Authors: Francesca Lia Block
Becoming Weetzie Bat
FRANCESCA LIA BLOCK
FOR MY FAMILY
GILDA AND IRVING BLOCK (TOGETHER IN MEMORY)
GREGG MARX, JASMINE, AND SAM
he day after my dad, Charlie, the love of my life, left, and an angel saved my mom from drowning, I woke up with a slamming headache and a wicked sunburn.
When I checked on my mom she was asleep, breathing normally in the bed with the blue satin quilted headboard, so I got myself a bowl of Lucky Charms. The pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers ached my molars as the milk turned rainbow colors. I made my lunch, brushed my teeth, and put on my roller skates. The pavement rumbled, rough under my feet and up through to my heart, as I skated to school past the palm trees that my dad said looked like stupid birds, under a smog-filled Los Angeles sky.
Miss Spinner sat on her stool with her long legs wrapped around each other three times as if they were made of rubber. She hissed at us to be quiet as she handed back our papers about summer vacation. Mine was called “Pink Smog.” I had written about the pink sunset that we watched from the balcony where my parents drank their evening cocktails. They drank too many and stumbled around the condo fighting like a cat and a dog. Miss Spinner had written on my paper in red ink that fighting like a cat and a dog was a clichÃ© and that the whole thing was “a bit much” but she made me read it out loud anyway.
“Louise,” she said, “please stand up and read for us. Class, Louise's paper is an example of overwriting. Most of you under-write. I do not want you to overwrite either.”
“Weetzie,” I whispered. “My name's Weetzie.”
My mom had named me for the silent movie star Louise Brooks, but it always felt too formal and mature for me. My dad called me Weetzie for no particular reason except that it was a diminutive and just sounded right, better for me than Lu or Lou-Lou or Weezie or Weez. Maybe because I am little and scrawny and it sounded a bit like my favorite cartoon character, Tweetie Bird. Teenie Weenie Tweeting Louise: Weetzie. Weird, but it fit.
There were a lot of things about me that might seem weird to people. I wondered why I hadn't written about going to Disneyland or something normal for Miss Spinner, even though my family hadn't even been to Magic Mountain or any other amusement park for that matter. We had just spent the whole summer at the pool, with my parents drinking and fighting and now the fighting had turned into a war and my dad was A.W.O.L. I wished I had just made something up about Disneyland and under-written it. As I read, the blood rushed to my face and it made my sunburn sting and my head pound even more.
“âIn L.A. the sunsets are pink,'” I read. “âWhen the sun goes down and the sky flares it is really beautiful, like magic. However, the lush-plush-peony-rose of the L.A. sky is a by-product of something that may be killing us all, little by little. Smog! And smog is like sadness. It slips stealthily inside of you, with every breath, poisoning you before you realize it, kind of like the witch's apple in “Snow White,” except even more discreet.'”
Staci Nettles, the prettiest girl in seventh grade, rolled her eyes and flipped her hair back over her shoulders. Then, when Miss Spinner turned away, Staci blew the biggest bubble-gum bubble I had ever seen, snapped it back in, and showed her perfect little white fangs with a smile that looked as if she had never been sad in her whole life.
Mr. Adolf was known for always starting his seventh graders off with a unit about World War II and whenever he talked about Hitler he got really excited and practically started jumping up and down. Spittle flew out of his mouth and he smoothed down the lock of greased hair that kept falling into his face as he told us about how the Jews were taken for “showers” when actually they were getting gassed to death. I sat there in the back of the class where the kids who wanted to disappear tried to hide, doodling pictures of my dad's convertible yellow Thunderbird with my pink pen, until Mr. Adolf told me to pay attention. I knew my problems were nothing compared to the Jews in Hitler's Germany but that thought did not cheer me up at allâthe idea of Hitler's Germany was enough to depress even the happiest person. I thought of raising my hand and telling Mr. Adolf that my dad's grandmother had probably died in a concentration camp but I decided not toâhe already didn't seem to like me very much.
At PE I dragged myself around the track for-what-felt-like-ever while Coach Pitt yelled at me. My legs are so spindly and knock-kneed, what did she expect? The only thing worse than running around and around in the smog was taking showers in public. Staci Nettles stood next to me with her hands in the air, wrapping a towel around her head, her big boobs in my face, her mouth in a Bonne Bell cherry-flavored lip-gloss smirk. I didn't waste time drying offâit meant being naked longerâso I struggled to pull my dress over my still-damp, pancake-flat chest as fast as I could. It is hard to not have breasts when everyone else seems to be growing them, especially when your mom looks like a Jayne Mansfield pinup like mine.
At lunch I sat alone as I had for the last week, since seventh grade started, watching the clock and eating the lunch I'd madeâan apple and a pack of orange cheese spread and crackers. At least being alone was better than trying to be friends with mean girls. The ones who seemed nice were mostly sitting alone like I was and I felt too shy to go over to any of them, although I did smile at Lily Chin who was gnawing greedily on an apple and had a faint layer of dark down all over her body, like a baby animal. She smiled back shyly as if she was trying not to show her teeth.
I hadn't always been alone. Up until the end of sixth grade I'd gone to a cute little school in the canyon, called Wonderland. My best friends were twins named Skye and Karma Grier. They had moved away to Oregon because their mom, a singer/songwriter, and their dad, an artist, didn't want them to have to face the atrocities of public junior high school. Karma and Skye were tiny and brown-skinned with light hazel eyes and huge blonde Afros. We used to spend hours and hours playing in their organic vegetable garden, running through the sprinklers, baking granola cookies with their mother, Joy, gathering wildflowers to fill the house, making clothes out of scraps of old dresses, rags, leaves, tinfoil, and tissue paper and helping Marvin tile the patio with broken pottery, coins, and bottle caps. I loved being with Skye and Karmaâit was almost like having siblings. I never felt alone.
But it had all changed overnight. Junior high was like the bad kind of Wonderland in Alice where people are mean and crazy, everything is backward, and you're growing (hips) and shrinking (self-esteem) all the time.
In Mr. Gibbous's math class my skin hurt, my head hurt. The sunburn raged where the back of my thighs touched the plastic seat. I couldn't stay still. Mr. Gibbous stomped around, stammering loudly at us to stop fidgeting and be quiet while he scratched his head so that chunks of dandruff snowed onto his shoulders. He would have been a handsome man but he wore really weird, thick glasses and polyester pants that were short enough for a flood, and there were sweat stains under his arms, and the dandruff, of course. A walking target for junior high school kids. I wished I could find a way to tell him. He had been pretty nice to me so far, although he got exasperated and out of breath when I missed a problem, which had already happened kind of a lot.
Staci Nettles (I was blessed with having her in three classes!) kicked my foot under the desk and handed me a green spiral notebook. I put it on my lap and opened it.
. There were all kinds of questions and answers. Someone had written,
Who ate a whole lasagna and barfed it up on their living room floor?
and someone had answered,
Lily Chin smells like vomit
. Someone else had written,
Lily's chin smells like vomit
. And there was this one:
Lily Chin's eyes pop out of her head because she makes herself throw up so much
. It was so mean that I felt like throwing up, myself. I saw one question that read,
Who is GAY?
and next to it about five people had written about Bobby Castillo.
Bobby Castillo is a fag. Bobby Castillo takes it in the
â¦ That sort of thing.
Bobby Castillo was the most beautiful boy in school. I had a crush on him from the first second I saw him, and everyone else, boys and girls, probably did, too. He had tumbling brown curls, perfect amber skin, white teeth, and almond-shaped cat eyes like green, cut glass. They're just jealous, I thought. And scared of their own feelings.
In the book there was also plenty of stuff about Mr. Gibbous, who tended to get very excited and upset when we wouldn't listen.
Is that a banana in Mr. Monkey's pocket or is he just glad to see us?
it said. I slammed the book closed and held it in my lap. I wanted to rip it to shreds, burn it, but I didn't. I just sat there. I was too scared. Finally, when the bell rang I walked past the trash can. And threw that slam book inside.
I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. My face was all swollen from my sunburn and my eyes were bloodshot from chlorine and getting to sleep too late the night before. My hair was a mess and I wanted to take a scissors and chop it off right there. My arms and legs were like twigs, my shoulders hunched, and then there was the problem of my nonexistent breasts. I wondered what people had written about me in the slam book, or what they were going to write. I wondered if they would find out that my dad had left and my mom drank too much and that they had been screaming at each other so that everyone in our building could see and hear.
The girl in the mirror wasn't who I wanted to be and her life wasn't the one I wanted to have.
Whose father left?
the slam book would read.
Louise's father left. Weetzie's would never really leave. Would he?
But he had left. This is what happened the day before the slam book:
There was a smog alert at school and we missed PE. That part of it was okayâI hated having to change into those pilling, striped T-shirts and polyester shorts in front of the girls with breasts and I was embarrassed by my weak arms that couldn't do pull-ups and my skinny legs that couldn't get me around the track as fast as the jock girls. But the smog was worse. Maybe the smog was part of the poison, I don't know. The smog and the martinis, in their icy green glasses, not to mention my dad's other “substances” as my mom called them, whatever they were exactly.
I came home from school. I was wearing Kork-Ease beige suede-and-leather platform sandals but they weren't the cool, high kind that Staci Nettles had. They were the little mini versions that the unpopular girls wore. I also had on hip-hugger jeans and a blouse I had made from old embroidered linen handkerchiefs stitched together. I had blow-dried my long brown hair with a round brush to make wings on either side of my face. Even though it is thin, it felt really hot and sticky on my neck that day.
I ran inside. My mom was sitting in front of the TV, as usual. Her dark roots were eating up the blonde hair and she had on her worn-out pink bathrobe. It was the one she'd stolen from the hotel where she and my dad went on their honeymoon. I said hi and she looked up at me with glassy eyes.