By Sarah White
(One thing you need to know–My parents called me Betsy, a nickname for my middle name Elisabeth, when I was growing up. I didn’t become Sarah White until I left for college.)
In the fall of 1968 I turned 12 and entered seventh grade at Carmel Junior High.
This required riding the school bus. Until then I’d walked to school. Now I just walked to the high school behind my house where the busses disgorged their load of suburban high school boys and girls before loading on some “townie” Junior High students for the final two miles across Carmel to the Junior High. We townies had to stand in the aisles of the overcrowded busses.
Nestled in my imagination like a refuge, I ignored the bus crowd and wished they would ignore me. But the clothes I wore were a problem. I tended to choose outfits that fit where I was in my mind, not the school world. Since this was a time when clothes looked a lot like costumes, this worked up to a point. If I wore a granny dress because I was being Caddie Woodlawn, I blended in okay with the other girls in their Gunny Sax. But my orange India-print mini-dress, chosen because I was reading about Hippies, failed to pass for cool.
Trouble started as soon as I boarded the bus in my orange mini-dress accessorized with orange tinted semi-sheer pantyhose and an olive-wood bead necklace.
Kristie—I don’t remember her name but I’ll call her that—was the queen of a little group of mean girls who rode the bus. I was forced to stand next to her that morning, and she took in my get-up with a contemptuous stare. She followed that with snide whispers to her seat-mate, meant for me to overhear. I tried to push further back down the aisle to get away from her. I had 12 years of teasing from my brothers under my belt and I knew the right response was to ignore it. I put on my stony face. Somehow a seat opened up on the bench behind Kristie and her friend, and someone shoved me, causing me to plop into it. As I fell the seat made a farting sound. Kristie had her opening. “Fat farts,” she yelled. “Betsy wetsy’s making fat farts.” My face turned hot. “Betsy wetsy’s making fat farts in her orangey dress, with her orangey pantyhose and her orangey hair.” Kristie’s friends took up the chorus. “Orangey dress, orangey hose, orangey hair, Orangey glad you’re not Betsy.”
Voices in my head competed with the mean girls’ sing-song chant. The voices were just as loud and mean. My ears buzzed. My face burned. I began to shake like a washing machine with an unbalanced load.
Then the machine broke and the flood poured out. I sprang at Kristie, who was turned toward me and taunting from the seat ahead. I raised my arms and made claws of my hands and tried with all my might to make contact with her big yapping face. I wanted to see eight parallel tracks of red streak down her pretty pink cheeks. I screamed a banshee’s war cry. Kristie yelped and recoiled. Girls on either side pushed me back in my seat, but not before I landed a few weak blows. I saw strands of her hair clinging to my claws.
Hot tears stung my burning cheeks and I realized there was something worse than silently putting up with a bully. It was fighting back and failing. There I was, frozen in a clock-stopped place where everyone knew I was the loser.
I have no idea how that moment became the next and the next until normal time resumed again, allowing the bus to proceed to the junior high school. We would file off it and enter our classrooms and begin a normal day of normal school throughout which I would wear an orangey dress with my orangey pantyhose and my orangey hair. All I remember is that when I got home that night I stripped off the dress and the hose and I never wore either again. If I could have thrown away my orangey hair that day I would have.
My failure of self-control seemed to have one positive outcome—I don’t remember anyone ever taunting me to my face again. Maybe they feared having their faces ripped off. Or maybe I just retreated so deep into my own world I couldn’t hear them. Either way, that was my last fight.
Thank you, Etsy seller Chigal’s Vintage Patterns, for the image.
My orangey dress looked almost exactly like that one on the left.