It began in high school with a brush of the shoulders, a mumbled sorry from her side and a laugh from Susan’s. Though they had kept walking in their own directions, Bernadette had glanced backward once. What she would always remember was the girls’ loose hair, not confined by a band or styled by society’s standards. No, they had been entirely themselves, and it had entranced her–still entranced her. From then, the desire to be like them took hold of her, became an obsession in itself.
The day Susan transferred into her Advanced Mathematics class was the same day Bernadette had hardened her resolve to talk to the girls. She had thanked whatever God there was when Susan was placed right next to her. Yet, she hadn’t been able to utter a word to the girl. It wasn’t until months later that she had a conversation with Susan, where the other girl had asked her a random question about an old rock band. The words exchanged were lost in the many conversation that would follow.
Eventually, Susan brought her to meet the rest of the gang. Bernadette hadn’t needed introductions when she’d spent months watching them, trying to learn how to live so freely. Kelsey was the short blonde, whose innocent gray eyes brought people to their knees. She spent most of her time following Maura, a curvy brunette whose name pervaded the boy’s locker room. Then there was red-haired Kari. She and Susan were inseparable, sharing everything from clothes to boyfriends. It was no surprise that when Susan deposited Bernadette in front of the group she went right to Kari’s side. Standing before them, Bernadette had been intimidated by all their beauty, especially what hid beneath.
Below the football field’s bleachers they had scrutinized her from head to toe, front and back. Kari was the one who decided she would need to be remade. No longer would she be Bernadette, hair always braided and gaze downcast. They had released her hair and raised her chin. They made her different, better than before.
Maura taught her the weight of each calorie, each missed workout. Kelsey emphasized being natural. She refused to wear make-up and drove miles to buy organic food. Kari took the lead when it came to hair and clothes. She had cleaned out Bernadette’s closet with a wrinkled nose on the first day she’d invited them over. And Susan renamed her. With them she wasn’t Bernadette, but Etty.
Etty was special. She wasn’t alone throughout the day and she didn’t succumb to the will of others. No, Etty had friends who would take a bullet for her, a boyfriend every now and then, and confidence at her fingertips. Everyone knew Etty.
But her family refused the changed. They didn’t understand her need to always be out with the girls instead of finishing homework. They didn’t understand that she’d never felt better than in the moments shared with Kelsey, Maura, Kari, and Susan. They tamped her uniqueness down, the girls said. Etty’s family forced her to sneak out, to drink away the fright that came from lying, and to yell when they called her a terrible daughter. It didn’t matter to her because she had her girls.
The euphoria didn’t last long enough.
Suddenly, Maura wasn’t reminding her of her diet, Kelsey wasn’t telling her the cons of GMO, Kari was picking at her looks, and Susan wasn’t meeting her eyes from across the room. They all stopped talking to her, even avoided her. When Etty confronted them, they told her that their friendship with her had been a charity case gone on for too long. Kari laughed at her.
“You wanted to change yourself so much we couldn’t say no,” Kari explained. “It was fun to watch while it lasted.”
Susan stayed terribly quiet during the exchange, seeming almost disinterested. When Etty’s friends walked away from her, it hurt the most to watch Susan’s receding figure. She could do nothing as her life retrogressed. She would always be stuck as Bernadette.