Teenagers are a weird species. Really, they are. They come in all kinds of shapes, and like all kinds of things. Some of them spend a lot of time trying really hard to impress people, some of them accept that people might never be impressed by them – only to find that some people nowadays are apparently impressed by not trying. Which has always been kind of weird to me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to please everyone, trying to fit in and be normal and have friends. I managed to wrangle myself some friends eventually, but I’m still very different compared to everyone else. Either that or everyone else is very different compared to me. That probably says something about why we shouldn’t compare people, eh?
I spent 14 years of my life believing that there was nobody else out there like me. Nobody who felt like I did. Nobody who thought similar thoughts to mine. Nobody who did or would ever dream like I did. Then the internet came along.
Say what you will about the internet about how it’s taking over our lives and giving us all ADHD and directly increasing prescriptions for medication that helps concentration, but it does have it’s benefits. Without the internet, I would surely be far more miserable than I am now.
It would make sense to start this story somewhere, and I can’t think of a better place to start than when I was born. You see, when I was born, my mother almost died. She hemorrhaged and bled like a goddamn champion. Turns out the cause of the bleeding was a calcified fetus that had been previously undetected, nothing to do with me. Kind of. If I weren’t there kicking it about I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone so badly but we survived. She popped out a beautiful baby girl. I promptly contracted MRSA. Actually, now I think about it I was a pretty damn inconvenient baby, but at least mom and I got our own room in the hospital, with our own sink and changing bed and cot and such. She had to have a load of blood transfusions – so many, in fact, that they ran out of blood to give her at one point. Pesky calcified fetuses almost killing my mom.
Anyway, I got born, and after about 3 months Mom and I were all fine and dandy. She’d had her second baby girl, and Dad wrote me an ode. (One which, to this day whenever I read it I tear up a little bit – I am still hoping that I have inherited my father’s way with words.) Everything was not as it seemed though. She hadn’t had her second baby girl, she’d had her first and only son. I guess the moment I was delivered kicking and screaming and the nurse declared me to be a “beautiful baby girl” as opposed to a “big strong boy” was where it all went a little bit pear shaped. It meant that I was named Bethany instead of god knows what. It meant that I was dressed in pink and given dolls to play with and always got lumped in with the girls in PE. It meant that I was raised to act and speak a certain way. I didn’t mind though. I mean, when you’re a child you’re not trying to deconstruct society’s ideals, are you? You’re just running around playing tag and scraping your knee and jumping in puddles or something.
I was a pretty smart child, I was one of the first in my class to be rid of the special grip they used to put on pencils, one of the first to be rid of the pencil and be awarded a pen. I was in the hexagons, not the triangles. I was in Shakespeare group, not… whatever group that wasn’t Shakespeare. My teacher had a weird way of grouping us by ability, the more sides your shape had, the better at maths you were. I’m not sure that it really transferred over to literacy so well, but I’m pretty sure Shakespeare was pretty good at writing.
So, I was told all through my life that I was bright and intelligent and a ‘joy to be around.’ I was ‘sensible’ and ‘mature’ and ‘trustworthy.’ There was one problem though: I was fat, and I was plagued with nits all through primary school because god damn it my mother loved her baby girl’s long hair. Of course, kids who are fat and smart and have nits aren’t the most popular of kids – and while I took pride in my ability to get my way most of the time when the teacher was in charge, I was completely powerless outside of the classroom – and there are only so many break times you can spend inside organising the pencil pots or the book shelf. So I was bullied mercilessly. I dreaded the moment when the teacher would say “work in pairs” because everyone around me would make eye contact with their friends and shuffle away from me, and I’d almost certainly be left with one of the ‘dumb kids.’ I realise now that the ‘dumb kids’ were special needs, but 9 year olds generally don’t understand learning difficulties – especially if they’re constantly being told that they’re naturally gifted. It’s easy to assume that everyone is as mentally capable as you are. So I never had anyone to play with, apart from the nice kids who took pity on me for a while but ditched me as soon as anyone asked why they were playing with me. I ended up playing tennis against a wall and sucking at it. I would ask the boys if I could play football with them – because even the ‘dumb kids’ were allowed to play football. Football to me seemed like a great equaliser, everyone played it together. Everyone except the girls. Girls can’t play football. At one point we formed a girls 5 a side football team and came third in a tournament, but it was my last year and as far as I know it ended the year after.
So there I was, top of my class but without a friend in the world. I don’t even know what I did at home. I don’t remember watching much TV, the computer was monopolised by my (significantly nerdier) sister (who, somehow, was friends with the cool kids in her year.) I think I just read a lot. I had read all the books on the class bookshelf, my teacher had lent me some of her own books which I had read and disliked so much that she stopped bringing them in for me. I got bored, but I kept reading for want of something to do. Sometimes I went and played with the kids on our street, but then my scooter was run over by a car and I couldn’t fix it.
I aced my SATs and everyone did the obligatory “I’ll miss you! Good luck!” signings on my T-shirt. Sometimes I dig it out of my wardrobe and read over what people wrote to me and just laugh. There’s nothing else I can do, really. It was kind of nice at the time though, these people were willing to write their lies down on my shirt in permanent marker for me. I admire people who can commit to such lies, but only in a ‘sometimes I wish I could lie to people’ way.
I moved on to Secondary school, which was a lot like primary school except there were more people to dislike. We were put in to forms instead of classes, and there was a huge site to navigate in order to get to our lessons. I remember my first day, I had my bag and my jumper and new shoes and everything seemed hopeful. Everyone kept telling me not to worry, and I trusted them; I figured I shouldn’t worry, because they had done it and they weren’t as smart as me. That’s kind of a recurring theme in my life: I do stuff because other, less intelligent people have done it. I cling to my “smartness” for dear life.
So I got to school on the bus which was exciting, and my sister showed me how to wear my uniform so I didn’t look like an idiot, and adjusted my bag straps so I didn’t look like a year 7 so much as I looked like a very aloof and confused year 8 – that was just one of the many advantages of being the tall kid. I stumbled my way through year 7 – sticking mostly with the kids from my primary school because despite the fact that they were complete cunts to me, they were at least familiar. One of the most alarming things about secondary school is that they expected you to write in pen all the time. Even in maths, which was weird. But I was suddenly no better than anyone else. There were other kids from other schools who were top of their classes and one of the first to get a pen and suddenly I felt like I was in direct competition with them. It was another school tournament which I refused to come third in.
Teachers stopped referring to just me as ‘trustworthy’ and ‘sensible’ and started copying and pasting the same report that they had wrote for all the kids in the class. I wasn’t special. I was well and truly in the system, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like my teachers because they shouted a lot, and I didn’t like my classmates because they talked a lot and threw rubbers at the back of my head. I didn’t like the homework because there was so much of it. Everything was confusing and I had no idea what was expected of me any more. I just sort of trailed about, following people who seemed nice. They seldom were, but it worked as a kind of disguise for a while. Until I decided that all I ever wanted in life was to join my older sister and her cool friends in town.
Ah, town. It was my sanctuary for a few years. Every Saturday without fail, I would take the bus and go and do nothing much. Really. Though I’m sure a lot must have happened, I couldn’t tell you specifically what I did there week by week.