My first swimming instructor, God bless her, was named Liz Crossgrove. I thought she was pretty much the coolest person to ever darken the doorway of the Archbold Municipal Swimming Pool. One day, my Mom said, “You know, Liz’s name is Elizabeth, too. She goes by ‘Liz’ for short, and you go by ‘Betsy’.” This blew my mind. I didn’t understand the crazy turn of events that left Liz with an stunning, powerful, and yet thrifty one-syllable nickname, 30% of it consisting of the awesomely elusive letter “Z” and me with the clunk of two syllables, the very lisp/missing front teeth un-friendly “TS” combo, and the awkward “Y” ending. Is it a vowel? Is it a consonant? Who the hell even knows? While I didn’t understand the origins, it made sense to me. Here was gangly yet round six-year-old Betsy (To quote Matt Besser of the Upright Citizens Brigade, “Fat and skinny at the same time. No one wants that.”) with tan, not afraid to jump off the high dive, high school attending, beautiful Liz. While Liz didn’t turn me into an Olympian by any means, she did manage to get me to jump off the high dive. Once. And I can at successfully “freestyle” it in the true sense of the word. Imagine the way a slightly disturbed eleven-year-old might run down a hill. That’s basically how I swim. No points for technique, but I arrive at my destination all the same.
That same summer, I was prescribed allergy shots. My Mom and I dutifully went down to the lab of my doctor’s medical complex for my first round. I sat in the chair, and the nurse said, “I see your name is Elizabeth. Do you like to be called anything for short?” As my Mom got out the first syllable of “Betsy,” I confidentally told her, “Liz.”
My Mom said, “What?!”
I said, “I go by Liz.”
“That’s news to me,” my Mom said.
For many years following, I was known, if only in the injection room at Bryan Medical Group in Bryan, Ohio, as “Liz.”
My childhood brain worked on what I’ve now come to call the “choice” system. This means that I saw most questions as a choice. When my Mom got pregnant with my little sister, Ellen, I assumed that we had the option to have an African American kid as well as white or Asian or what have you. After watching The Cosby Show, my absolute favorite, one Thursday night, I said very casually to my parents, “I bet the baby will be black.” How else did it happen?, I thought, rolling my eyes at my surprised parents. Particularly my Dad. “Is there something I don’t know?” I imagine he wondered in between my Mom’s guffaws, as I mused about the potential race of my soon-to-be sister.
So when the nurse asked me, “What is your nickname?” I came up with one that I felt suited me better than “Betsy.” “Betsy” is the blond girl in pigtails from a 1950’s Easy Reader. “Betsy” gets into a fix, and about ten pages later, she wholesomely finds her way out of it. “Liz” pulls up in a convertible and writes a check to whomever is causing the trouble in the first place. “Betsy” reluctantly plops off the low dive. “Liz” flings herself, fearlessly, in perfect form, off the high.
My campaign to be called “Liz” was short-lived, however. “Betsy” stuck. Since that time, I’ve suffered along with many of the Long Name, in being called, Oh whatever the hell people feel is appropriate. Liz, Beth, Becky (never understood that one); for awhile, I would correct people, but after having worked at a front desk for, god help me, nearly six years, my energy ran out a long time ago. So I basically answer to anything short of expletives.
But “Liz” haunts me. People want to call people who are named Elizabeth, “Liz.” They really want to. It really doesn’t matter if said Elizabeth goes by “Liz” or not. So, as if being followed by some odd childhood wish granting fairy, it seems that I am now to be called “Liz,” at least downtown. Sidebar: If, in fact, this is what is happening and I am actually being granted childhood wishes, I’d like to put it out there that I actually DO NOT want to live like The Boxcar Children. Nor do I want crutches, and having now needed glasses and/or corrective lenses for some time now, the charm truly has worn off. Keep the NKOTB tickets. But I would definitely still take a Luck Dragon, the Barbie Dreamhouse (we can talk about dimensions later), and Pantene hair would be cool, too. I actually HAD a Power Wheels. So, yeah. I know. It was awesome.
Anyway, the entire legal department here calls me “Liz.” In that they are actually very friendly people, and I deal with them regularly, I will let it go. I just feel they are seeing some part of me that doesn’t exist. A doppelganger, perhaps. In the Caribbean they call it a “duppy”. The Celts called it a “fetch.” I call it, well, Liz. A not so much evil twin, more like an Executive twin. I often hear people bemoan their artistic ability, “Gee, I wish I was creative!” or something like that. This, I have. In spades. What I do not have is a single practical gene in my body. But Liz? Liz wears khaki pants and sweater sets. She has “working and coordinated wardrobe.” Liz has a “daily routine”. Betsy has a place she has be on a daily basis that she stumbles her way into in a sort of pattern, I guess. Nothing I would call a routine.
Liz has a Roth IRA, and she contributes to it.
Betsy has an old 401K that she plans on spending early.
Liz belongs to some sort of amateur sports team. They meet up in the park on afternoons and weekends. They play other such teams. Then they go for beers afterwards, in their rakishly muddy raglan-sleeved baseball t’s to celebrate their victory. She has a friend she calls “Coop.”
Betsy does storefront theatre in Chicago where we sometimes actually drink on the job, at the very least during tech. Nobody ever thinks of getting matching tshirts. She has, however, performed with others in a uniform consisting of fake eyelashes, dance tights, t-strap character shoes, and wig caps.
Liz has a Blackberry.
Liz likes sour cream and cream cheese.
Liz is kind of into the gladiator sandal thing. She also has a pair of crocs. She only wears them in the garden.
Liz has a garden.
Betsy also goes by the nickname The Black Thumb.
Liz will say things like, “Did you try the sashimi at Coast Sushi Bar? It knocked me on my ass!”
Betsy will say things like, “Did you try the sache/shimmy at bar 57? It knocked me on my ass!”
Liz will say things like “I found my Tiffany heart bracelet in my Coach bag. I had been looking in my Dooney & Burke!”
Liz subscribes to Real Simple.
Betsy buys Real Simple and then cuts out the pictures for a Vision Board.
Liz has a dog.
Liz was in a sorority. Probably AOII or Tri-Delt. She dated a Phi-Psi.
Liz has a condo.
Liz goes to Spin class.
Betsy writes down the dates of upcoming tap classes. She does not attend.
Liz secretly likes Dave Matthews Band.
Betsy secretly likes Dave Matthews Band.
Both Liz and Betsy took the LSAT. Liz used it.
Liz uses Clinique makeup. She wears Dolce and Gabbana Blue.
Does Betsy wish she lived Liz’s life? Not at all. Betsy is glad Liz is out there, blandly and mildy successful. Betsy gets to be more bohemian. Liz throws a clam bake. Betsy throws a fake lobster building party. Yin and Yang. Betsy and Liz. They occasionally channel each other. If they were to ever bump into each other, it would likely be at Jo-Ann’s. Betsy there for her weekly stock up, Liz fumbling around the art supplies, trying to find what she needs to make the “16th Annual Weekend Softball Championship” banner. They will cross paths. And they will each say, “Hey! I like your shoes.” And the heavens will then rain down. And there will be a great flood. And Betsy will be glad she jumped off the high dive. And took swimming lessons from Liz.
*This in no way applies to the character “Liz Lemon” who, by nature of both alliteration and her last name being a citrus fruit, escapes any and all characterizations of me duppy Liz. In fact, Liz Lemon may have a fetch called “Betsy” who is some sort of high-powered executive assistant in Los Angeles or something, married with three kids, vegetarian, and blonde.