Another small memorial to a person with an unknown fate.
Bettina was my my best friend when I was in my early teens. Early puberty is not an easy time for most people; in my case it had turned me into a highly combustible package of shyness, insecurity, defiance and yearning.
She picked me; I didn’t pick her. This, by the way, is how all of my friendships with women happen. I tend to find women puzzling and hard to fathom; I have always had an easier time relating to and making friends with men.
I had somehow become trapped in a small, solipsistic universe all of my own, not sure how to reinvent myself from the carefree, bony bookworm that I had been. Since I felt misunderstood and alone, I decided to become a one-person outpost of the punk universe, adopting a homespun version of the aesthetic and philosophical tenets of this nascent movement.
Bettina joined our class after having to repeat 7th grade. She took one look at me and adopted me (“I could see in your eyes that you were DEEP”). This was a rather complex and not entirely welcome embrace. She was a chain-smoking, overweight (rare in those days), pothead, vegetarian lesbian with no interest in academic achievement. She stood out like a sore thumb. She was rude. She did not fit any beauty ideals, either conventional or unconventional. She was hated by the teachers and rejected by the class.
I found her scary, and did not know what to do do with her interest, affection and proclaimed love. Thus commenced a complex dance, a perpetual chase in which she tried to get through to me; I who had spent years building extremely strong fortifications and defenses. I truly did not know how to have a real friendship with another human being, never mind a romantic relationship, and certainly was not interested in letting this strange, unruly person into my solitary confinement. We fought, we argued. She hated my music, I hated hers. I did become a vegetarian, which did send me down a spiral of disordered eating that took years to repair.
She had older friends, all enthusiastic pot-smoking hippies who hung out in the one local bar who would have them. She was also loosely acquainted with the hard-drug using fringe in our towns. Heroin was cutting a swathe through middle class society at the time. My punk-ness certainly saved me here; pot was not considered acceptable by the punk gods of my imagination, and harder drugs seemed to lead to victimhood rather than self-determination.
After a couple of years of doing only the bare minimum of school work Bettina was expelled. There followed psychotic episodes that landed her in mental hospital. A clear link has been established between smoking pot and awakening a predisposition to schizophrenia – that might have well played a part. Her trail disappeared and reappeared – prostitution in Southern Spain to support a heroin habit, time in mental hospital, a marriage of convenience to an Arab immigrant in need of a passport, a baby that died of SIDS. I would get occasional letters from her even when I lived in London, sent from the mental hospital near my village. And then nothing. The trail disappeared.
The internet was built for finding people whose fates you are curious about. I’ve often googled her name, nothing comes up.
Did she contract HIV+ of Hepatitis C? Is she permanently institutionalized. Or living quietly somewhere with a changed last name? In any case, I haven’t forgotten her, and I am grateful that, unlike anyone else, she did see something in me then that others didn’t.