The girl at Starbucks spelled my name wrong on the coffee cup she handed me. It's a normal name - Beth. But she's spelt Bett. Who’s named Bett anymore? I can't even think of a current Bett in mainstream pop culture. It's a small thing, but the sore on my tongue starts to tingle. I burn it with my half caramel, half vanilla latte, decaf espresso. The girl must notice my expression, twisted up in confusion and simultaneously let-down. Poor Starbucks girl. She's maybe 19, cute, clearly hungover. Probably just wants to hang out with her cat or smoke a joint. However, I’ve trapped her. Now she must feign interest in my mild irritation.
"It's alright?" Prompting, not asking. Her mouth is set tight like she’s trying to keep last night’s vodka down, but her eyes are dead as if she’s crashing after an Adderall. Oh, to be 19 and checked out of the world. I feel a pang of nostalgia shoot through me, but it might just be the caffeine.
I feel myself nodding, swallowing the minor incorrectness with another searing gulp.
My tongue throbs.
When I was a kid, my sister was too young to say Beth, so she said Bess. My social studies teacher called my Betsy. And now I’m Bett. I think of all the people I could’ve been. Maybe Bess would’ve been sassy and flirty, with curly hair and a thin waist. Maybe Betsy would’ve played chess and volunteered at the local animal shelter. Bett would’ve been a singer, and a damn good one, with perfectly done nails and perfume that made you dizzy with interest.
But Beth doesn’t do much, too lost in her other identities to form a solid personality. Looking frantically for the right name on a keychain tree.
My boss is an idiot. I stare the flakes of mascara seemingly permanent under her eyes and try to listen to instructions she's told me more than once.
She's older and forgets everything people tell her. You send the same email twice, usually in the same day after she’s asked a question that is in the email. She keeps field workers on the phone for too long while inputting information into her computer -- at a dauntingly snail-like speed.
Beth, can you please input this into our system?
I read over the invoice. It's for a claim I've taken care of, a claim she's asked me to look over at least six times in the last two weeks.
I feel the sore swelling, but I snack on Cheez-It's to ignore the sensation. Instead, the salt makes it sting and balloon.
My friend, May, is a bitch.
She's always been selfish, but I never realized she was mean.
She tells stories about me. Tells them to friends and to strangers. It's been going on for a year at this point. Whenever we're together, out of nowhere, she'll bring something up from my past when I've been foolishly drunk, or just stupid.
Remember that time you entered that dance competition and fell over on-stage?
Remember when you peed behind a dumpster because you were so wasted on gin?
Remember that time my phone died, and you couldn't find me so you left me at the concert venue?
She tells these stories while making direct eye contact, as if daring me to say something back.
But I can't.
She parties too hard and throws up, but everybody does. I don't hang onto embarrassing stories. It's not me.
But May is a bitch.
There's a difference in being direct and being mean and she doesn't understand where that line rests.
I realize, staring at her copper eyes, that I hate her.
I hate my best friend. I wish I was shallow and hated her for something else. Like how flowy she is. Collarbones so pronounced you could serve soup out of them. Dresses with froofy sleeves. I’ve always admired her complimenting colors. How her eyeshadow
is perfect, every time. I wish I could hate her for that stuff. I wish I was bad at being friends with girls. I wish I secretly hated them for their success and wanted to tear them down, all the things you’re not supposed to do as a woman, but we do it because we’re human and think evil things just like men. All the binary language I’m mentally using makes me rub my tongue against my teeth, a
burst of fresh pain washing over me in a shrill shock like when you jump in a lake. I chastise myself. It’s not men and women. It’s people. People are shit. And that’s not copper in her eyes, it’s dirt.
Regardless, I don’t hate her for cheap, surface things. I hate her because it’s been ten years and she’s always been mean. I had just never put a label on it until now.
It's a freeing thought, the first time I've felt free since I asked the stylist to give me bangs a month ago - Merinda, if you're out there, you should've told me no. You bit your lip and I thought you were being contemplative, but you were holding back a laugh. I can see that now.
May's talking now, about something else, something to do with her, because that's how people talk, and I start laughing.
I can't help it.
I laugh, sharp barks in her face and she quiets.
Her girlfriend quiets. Our friends quiet.
I laugh and laugh until my sides hurt and my eyes dot with tears.
May's face is flushed because she doesn't get it, but I've interrupted her.
And when the attention is not on May, she shuts down. You can watch the light leave her eyes like a mechanical doll running out of battery.
A little whirring noise and then no movement. Instead of doing that weird, robot-like step and step, the toy falls to its side, suddenly useless.
For the first time all night, it feels like there's air in the room.
And I'm taking all of it in gasps.
I realize I am obligated to say something. I must.
My tongue pulses and burns, threatens to block my airway with how big it feels in my mouth. I realize, only in that moment, that it’s not physical. My tongue is swollen with the corrections I’ve never given. It’s going to burst, releasing a horror movie of pus and rectifications. I could send an article to the local paper entitled Emendations of Beth and let my tongue run under the faucet water until it went from red to clear.
The laughter dies down and I hiccup, all eyes on me.
But I’m Beth, so instead I say, "Just something on my phone."