“Bitsy” is what they used to call me.
In first grade, I was almost the same size as the other kids. We were equals back then. Man, how things have changed. I stopped growing at ten years old. No one questioned it; it was a family trait. My mom is four foot eight and so is her sister. They told me I was lucky to reach four foot ten and I believed them. “Lucky” has different meanings to different people.
Kids are cruel, but I never let the teasing get to me. I had a couple of besties who didn’t care if I was four feet tall or seven feet tall. Those girls, the non judgemental, love me for who I am, who I was; those are the people who make the world go round.
“Use your height, or lack of, to your advantage,” a phys-ed teacher once told me. I listened and she helped me become one of the top Balance Beam gymnasts in the province by the time I was fourteen. I was in the papers and on TV. Bullies left me alone after that. Cece and Candace were my cheerleaders. I loved those girls like you couldn’t imagine.
People ask me why I threw away my future; why I dropped out of school a year before graduation. “None of your Goddamn beeswax,” I’d tell them. Eventually, everyone stopped caring. Good. Screw you all.
I’m the manager at Ferd’s Bakery and Coffeetorium. How’s that for irony? I work for Jennifer’s husband.
I started here in 1989, when it was still owned by Old Mr. Ferdinand. It wasn’t trendy back then. The cool kids didn’t hang out here. It was just a bunch of geezers getting together, playing cards, comparing aches and pains. They liked me, but the tips were crap. “Don’t eat yellow snow,” was one of their faves. Crazy old dudes. It was ideal; never running into my peers.
Luis bought it ten years later and kept me on. I debated leaving, but where would I go? High school dropout, skillset ending at pouring coffee and cracking jokes with geriatrics. Yup. I stayed.
I stayed through the renovation; the endless training on fancy ass “hot beverages”; the new generation of mean girls. I was a waitress. Now I’m a barista. Almost sounds like I went to college.
Staff have come and gone over the last thirty years. Yup. That’s how long I’ve been slinging java. They call that a “Career Server”. What bullshit. It’s a sad excuse for a meagre existence. People think I’m too stupid or lazy to do anything else. I’m not either, but I’m not a brainiac or overly ambitious either.
Hot little tarts come through here, take a job, treat me like crap, and quit when something better comes along. I hate them all.
A few years ago, Hannah applied for a position. She was at least my age, said her husband worked out of town a lot and she wanted a long term job to keep herself busy and allow her to meet people. They were new in town. I begged Luis to hire her; give me a worthy counterpart. He trusted me and obliged.
No regrets, man. No regrets. She’s fucking hilarious and the first human I’ve considered a friend in forever. She has nicknames for all the regulars; some kind, others not so much. She blends in, nothing notable to bring attention to her. I’m jealous. Everyone knows me as “the little one”, “the mouthy one”, or, worst of all “A fixture at Ferd’s”. Permanent. Like the coffee maker or toilet. Only I’ve been here longer than both of those. I’m a sad sack.
“Dude, what’s with your eye?” I asked Hannah this morning.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Are you wearing brown contacts? It’s, like, slipping. Do you really have blue eyes? Why the fuck would you cover that up?”
“They aren’t BROWN, Sheeb. They’re hazel. I think it’s pretty. Looks like my Grandma. And looks better with my hair, don’t you think?” she answered, rubbing her fingers over her eyelid, trying to readjust the rogue lens.
“Hell, no. You’re an idiot. But I love you, anyway. Loser,” she kicked my butt as I started to walk away. I flipped her the bird and we both giggled like teenagers. Yep, Hannah was a gift, starting to drag me out of this three decade long fog.
I wasn’t always this cynical. I used to have hopes and dreams. I was going to be an Olympian.
In the summer, when the gym at DSHS wasn’t available to practice in, I went into the woods. There were a few fallen trees near the river that were ten times more challenging than the straight beam and fall mats indoors. After a few weeks of practice, I could do four consecutive handsprings; split jumps; front and back saltos; all without falling off or bagging myself. I was going to take Team Captain as soon as I entered twelfth grade. See, I was ambitious. Once upon a time.
Until that day.
I’d been practicing for hours and needed a well deserved break. The sun’s long fingers were reaching through the canopy of trees, tickling me with warm nudges. I laid on the collapsed timber that had been acting as my workout partner, arms splayed, daring a wind to knock me over. It was my way of meditating. Alone, the only sound the rustling of leaves, the song of chickadees, squirrels playing tag. I could get lost in smells of nature, not a fear in the world. It never occurred to me that I could fall.
That morning, mid relaxation, almost snoozing, I heard approaching chatter. Girls, giggling; branches, snapping. I jumped off my perch and hid behind the closest cluster of maples. “Guys! Wait up!” someone was calling.
I kept still, a professional spy, hoping to pick up on some gossip I could use, for good or evil, it didn’t matter. I was pure stealth, and small enough to stay out of sight.
“This… is… what… you wanted to show me?” It was Teddy Duncan, out of breath, talking to someone I couldn’t yet see. This might be something! I leaned in closer, lower. I didn’t want to miss anything.
“Sure is, Teddy Bear!” Oh, shit. Ariel. No good would come from this.
Teddy was looking around, looking up, searching for something. “I don’t get it.”
“You will.” Jennifer stepped into my line of site. She was carrying a heavy looking purse. She pulled out a can of Pepsi and handed it to Teddy, who accepted the gift and downed half of it in a single gulp.
“See, Teddy? THIS is why no one likes you. You’re a pig. A girl of your…. Girth… should avoid sugar. You’re just going to get fatter and fatter until you can’t even fit in the seat at the movie theatre or on a plane,” Ariel said, cruel giggle. “Right, Jenny?” what a bitch.
“Um. Sure. I think you made your point, Air. Let’s go.”
“Not so fast. She needs to learn!” Teddy finally realized that this was a set-up. She was looking around, frantic, for an escape route. “You can’t outrun us, porker,” Ariel continued.
“Wh.. what do you want from me?”
“I’m so glad you asked!” her voice was jovial; syrupy; fake. “You see this?” she asked, flipping her hair, long in the front, short in the back. Teddy had copied the cut, not nearly as perfect.
“Y..y..yeah. It’s nice. Looks so pretty on you,” Teddy stammered.
“I know! ON ME!!! NOT ON YOU!” I got it. Teddy did, too.
“You’re right, Ariel. I’ll cut it as soon as I get home. Cross my heart.”
“I don’t trust you. That’s why we are going to cut it for you. Jennifer? Pass me the sheers.”
“Ariel…,” Jennifer tried to stall her. “Let’s go. She’ll cut it herself.”
“I will! I’ll cut it today!” Teddy begged.
“GIVE ME THE FUCKING CLIPPERS!” She screamed, grabbing the bag and pulling them out herself. “Hold them,” she ordered. Jennifer took them, reluctantly, as Ariel tackled Teddy, sitting on top of her, holding her down by the neck. I could have shown myself, but fear paralyzed me. All I could do was watch.
Ariel started shaving Teddy’s head. She was struggling, crying. She pissed herself.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Look what you did!” Ariel stood, hovering over her helpless victim and pulled a pair of scissors out of her bag. They were huge, steel, the kind you use to cut rolls of fabric. Teddy’s eyes got as big as saucers, her fight or flight reflex kicking in. She was shorter than Ariel, but a lot bigger. She rolled, knocking her attacker to the ground, giving herself a chance to stand and run. She headed for the river. Downhill.
Ariel was fast, and they reached the water within seconds of each other. She was a woman possessed. Jennifer followed, but stayed on the shore, hollering for Ariel to stop, to leave Teddy alone; but she was deaf with rage.
She held Teddy’s head under the water, her hand finally emerging, full of wet, blonde hair. Teddy did not resurface. Jennifer ran into the rushing water, shoes and all, furiously searching, coming up with nothing.
“What did you do?” she asked.
“I did the world a favour,“ Ariel replied, as if what just occurred was nothing at all. I wasn’t even breathing. “We can go now.”
They left and I dove into the frigid water, searching for what felt like ages. I didn’t find Teddy, but I did come upon the scissors. I sat on the bank until dark, numb with cold and fear.
That was the end of Bitsy Sheba, Olympic Hopeful, friend to all. I never recovered. I still have the murder weapon.
“Try this,” Hannah snapped me out of my Hellish memory. She was handing me a steaming drink in a clear mug.
“Ick. It’s blue.”
“You LOVE blue, idiot,” she responded with a sarcastic smirk. “It’s peanut butter banana white hot chocolate. I’m calling it Blue Suede Shoes. Get it? Like Elvis.”
“I get it. It’s good, but you may want to re-think the name. No one wants to ingest something that reminds them of feet.”
“Ew. You’re right. I’ll think on it,” and that’s why I finally have someone to call a friend.