Not Otherwise Specified
TIME FOR THE ETTA-GETS-HER-GROOVE-BACK PARTY. It would be easier if Id been invited, or if this party actually existed, but whatever. I made my entire Halloween costume this year from a bag of sequins and a turtleneck. I can make things work.
Except right now even that enormous bedazzled turtleneck wouldnt fit me, because I broke up with Ben the week before Christmas and started eating disorder treatment a few weeks before that. (Cut out toxic influences! my counselor said, and Im still trying to figure out if Dump the boyfriend who weighs less than you! was a completely rational application of that, but whatever. I didnt love him and he didnt love me so minimal harm minimal foul.) And apparently those two things added up to an entire winter break of me on the couch eating jugs of ice cream off a wooden spoon because a regular spoon wasnt big enough for the scoops I wanted to shovel down my throat. Stay classy, Ett.
Im not freaking out about it. Im really not going to go down that road. Recovery was my choice, and sometimes it sucks like I cant believe, but the truth is I am really damn positive about it and yeah, Im not under any delusion that ice cream binges are the key to a happy relationship with food, but its better than not eating at all. Except for the simple and really unemotional fact that Im going to the judgmental hot zone that is a gay club tonight and none of my clothes fit.
“Kristina!” Im halfway out of this halter top that wouldnt even go past my boobs. I was about one-third boob before recovery (I was never one of those pretty little stick thing anorexics; I was a chubby black girl who never quite hit not-chubby), and now Im quickly closing in on one-half.
“What?” Kristina is fifteen and gorgeous.
I finally wrestle the halter off and onto the floor. “Do you have anything I can wear?”
Her eyebrows come together. “Youre going out?” I havent been out of sweatpants in three weeks. Cant exactly blame her.
“The Dykes are at Cupcake tonight. Im gonna meet up.”
“You guys are talking again?” I dont know if I ever really told Kristina about our falling-out or if she just heard about it at school before break started. We both go to Saint Emilys Preparatory Academy for Young Women. Its a small school because who the hell would ever want to go to Saint Emilys Preparatory Academy for Young Women, so news travels fast.
“Not exactly. Theyre all over Facebook posting what theyre wearing. Im just gonna show up and be all contrite.”
“Suck face with some chicks to get back in their good favor?”
“Ding ding ding. Do you have anything?”
She thinks and says, “Yeah. Hang on,” and comes back with a red dress that is so completely Year Eight, Kristina, my dear. I try it on anyway, but even my boobs cant make this sexy.
I say, “Anything, uh . . .”
“The best little sister.”
“Yeah, come on.” She brings me to her room, and I root through her closet until I find this tight black skirt that I think will fit, bless my baby girls hips, and this pink shirt that says “BITCH” on it in jewels.
“Uh. Later were going to be talking about why you have these.”
“What were you for Halloween?”
“. . . Right.”
• • •
Nebraska—all of Nebraska—has one thing going for it, one tiny pink little light in the middle of its giant mass of cornfield and suck, and its Club Cupcake, the grossest, most run-down piece of shit you can imagine. Big Xs behind the windows so you cant see in, no name on the front, just this tacky-ass Christmas-light cupcake. I dont even know if Cupcake is its real name. But for the past two years—since I started high school, since I got my fake ID, since I found this place where I actually belong—this place has been the sparkly little Barbie Dreamhouse we always wanted, filled with plastic guys and glitter, but with bonus sticky floors and girls who lick other girls. This place was our freaking castle.
Cupcake is (a) sketchy, and (b) the only gay bar in Schuyler, Nebraska (best known for its beef-processing plant—how I wish that were some sort of sexual euphemism), so therefore it is (c) packed. Im all of five-foot-nothing, so finding the Dykes is going to be a feat, even though we always stand out. Were called the Disco Dykes for a reason; were very throwback, hot pants and tie-dye, very vehemently seventies because when youre five lesbians at an all-girls school, you have to be very vehemently something or else you start thinking about how everyone thinks youre a sexual predator. Or, worse, you start thinking, the horrible beasts in this school are what girls are, these are the reason you had to come out to your parents and you have to put up with every other politician hating your guts. You did that because you apparently want to sleep with these girls, when the reality is that most times you want to push these girls down the stairs. (And bi the way, I was never a lesbian, and I told the Dykes that all the time, but there isnt a Banjo Bisexuals group or whatever and anyway, Rachel and I were best friends since preschool, so it wasnt as if I was going to turn down a group that gave me a chance to hang with her, to dance with her, to make out with her, and as long as I dated girls and shut up about boys it was never a problem.) The Disco Dykes are a Saint Ems tradition. Theyve been around since it was founded. In the eighties. Its like the most screwed-up little sorority for high schoolers. Its so stupid, except it was totally my life.
I didnt realize Ben would be some big political move. Whats ridiculous is that its not like I started dating a lacrosse-playing Young Republican. Ben was straight in name only, really, because I met him at a gay club and he did volunteer work with Pride Alliance, and aside from his ugly shoes and his weird hair and the way hed slam me into walls and breathe on my neck, there wasnt much straight about him. I actually met him here. He was with some gay friends of his, he was cute, it wasnt a big deal—until I turned around and the Dykes had abandoned me there and I got to school the next day and they wouldnt talk to me. Im so incredibly far from defending their shitty behavior, but the truth is that second semester of junior year starts tomorrow, and I want some friends, damn it, and all-girls school is bad enough when you do have a pack.
Plus, you know. Rachel.
It makes us sound like were some cult, how Im not allowed to date guys, but it really isnt like that. We were people who were brought together by a common interest called making out with girls, but its not like we put up flyers, you know? We had to find each other. We had to be interested in each other. What Im saying is that we had to look at each other.
We picked out earrings together. I had dinner at Isabels house. I cried on Titanias lap during horror movies. I was Rachels whole world.
It would be so much easier if I hadnt loved them.
No, it would be so much easier if they hadnt loved me.
Except I can fix this. Im back and better than ever, and since Ben and I never got to Facebook-official which means the Dykes have no way of knowing that we broke up, Ill tell them and everything will back to normal. I drink vodka from the water bottle I snuck in because my says-Im-twenty ID is good but my says-Im-twenty-two ID is a waste-of-fifteen-dollars piece of shit, plus Cupcakes just beer and wine anyway, and Im not looking for something to sip. Pure liquid courage, thanks. I cant believe Im scared of these girls. They used to be my friends.
They are my friends. Ill tell them Ben and I broke up, well laugh about it, Ill say Ill never do it again and whatever maybe I wont, maybe Ill just stick with girls until college (until New York, until big city, until not Nebraska). Thats doable. Its not reasonable, but thats why Im drinking.
Ive circled almost the entire place and collided with almost ten glitter-doused gay boys before I see them. Theyre perched on a cluster of armchairs tucked in by the bar. Natashas wearing rhinestone hot pants and a hat that I am not entirely sure is seventies, actually, Isabels in flares and sunglasses because Isabel is the biggest stereotype imaginable, and Titanias in this tie-dye maxi dress that I have to admit I would kill for. They wear this shit all the time, but I only ever did it when I was with them. We keep this stuff in our lockers so we can change out of our uniforms right after school, and when I started dating Ben they broke into my locker and stole all my clothes. It would be funny if it werent ruining my life.
Okay, its still kind of funny.
Rachels not here.
Maybe thatll make this easier. They very obviously do not look up when I come over.
“Hey.” I offer the water bottle to Natasha because she (it used to be me) is the ringleader if Rachel isnt here and I should probably follow the pecking order since these girls have lately shown that they have the manners of wild animals. She takes it and stares at me while she drinks. This is either a good sign or a waste of vodka.
“Wheres Rachel?” I ask.
“Babysitting,” Isabel says, like Im so stupid, like theyve told me this a billion times and why wasnt I listening. At least its probably true. Rachel has twin three-year-old sisters.
“Anyone good here tonight?” I say.
Natasha hands the bottle back. My hand is shaking. Christ.
“I like her,” I say, pointing to who-the-hell-cares. “I like fishnets. Reminds me of ham or something I can eat.” This is an old standby, these self-deprecating chubby-girl jokes, and Im nervous as hell and I guess Im falling back on old habits. Next thing you know Ill be in the bathroom gagging up three hundred calories of vodka. (I will not be, do I look like a pushover?)
(Okay, maybe right now, shaking in front of my ex-best friends, maybe right now I do.)
Isabel says, “Something you can eat? You mean like a penis?” and Titania giggles.
“Cute,” I say. “Can I sit?”
Natasha says, “What are you even doing here, Etta?”
Stalking you. “What are you talking about?”
“This is a gay club.”
“Youre not really serious with this gay-exile thing, right? Jesus, I get it, you were mad.” You were stupid and out of line to be mad, but I leave that part out. “This isnt really going to be a big deal, right? Hey, Ben and I broke up. We can pretend it never happened if itll make you guys feel better.”
“Its not about us feeling better.”
“Youre actually serious.”
The music picks up, and Natasha raises her voice. Its really hard to convince myself that she isnt yelling at me. “This is hard enough as it is, and then you have to go and completely piss on everything we stand for. Did you miss the part where the heteros make our life shit? And now here you are slutting around with the first guy whos nice to you, and what do you think that does besides make us all look like were just doing this lesbian thing for attention? I get enough of that bullshit from my brothers, thanks.”
“Do your brothers happen to mention how really mature you are?”
“Whatever. Ill call Rachel later. We broke up, Tasha.”
“Yeah, well, the worlds full of boys.”
“Warn Rachel to change her number if you want.”
“Yeah, Ill do that.”
Flawless comeback, Tasha.
“And by the way?” she shouts after me. And this time I think she is yelling at me. “ ‘Bitch is sexist gendered language and Im pretty disgusted you decided to wear it right over your tits. And by the way?” She pauses there.
I cant stand it. I turn around. “By the way what?”
“By the way,” she says. Shes smiling. “You always were a little bitch.”