Saturday, September 19, 2009

Marc/Betty: Repeating a grade.

Having heard from both teachers, it's probably worth hearing from the one of us who became a student, right? I meant to post something about it last weekend, but we'll get to why as the time comes.

The first day, at least to start with, was almost too hectic for me to focus on what was going on. We got back to Newton late on Labour Day, and had to stay up late going through the mail that had piled up in the past month, looking for the things that directly pertained to us, with Arlene forging the signatures of Don and Jillian as necessary. The Daves were no help, although I can understand their perhaps being more focused on sleeping arrangements. Little Dave was trying to push the single-bed plan, while Big Dave was having none of it. She (pardon me for this, but not having met Big Dave/Jillian before, it is hard for me to describe her as a man, no matter how decidedly unfeminine she acts) was trying to get him to rearrange the bedrooms so that Arlene and I were sharing a room that night, but he was tired and we pointed out that maybe they didn't have to get up the next morning, we did, so why not save it for tomorrow?

Then they started arguing about who would take the couch that night. It was, I suppose, kind of darkly funny, with "Jillian" saying that "Donald" should do it because he's the man, and then "Don" riposting that she'd spent the entire weekend saying she wasn't really a woman. Finally I said I would do it, just so I could get some sleep. I got everything I figured I would need out of the spare bedroom, set my alarm, and somehow got five hours of sleep before getting up the next morning and having Heidi drag my half-awake self drag me through the process of getting ready.

Getting to school wasn't too hard; Heidi had left instructions on how to use both Newton's own bus system and the MBTA to do it. We arrived a bit early, and then she arranged to tag along as the vice-principal gave me a quick tour of the grounds, since Betty hadn't flown in from Africa for orientation like new students or attended for two years like Heidi had. It was, I had to admit, impressive, far more so than the public school I attended outside Montreal twenty years ago - we certainly didn't have a swimming pool, a separate science building, or a miniature food court in the cafeteria. She was pleased to meet me, but noticed that my accent was different from some of the other Nigerian students they had hosted in the past. I'd done just enough online research to bluff my way through an explanation that Nigeria had as many if not more regional languages as an equivalent area of the U.S. I think she expected me to be harder to understand, but having lived near Montreal all my life, where it pays to be bilingual, I speak English fairly well, even if I still think in French.

The school day itself was mostly like I remember from my own high school days, only in English. The differences were striking, though. I felt odd standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, although I hope that at some point the unease will fade and I'll just be able to laugh at the absurdity of me, a French-Canadian man pretending to be a Nigerian girl, standing while the rest of the class intones this speech in a quite frankly frightening monotone. Most at least understand my not putting my hand on my heart and reciting, since I'm foreign. It at least means I don't have to spend that minute feeling uncomfortable about touching my underage breast.

The biggest change, I think, is that most of the students, "Betty" and "Heidi" included, have traded in spiral notebooks for laptops. I've got one of those miniature ones, "netbooks", that actually feels like it's about the right size because of my smaller hands. I'm still not used to taking notes that way, and neither is Arlene. Some of the kids just open them up, use the camera to record the lecture, with the intention of transcribing it afterward. For us, it feels wrong not to take paper notes, so I tend to jump between the two, occasionally writing my blog on Tuesday during classes I knew from long ago... Like French, my first class on that day.

Even though we know a fair amount of what we're being taught, Arlene and I are both putting in the time after school to study and read our assignments. We haven't heard from either the original Betty or Laskers, nor the new people taking up our lives, so I've got to make being Betty work; though I doubt they'd deport me for failing my first chemistry test, why do anything more that might move me closer to having first-hand knowledge of what Nigeria is like?

I also must say, I don't know whether to be impressed or alarmed with how clever Arlene is in terms of insinuating herself into Heidi's life, especially since I appear to be one of her primary tools for doings so. For example, last weekend, I'd been planning on just resting, maybe getting into contact with the other transformees in the Boston area or even catching a train back up to Old Orchard to see if we could meet the new us or learn more about the Inn. Instead, though, she decides it's important that we hang around with Heidi's friends.

I say she should have fun with that, but she says it's important I come along - after all, even if the Inn's curse keeps people believing that we're who we appear to be, it doesn't give us any information. But, stick a stranger in the middle, and Heidi's girlfriends will explain every little detail. So now Arlene's got the lowdown on who Heidi was dating, why they broke up earlier in the summer, which members of the cheerleading team were bitches and which weren't, and similar information about the teachers.

Useful, I suppose, although it's rather creepy when, on Sunday night, the sweet-looking young girl combing her hair tells you how it's just like reading johns, figuring out how to get them to talk about themselves, fill you in so that they feel like they're making a connection. She's quite matter-of-fact about that, and it's a little scary, to be honest - as much as the new body situation is freaking me out, she is genuinely enjoying being young again, and sees a new life laid out ahead of her as a blessing rather than the frightening situation it seems to me, but there are moments when it's very clear that she certainly hasn't put her old one completely behind her.

-Marc

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