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Beth. Actually her name was Elizabeth but she was mostly referred to as plain Beth. Plain. That's the word, the perfect word to describe Beth. Plain Beth.
I remember that she had black hair that was chopped short, kind of like a bowl cut. Since we were only in the first grade and she wasn't a necessarily pretty girl, just plain, she was often mistaken for a boy because of the lack of locks. That always made her mad, whenever someone thought she was a boy.
"I want long hair," she told me as soon as we met.
I found her very odd because the way we met was by her running up behind me and touching my long hair. She didn't even tell me who she was first and only spoke when I turned around in surprise.
"My mommy won't let me have long hair. Too much work," she added on, keeping her hands on my hair the whole time.
To my delight at the time we were not in the same class that year but we still had lunch and recess together. Or, should I say my hair and her hands had lunch and recess together. And let me tell you that got old fast. When I finally complained about her odd approach to friendship and she was given a time out. She sat there brewing with anger, looking at me. By the time she was released from the "Naughty Wall" she was horrible to me the rest of the day. The first thing she did was come right up to me and pulled my hair that she envied so much.
The next day however she seemed to forget all about it.
As time went on that year I lost most of my hair, my mom having cut it short because I caught lice from Beth. Even though my long hair was gone, Beth was not. When the end of first grade had arrived, I finally got use to Beth being around me all the time. So by the time second grade rolled around Beth, odd as she was, is someone I considered my friend.
In the morning, before class would start they use to make us sit in lines in the gym. We were in the same grade but not the same class and our last names were nowhere near together in the alphabet, so in those lines we might as well of been miles apart. Beth, the renegade that she was, use to get out of her line and sit next to me in mine. If anyone else did this they were always reprehended and told to go back to their place, but Beth was always allowed to stay. It confused all of us why that was.
Another thing that confused me in regards to Beth was that the teachers were always telling me how nice it was for me to be her friend. I remember Beth and I would just be playing together and the teachers would look at us and smile like we were doing something amazing. This was not something that they did to any other kids.
I guess I did know that Beth did not have any other friends, but there were other girls who only had one or two friends. We tended to pair up with each other. Then again I had other friends who would not play with me if I was playing with Beth too. One day Beth wasn’t at school and I was playing with my other friends and I thought to ask them why they wouldn’t play with Beth. They told me it was because she was scary. I laughed at that statement, because at the time it seemed funny for anyone to find plain Beth frightening.
I did know that she was kind of aggressive sometimes though. Sometimes she would get really mad and hit me or push me or, her favorite thing to do, pull my hair. The next day or even the nest class sometimes, she would forget about being mad though and go back to being friendly. My mother had always told me to always forgive people so whatever Beth did to me I forgave her for. Besides, whenever Beth got a little hostile the teachers would immediately run over and take her away from me so no real damage was ever done.
Mid second grade year, Beth’s mother came to school one day with her and they went into the office together. A while later the lunch monitor came into my classroom and my teacher went to join Beth and her mother in the principal’s office.
When my teacher renter the room, Beth came with her. The kid who sat next to me was moved to a different seat and Beth put all of her school items into the now vacated desk before sitting down.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
“My mommy said for the principal that I wanted to be in your class and the teachers said it was good so here now I’m in class with you!” she said. “It’s so great!”
Once again Beth had done something that none of the rest of us could ever be able to get away with. All it seemed Beth had to do in order to get what she wanted was to just say so and the teachers would fall over themselves to make sure she got it. It left the rest of us in awe.
From that day on Beth sat next to me in class but when the teacher would give us work to do, she was removed from the room and taken into the hallway to do her work with the teacher’s aide. Yet another special treatment that Beth got.
But why? Why did she get to do things that the rest of us couldn’t? She was just plain Beth after all.
Third grade began and the first time I saw Beth I wasn’t sure if it was her or not. When I tried to go up and talk to her, she only said a few words to me. When we went to class, she was once again sat next to me even though the other seats were in alphabetical order, she sat there wide eyes staring at the wall. It worried me.
I was even more worried the next day because of the vacant seat next to me in class. Beth was not back.
She had missed a full week of school when I asked my mom if she knew what happened to her. I was told that Beth had been taken away to a hospital where she would be taken care of. She was sick, that’s all that my mother or my teachers would say about it.
The other children however told me that Beth, plain Beth, was crazy. She was crazy, but I didn’t know what that meant. What was crazy?
Some said she had tried to kill her puppy, others her cat, some said it was her younger sister she almost killed. There was even a rumor that it was me she tried to murder me on the playground between the old swings and the new slides.
I couldn’t understand it. If Beth were in a hospital when was she coming back? Why couldn’t I visit her? Was she dying?
When I wouldn’t stop asking my mom finally told me that Beth was some kind of ill and her mom had taken her to a special hospital where they could take the best care of her. She said she wasn’t dying but I still couldn’t see her.
That still wasn’t something that I could just accept so I asked my teachers more about what happened to Beth. The teachers said that sometimes Beth could not control her actions because she was angry. She was mentally ill, not “crazy” as the other kids put it. Her brain didn’t work right.
So apparently Beth wasn’t so plain after all.
There was still one question that I needed answered though. When is Beth going to get better? I asked that question so many times but I always got the same answer. Even though I’m sure it was said in a warm and comforting way I remember the answer sounding cold.
Beth isn’t going to get any better.
Something about that, the fact Beth was ill and no one seemed to be able to cure her, really made me upset. When other people got sick and they went to a hospital it was so they would get better. This wasn’t fair.
When I told someone in my class that we needed to make Beth get well soon cards like we did for other kids they asked me why I wanted Beth to get better at all. She had been hurting me after all and in their mind I should be mad at her. I didn’t blame Beth though. I knew it wasn’t her fault.
She didn’t want to be bad and I seemed to be the only person who understood that or even cared.
I have tried to find out what really happened with Beth and there are very few things I can say for certain about her. She did try to kill something; I don’t know for sure what it was though. I know that she is a severe manic depressive. But I also know that she was my friend.
Now after all these years, I still have never seen my plain friend Beth again. I wonder about her every time I see a girl with short hair, or a child in a rage, or sometime she comes to mind for no real reason. Does she still have the same black hair and rosy checks? Does she have a job? Is she in love? Does she remember me? Is she happy? Or is she still locked away somewhere for something she isn’t at fault for?
When I think back on what happened to Beth I realize that at the time I wanted her better for me, so I can have her to play with on the playground and talk to at lunch. Now that I’m older I want her better for her.