Kristen Jensen had done everything right when she was pregnant. She hadn't drunk or smoked, she'd worked out every day, and she'd eaten healthier than any other time in her life. When little Elizabeth had been born, Kristen had been horrified to see that her face was deformed. The entire right side was stretched toward her ear; her nose folded over itself, and her mouth was tugged into a pseudo smile because her skin was too taunt for her to relax her mouth.
Kristen feared that the deformed face was indicative of some sort of inner disfigurement as well. For hours after little Elizabeth's birth, Kristen and her husband Ralph sat together, hoping their baby would be healthy. When the doctors returned Elizabeth to her parents, they assured them that Elizabeth was fine. Her disability was only skin-deep.
Even with her maternal instincts, Kristen couldn't honestly say that she thought her daughter was beautiful. She was, however, grateful that her baby was alive and healthy, and that thankfulness was enough for her and Ralph.
As the years passed, Elizabeth, or Betsy, as she came to be called, grew to be an introspective, intelligent young girl. Unfortunately, her deformity did not fade with age, but rather, became more pronounced. Her skull seemed somewhat misshapen, and her right eye started to get tugged toward the lump of flesh that might have become an ear. Her false smile became more pronounced with each year, and the taunt skin took on a yellow pallor.
Needless to say, Betsy suffered daily torment in school. All through third and forth grade, every day she would come home in tears. She would bemoan the fact that she'd been branded as "ugly," and that during recess the other girls would stand at the other side of the playground and chant "freak" until Betsy could stand it no more and would crawl underneath the slide to cry. Kristen would take Betsy in her arms and assure her that if she acted like the taunts didn't bother her, they would stop. Of course, they didn't.
When Betsy was in fifth grade, her mother gave her a new hope, assuring her that the other children only mocked her because they were jealous of her superior intelligence. Indeed, Betsy had scored very well on her standardized tests- perhaps her achievement in school was linked to the considerable amount of time she devoted to reading and studying, since she was never distracted by friends asking her to play or to come and visit.
In sixth grade, Betsy's loneliness even began to wear on Kristen. She hated to see her daughter so worn away by her alienation. The verbal taunting had stopped years before, but Betsy still rarely saw her classmates outside of school, and never did anything socially. Betsy's troubles wore Kristen down. The mother hoped that with age would come maturity, and that Betsy's classmates would abandon their superficiality in time, but she doubted that more with each passing year.
Then, junior high arrived, and everything became worse. As the girls in Betsy's classes hit puberty and became even more self-conscious than they'd been before, their stinging words and subtle jabs became even worse. Betsy developed quite naturally, and would have been a very pretty girl if not for her face, but Kristen never needed to fear that boys would take an interest in her daughter.
The tear-filled nights began to increase. During the day, Betsy would beg her mother to let her change schools before high school. The request was not new, but Elizabeth had always denied her daughter before, informing her that she attended a good school with a strong academic program, and that with time she was sure to make some friends.
As Elizabeth weakened, however, she found herself wondering whether Betsy would be happier elsewhere. Her grades were still very good, but if she continued her lonely existence, she might fight herself prey to depression.
And so, Elizabeth finally gave in and gave her daughter an ultimatum. She would remain at the same school through freshman year, and if she was still unhappy, Betsy could enroll in a neighboring school.