friends though. Nobody cares about the weirdo. She picked up the floppy slice of pizza from her tray and slowly began to chew, tears still flowing. Nobody cares…
Bethany stepped off the bus in front of the little peach colored, single-wide trailer where she lived with her mom. Their little grade horse, Starbuck, trotted up to the fence and nickered. Setting her backpack on the porch, she went over to greet him. He nuzzled her with his reddish-brown nose, and she rubbed the big white star on his forehead.
She climbed inside the fence and shook with sobs as she hugged Starbuck. Tears continued to stream down her face as her mom pulled into the driveway. Their old truck chugged a couple of times, not ready to give up after her mom had already stepped out and shut the door. “Hey baby,” she called out. “I’ve got groceries, could you come help me put them up?”
Bethany didn’t move. She continued to hug Starbuck as she heard her mom open the passenger door of the truck and retrieve the groceries. Bethany heard her mom sigh loudly as she carried the bags in through the front door of the little house, allowing the screen door to slam loudly behind her. Bethany sighed too and headed into the house behind her mother. Bethany paused as she passed the kitchen. Her mom had placed the bags on the little, round, wooden kitchen table and had begun putting them up. Their gray, tabby cat, Trixie had jumped on the table to ‘help’ and was purring so loudly, Bethany could hear her from outside the kitchen. Helene stopped what she was doing, rubbed the aging cat’s head and said, “I love you Trixie, but I have things to do right now.”
Bethany stood and watched as her mom started to boil the water for hot dogs, and open a can of chili for the chili dogs she was making for dinner. It was one of Bethany’s favorite meals, but she had no appetite. Helene grabbed a drinking glass from the cabinet and then filled it with burgundy colored wine from the box she kept on the counter in the kitchen and said to herself, “Well, like Granny used to say, It’s five o’ clock somewhere.”
She placed hot dogs in the boiling water and then stood there watching them with glass of wine in hand, when she suddenly turned toward Bethany. “I thought I heard breathing. Are you okay?”
Bethany opened her mouth to speak, but broke down in tears. She fled to her bedroom and slammed the door behind her. She was face down on her bed; body wracked with sobs when she heard her mom knocking on her door.
“Bethany, what’s wrong? Please let me in.”
“Go away, Mom!”
“Bethany, please open the door. I love you. I just want to help. Do you need a hug?”
Silence. Bethany opened the door. Helene stepped into the room and held her arms open. Bethany sunk into her mother’s body and began sobbing even louder. Helene just held her daughter and didn’t say anything.
Bethany hadn’t wanted her mom in her room because she knew her mom would not be happy with the mess. There were books, comic books and clothes piled on top of the dresser; some of which had fallen off and others about to give up their precarious positions as well. Her nightstand was in the same state, bed unmade, empty Dr. Pepper bottles littered the floor. Her carpet had not been vacuumed in weeks. But her mom didn’t mention any of it.
As Bethany’s sobs slowed, Helene held her at arm’s length and asked, “What happened? Why are you so upset?”
“Chet Dickson…” Bethany began and started sobbing again.
Bethany felt her mom tense up.
“What happened?” Helene prodded.
“He called me retarded.” Her body slumped as the tears kept falling.
Her mom clenched her fists and then relaxed them. “I’m so sorry Bethany. But Chet is a loser, that’s why he’s so mean. He…”
“Mom, please. I don’t want to talk. I’m a weirdo and I know it.”
“How can you say that, Bethany?! You’re just different. Why don’t you believe me?” Helene pleaded.
“Mom, you have to say that. You’re my mom.” Bethany whimpered through her tears.
“Well, if you’re such a weirdo, why would Antonia let you take care of her horses?”
Bethany stepped back and gazed up at her mom. “Maybe you’re right,” she said between sniffles.
“Of course, I’m right. And you really need to learn to embrace your differences, or you’ll spend your whole life wallowing in self-pity and end up a bitter old lady.”
“I don’t want to be different! I am a weirdo!” Bethany rapidly flapped her hands.
“You’re not a weirdo. And different is not a bad thing. Do most people really achieve anything special? Think about it. It’s the weirdos and people who dare to be different who go on to greatness. They don’t accept the status quo.”
“Mom! Just leave me alone! You’re making me feel worse!” Bethany shoved her mom out of her room and then slammed and locked the door behind her.
Bethany could hear her mom sigh as she stood outside her door. As Bethany flung herself back on her bed to continue sobbing, she listened as her mother’s footsteps faded down the hallway.