How it all begun
“Have a good day at school today, honey!” Mrs. Seltzer yells, watching fondly as her daughter grabs her neon pink backpack from the couch in the hall and runs out the door to catch up with her dad.
“You too mom,” comes the impatient response from the young Whitney Seltzer. She is especially excited to go to school today. For this reason, she woke up earlier than her entire family, and hurried her mother through the preparation of breakfast- pancakes and eggs. And now she is rushing out of the house at the first sound of her dad’s car.
“Someone is excited,” Mr. Seltzer observes, peering curiously at his daughter as she forces the front door open and hops in. Usually, he has to wait at least ten minutes before his daughter drags herself away from her breakfast (or her phone) to get in the car so he could take her to school.
“I’m gonna be late dad,” Whitney huffs, flicking invisible dust off her constellation neon pink phone case. “Let’s go already.”
“Sheesh,” he sighs. “You sound like your mother when it is that time of the month.”
Whitney glares at him with an unamused expression on her twelve-year-old face.
“Fine,” he sighs, moving the gear and rolling the car out of their driveway.
While her father is driving and Whitney is positive that he is not watching her, she sneaks her hand into the centre console and steals a pack of menthol cigarettes.
The previous week, she had heard the popular kids saying it would be pretty cool if someone brought them some “cigs” but most of them had parents who didn’t smoke- except Whitney. Of course, taking that as her opportunity to join the popular crowd, Whitney has tried many times during the past week to steal her father’s cigarettes. They are carefully hidden around the house because Mrs. Seltzer does not approve of her husband’s nicotine intake.
By some lucky twist of faith, Whitney is not caught as she steals the cigarettes. Now she has the second part of her plan for today complete and she just knows that nothing can go wrong.
The reason why Whitney is so excited to go to school today is that, it is the birthday of the cutest, most popular guy in her class, Rodney Brennan. Rodney is turning thirteen today, and Whitney, much like the entire female population of their middle school has a major crush on him.
And she hopes to impress him with the cigarettes and a leather bracelet she made herself.
“You want some music?” Her dad offers, noticing her hand as it comes out of the centre console. “Looking for the CDs?”
“Yeah,” Whitney says, hiding her ears with her long brown hair so that he won’t see the red of guilt forming on them.
For as long as she can remember, Whitney’s dad has had the entire family listening to alternative rock every single time they sit in the car. He used to be the bassist of a semi-famous rock band back in the nineties but has now retired to the corporate world called the stock market.
“Sorry,” he frowns in apology. “Your mom said it is not good for me to influence you with that kind of music so she gave away my collection.”
Her dad’s collection of alternative rock songs was like his second child and Whitney is very surprised to hear this. “When did this happen?”
“About a month ago. You mostly listen to your own music so you don’t even hear it.”
Guilt suddenly clouds Whitney’s mind as she flashes back to a day a month ago when she walked in on her parents arguing and she blocked them out. The guilt doubles when she remembers that she has just stolen from her father.
“I’m sorry about that,” she says.
“Thanks, kiddo,” her father says. Then a few minutes later he adds: “We are here.”
“Thanks for the ride, dad,” Whitney says, grabbing her backpack from the backseat and slinging it over one shoulder like the popular kids do.
Mr. Seltzer smiles in response, and watches as his daughter disappears into the school building before also making his way to his office.
Throughout the day, Whitney finds it very hard to pay attention in class. Thankfully, she is not someone that people really notice so the teachers don’t call her out for her daydreaming and doodling. At last, lunch period arrives.
Whitney goes to the bathroom first, to ‘prep’ herself for what she is about to do. She changes hairstyle, undoing the pigtails her mom did for her the previous night and tying her hair in a high pony tail the way the popular girls do. Then, she grabs the tube of hot pink lip stick which she stole from her mom’s vanity drawer and smears it over her lips careful not to let it get messy. She wishes she had some mascara and foundation to throw on but her mom is a pastry chef and finds little need for make-up when she spends her days covered in flour and cinnamon powder.
Sighing, she unzips her shirt and stuffs some toilet paper into her bra so that her boobs look bigger. She is only thirteen and unlike most of the other girls, is completely flat chested and had to plead with her mother to get her her first bra even though it is completely unnecessary. Adjusting the toilet paper so it looks like real boobs, she zips up her shirt and struts out of the bathroom, heading to the cafeteria.
The popular crowd sit at a table in the middle of the cafeteria, and as Whitney walks towards them, she can feel more and more eyes falling on her as the people stare in curiosity and wonder. She hears some of the whispers going around and they do little to help her wanting confidence. But maybe it is all just in her head. She takes another look around and realizes that no one is actually paying her any attention. She is just being paranoid.
“Hi!” She exclaims, stopping right in front of Clarice Shaw, the most popular girl in the school. “I’m Whitney.”
Clarice Shaw is the most beautiful girl in their school. And as Whitney stands close to her, she can’t help but notice just how beautiful Clarice is. Her skin is clear, with no pimples of freckles unlike Whitney who has a whole line of them on both cheeks. And her hair is long and blonde and glossy in that trademark high ponytail. But the look on Clarice’s face is nasty, filled with contempt.
“What do you want?” She asks impatiently, eyeing Whitney’s fake boobs as though she knows it’s not flesh that lies beneath the shirt. Whitney blushes, placing a single hand over her chest to hide it from the popular girl’s scrutiny.
She uses the other hand to take the pack of cigarettes out of her bag along with the box wrapped in candy pink wrapping paper
“I got this for you,” she says, her while body burning as she hands the birthday gift to Rodney.
He brushes the shaggy blonde hair out of his eyes, and smiles at her, taking the box with a gracious thank you.
“It’s a bracelet,” Whitney explains as Rodney curiously stares at the thing in the box.
“Cool.” He nods. “Where’d you buy it?”
A whole new round of red coats Whitney’s cheeks. “I didn’t buy it. I made it specially for you.”
“Thanks!” Rodney exclaims, grinning at her and revealing the dimples in his cheeks. Whitney melts under his gaze, feeling her heart bloom with happiness at the thought that he actually likes the gift.
“What are those?” Clarice interrupts the sweet moment, pointing with a scowl at the pack of cigarettes.
“Cigs,” Whitney answers with new found confidence.
“Liar,” Clarice says with obvious envy in her eyes.
“Not lying, they are real.”
“Try one,” Clarice nudges her. “Go one, try it.”
Whitney takes a single stick from the pack and lights it. Then, she places it between her lips. She inhales, and begins to sputter, choking, coughing and (even) spitting everywhere.
“Ewww,” Clarice screeches when she notices a small glob of Whitney’s saliva on her purse. The spit is barely visible but Clarice makes much ado about nothing.
“What a loser,” Rodney laughs coldly, snatching the cigarette from Whitney and tucking it between his lips. He inhales calmly as though he has done it a million times. “But are you still doing here?” Rodney demands, glaring at Whitney.
“Shoo, shoo,” he waves at her as though she is a pesky fly. He looks at her as though she is the unruly gum stuck under his shoes.
She begins to stammer incomprehensibly.
“What?” Rodney snaps. “Cat caught your tongue?”
“I’ll go,” Whitney turns around to leave. She is hit in the back of her head with something hard. When she turns around, it is the gift box that she gave to Rodney. Picking it up, she stuffs it in her pocket, biting her lip to hold in her sobs as she runs away.
Whitney feels like everyone is watching her, and she can hear the voices echo mean words. But most of it is muffled. She covers her face with her hand to hide the tears, flying blind. This causes her to walk right into the bin next to the exit door.
Laughter rings in her ears.
Wiping away a brown substance that eerily resembles the previous day’s burger, she stands up and runs out of the cafeteria, locking herself in the bathroom.
She stays there for a long time, sobbing silently so as not to attract any unwanted attention.
After what feels like several millennia, the bathroom is randomly open. Whitney scrambles to her feet, hugging the gift box tightly to her chest, wishing she could disappear as the shadow of the intruder forms over her. She is too terrified to meet the person’s gaze.
“What are you doing in here?” Whitney looks up at the person speaking to her. It’s the janitor.
“I have to clean here! School is over. Everyone is gone.”
Whitney nods solemnly, rising to her feet. “Thank you,” she whispers and walks out. Whitney makes a promise to herself that day.
Never again will she let herself be made fun of again.
Never again will she fall for a boy.
Never again will she trust.
Whitney refuses to go to school. For a whole week, she locks herself in her room during the day and sneaks out at night to raid the pantry for snacks. Her parents allow it for the first week, thinking it is just teenage angst (Whitney is only twelve years old). But when one week turns into two, concerns are raised. A locksmith is called in to remove the locks in Whitney’s bedroom and so at last, she is forced to tell the tale of what happened to her parents.
“You can’t not go to school, Whit,” her dad says softly. “That just means you have let the bullies win. You have to go back out there, with your head held high and let them know that you don’t give a shit.”
“Lawrence!” Mrs. Seltzer exclaims, covering their daughter’s ears to scold her partner in parenting. “You should not be teaching Whitney words like shit.”
“How will she pass biology if she doesn’t know the stuff that comes out of her asshole.”
Mrs. Seltzer blushed in embarrassment. “You are a bad influence on her.”
Mr. Seltzer grins, “Somebody has to balance out all the goodness you radiate.”
“Aw,” Mrs. Seltzer gushes. “That’s sweet but I am serious. No bad words.”
“Yes ma’am,” Mr. Seltzer salutes, causing Whitney to chuckle even though she can’t hear most of what they are saying. Her tiny ears are completely engulfed by her mother’s hand but she is gifted with very distinct hearing abilities.
Mrs. Seltzer removes her hands at last. Whitney touches her ears. “I’m not going back there. They humiliated me. Embarrassed me. I won’t go back there.”
“You can’t continue staying here. You are already behind in class; you need to catch up on your studies.”
“Then take me to a new school! In a different state, or better yet, a different country!”
“That bad, huh?” Mr. Seltzer asks, beginning to marginally understand what his daughter is experiencing.
“Yes,” Whitney’s voice is a whisper. “I can’t go back.”
“It’s too late in the school year for you to change. You only have about six weeks left. If you keep your head down and avoid starting any drama you should he fine. And if things don’t get better, I promise, next year we’ll change states.”
Things don’t get better for Whitney. The first day she goes back to school, she is cornered in the girl’s washroom by Clarice and her friends and they taunt her, about her looks, calling her mean names and using bad words thirteen-year-olds should not be using. They do not lay a single hand on her but the verbal abuse is enough to set off the waterworks. Clarice and her friends are not the only ones who bully her though, it is the entire grade.
During class, people would be tugging at her pigtails, kicking her legs beneath the tables, throwing paper balls to hit her head and raining her with spit balls. Some of the more daring girls put their chewed gum in Whitney’s hair. And it takes her days to get it all out.
Rodney, especially, is very mean to Whitney. He will trip her over in class and at lunch so that her shirt is always stained with one thing or the other. Be it Friday’s con carne, or algae from environmental science class or bright paint from art class. Whitney wishes she could go back to being ignored by everyone. The teachers appear to be oblivious to her plight, calling it bad luck instead.
And one day, things get especially bad. Whitney is waiting for her father to pick her up in the school library because he told her earlier in the morning that he would be running late. She is reading an interesting book about a livestock pig called Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider called Charlotte.
Whitney has always had a love for animals. She especially loves rabbits since an incident in her childhood.
Whitney was five years old when she found a rabbit while on a picnic in the country side with her parents. The rabbit did not want to leave Whitney and her parents alone so they agree to let her take the rabbit with them and it was taken to the vet’s clinic to test for diseases and take the rabies shot. From the day forward, the rabbit became Whitney’s pet. She named it Indy, short for indigo her favorite color. But one day, their neighbors, the Chesterfields accidentally run Indy over with their pick-up truck. Whitney couldn’t save Indy as she was in school at that time and lost her beloved pet. Whitney mourned Indy for weeks, but eventually Indy was replaced by Elmo- a floppy eared creature that Whitney still has and cherishes.
Elmo is one of the few good things in Whitney’s life and she looks forward to seeing him after a bad day at school. Whitney is so caught up in the book, she doesn’t hear the library doors open and she jumps up in surprise when her book is slammed shut.
“Look who I’ve found here,” Rodney scowls, glaring at Whitney who has cast her gaze to the ground and begins whistling. It’s her nervous tic. When she is nervous, she whistles. Rodney doesn’t know this and takes it as a sign of disrespect.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” his scowl deepens, as he forces Whitney’s face up. However, she still refuses to look into those dreamy eyes which she had once been in love with. Now they are the bane of her existence.
Rodney cackles, gripping her chin with one hand and tracing her face with the other.
“What a long nose you have got here,” he observes. “Such dull brown eyes. And those tiny little ears of yours. I just want to bite them off.”
He makes a move to dive for her ears and Whitney shrieks in panic.
Rodney laughs coldly. “You don’t actually think I am going to eat your ears, do you? I’m not a cannibal. And they don’t even look very tasty.” He says cannibal in the proud way of people who did not expect to learn a word but had somehow acquired it in their vocabulary and considered it an achievement.
Whitney sighs in relief, covering her ears with her hands just to be safe.
“You are such a bitch,” Rodney says. “Trying to seduce me with those lips.”
Whitney purses her lips, refusing to respond to his taunts.
Suddenly, lips are planted on hers. She has seen it done by the other girls and boys in her school before. But she has never experienced it. They call it ‘kissing’ and Whitney does not think it is very pleasant. Rodney’s lips are blistering and he punches her arm, causing her to gasp as he forces his tongue into her mouth. He seems to be enjoying it as his hands move to cup Whitney’s face. She remains still, for fear of triggering him.
“I have wanted to do this since the very first time I saw you,” Rodney says, smirking evilly at her. “How about we try that again?”
This time, as soon as his tongue is in her mouth, Whitney bites it as hard as she can, and pushes him, having surprise and momentum on her side. She runs out of the library, hearing Rodney’s screams of “Fuck!” And “Bitch!”
Unfortunately for Whitney, her father come yet and there are very few places to hide in the school after hours. It doesn’t take too long for Rodney to catch her.
He punches her first, right in the face. “I was trying to be nice to you, Whitney. But you make it really hard for me to do that when you behave like such a BITCH!”
He hits her again. And again. And again. Until Whitney can feel the blood pouring from her nose and mingling with her tears. He stops hitting her when he realizes she is no longer responding.
Her father finds her in the school, curled into a fetal position bleeding and crying. He whispers soothing words into her ears as he carries her to the car and takes her to the hospital. Whitney doesn’t remember much of what happens. Except that she is taken to the hospital. The doctor says her nose is not broken but she needs rest. Assault charges are filed against Rodney, it is mentioned that he has been to juvenile detention before- for assaulting his mother. One week later, Whitney’s entire family, pack up all their stuff and move to Chicago to start a new life.
This time, Whitney is determined to be strong. She will not let herself be trampled on again by a boy.