15 March 2010

The Lure of Harbour Cay

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Recently I have been having a series of compelling conversations with a somewhat-mature (okay, older) man about a daydream we both-- quite innocently-- discovered we share. I do not remember which of us brought it up first, but it's gone on some three nights or so now and finally I mentioned the gist of it to my parents.

Of course anyone knows I do not chat about anything inappropriate. It's not that kind of daydream! But I do often indulge people's imaginations, like to say, 'If you could live anywhere, where would you live?' --or 'If you could do any job, what would you do?' --and then, of course, ask why. And that evolves into a sensible, interesting discussion. (It's certainly more respectable than asking, 'If you could touch me anywhere, where would you touch me first?' --right? I mean I really don't need to know THAT kind of daydream from anyone!)

The daydream we discussed was about finding a private tropical island somewhere and then what one's life would be like if he or she had the opportunity to live there. I learned that a woman's fantasy about that is very different from a man's. For one thing, the man dreams of having some shack that requires no maintenance at all, a lazy man's retreat, if you will. Most men would probably like to avoid all forms of work, like home maintenance, personal hygiene, laundry, shaving, and so on. Also, a man would probably like to go fishing all day long, whenever he wants to. And, of course, he dreams of having some beautiful young (female) thing there to share it all with.

As a woman I dream of having some small but beautiful house for which I don't have to do all the work (that's the fantasy part). I don't like fishing and would rather eat fruit, or cultivate an orchard like we had at Lewes, and just pick whatever I want to eat whenever I want to eat it. I think that walking, swimming, and climbing trees along with a mostly-fruit diet would probably keep me strong and slender. I'm pretty sure I would shave at least as much as I do now, and I cannot abide my hair at all once it's been a day or two since a good shampooing. But as far as laundry is concerned I think I would be pretty happy with not having to worry about any of it (beyond what nature makes absolutely necessary for a week or so each month of course).

And just maybe, if he were the right choice, I would like to have a special someone to share it all with.

My friend online actually looked up 'Islands for sale' under Google and discovered a whole web site from some estate agents in Belize advertising about a dozen whole islands as well as parcels on slightly-larger islands. The islands are mostly small-- under 15 acres. Once I saw a few pictures of them I was infatuated and browsed them all till very late one night. I decided upon Harbour Cay. It's five acres and is for sale at $550,000. Honestly.

Harbour Cay has a natural lagoon, sheltered on almost four sides, about 6 or 7 feet deep. The whole island is to the north of the lagoon with only a narrow spit south of it, and the entrance to the west-southwest makes it perfect for sheltering a yacht in a hurricane. The interior is lovely, all soft green grass populated by small trees that have grown back since the last time some dreamer cleared it and left off the project. The advert says it might need filling to be high enough above the tide levels, but if one were to dredge the lagoon to about 8 or 9 feet, to accommodate a decent sailboat, there would be enough from that to fill a building site quite well.

I studied it (for at least an hour into the night) and decided where I would put my house. Now, my house would not be a low-maintenance shack. It would be an elegant little low-maintenance pirate's retreat, the kind of place an 18th-century sea captain would retire to when he gave up his ship to settle down, full of Oriental carpets, tile fireplaces, wooden panelling, mahogany furniture, and all (much like a small version of this house, and simpler). It would be of block, like this house is, with the local sand providing about half the concrete ingredients. It would have a three- or four-storey tower surrounded by lower wings, two bedrooms on the second floor, a ballroom, dining room and small parlour on the first, a semidetached kitchen and pantry, and then at the end of a long cloister bridge, a guest room. The first storey would be about 6 feet off the ground in case of flooding. Across the lagoon there is a knob of land jutting out where I would have another tower, only two storeys, with a guest room on the bottom floor, really just as a kind of landmark or lookout point as though to protect the harbour entrance.

That made me think of protection. Maybe, being a woman, I care more about this than some people might. But I can't imagine the southwestern Caribbean to be profoundly free of crime. I started thinking about black-powder guns mounted on the parapets of the towers, and then thought maybe just a good World War II machine gun. The problem would be in getting actual ammunition. I don't suppose World War II machine-gun bullets are very easy to come by even in Belize. This is why I fall back on my typically 18th-century idea of black powder. I just don't know how or where I would like to store it, since it's very volatile. (Daddy does not keep all of his in the house, only what will fit in the small safety niche he has in the kitchen fireplace stack. That's actually the traditional way of storing it at home.)

And then came the fateful storm on Saturday, when the power went out for five and a half hours, and (by candlelight, appropriately) I looked into Daddy's now-dated catalogue from that place in Ohio where all the Amish shop that's full of appliances that don't use electricity. (We got our kitchen stove there.) And I got to thinking, that my version of the tropical-island house has too many bathrooms and toilets that wouldn't really work. I mean-- where do you get water pressure to flush if the whole island is flat? And why do you need private bathrooms if the whole island is private? Wouldn't just one composting toilet, maybe in the basement, be good enough?

Anyway I did make the mistake of mentioning this idea to my dad, who immediately poured over the whole website and concluded, as I did, that Harbour Cay is the very plum of the whole selection, and for the same reasons I said. We then started drawing plans on his computer using the home-design programme he has (he designed this house with it). We ironed out a lot of the issues I had and came up with more problems and then solved those too. And then, of course, Daddy had to mention it at dinner.

'Five hundred thousand dollars,' he said. 'Empty lots in South Jersey cost more than that.'

Mother only shook her head, smiling. 'They're improved, dear,' she said. 'Where do we get water? --or power?'

'We make it,' he said, 'or we do without.' Then he and I ranted on about our ideas so far. This got Jessy and Lisa and even JJ all enthused about it and we all went on and on and on till someone, I don't remember which of us, realised that this wasn't such a kooky plan but could actually work. I mean-- Daddy has offshore savings accounts, and, as he said, Belize is as good a place as any to invest. It's politically stable, it's actually enjoying a pretty good investment market, it's got a temperate climate, it's mostly improved with power, cable TV, and Internet, it's full of North American necessities like natural gas, gasoline, fresh water supplies and sewage systems, everyone speaks English and the US dollar is taken everywhere. And Harbour Cay is hardly remote, only about five miles offshore and therefore within sight of a mainland boatyard. Theoretically we lived farther offshore than that when we lived at Long Beach Island!

Daddy said it would be cool to fly down and have a look at it. After all, if they know who he is, it's sure that they'll consider him seriously as a potential customer. Lots of retired rock musicians buy properties in the Caribbean. He could probably even get a good deal on it.

Then Mother said, 'Well, you can't blame me if I think it's a little nuts to just pack up and leave for some tropical island on a second's notice like this.'

We all sighed and looked at her. Mother is as much a daydreamer as anyone, but she's also too intelligent to give over all sense, you know. Daddy sighed too. 'I suppose you're right,' he said quietly.

'I mean,' Mother said, not quite looking up yet, 'I've put away all my swimsuits. You'd have to give me about twenty minutes.'

When she looked up we were all staring back at her with our mouths hanging open. I still have shivers in my spine from it.


Older men and young women

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The regularly-scheduled meeting of our girls' social club convened in our basement, as the last few have done. We have been holding them-- believe it or not-- in the TV theatre room, because it works pretty well as a small auditorium. There are couches on the platform across the back to seat about seven girls (if they all truly like each other) and chairs and a couch in front to see five more. The club officers (that would be me, Jessy, Paulette and Rita) sit in chairs in front of the TV screen (which does NOT get turned on till the whole meeting's actual agenda gets accomplished, honest. And no, we don't use PowerPoint). The club numbers 14 now, plus Lisa when she thinks to wander in. No-one thinks she is a bother and she is rarely conspicuous-- unless someone grabs her to sit on a lap, as happened tonight.

We did not, however, quite get to finish the whole agenda because of someone else making an interruption. And though the interruption came from the far end of the house, it was more than anyone wanted to ignore for long.

Daddy has recently started jamming with a couple of guys from the neighbouring area, two brothers about his age who like a lot of the same '80s music. They set up the guitar amps and a PA system in the 'work room' that connects Mother's exercise room to the garages and meet there about once a week just to drink beer and run through their repertoire. They have no drummer and usually just use an electronic rhythm box, but often they are singing or telling jokes to each other through the PA and it's kind of hard to not hear them.

I really do not know why they did not observe the five or six extra cars in the front yard tonight. Maybe they did.

Anyway Lisa jumped off Sally's lap and went running in the moment she recognised one of Daddy's old songs, and, of course, being Lisa, she left the door open. Obviously she left the door to the exercise room open too, for next we were inundated with super-distortion guitar sounds and someone (one if his friends, not Daddy) wailing out lyrics. The girls all giggled, then one or two got up to look out the door, and by 8.30 the meeting was pretty much over. I got up, planted my hands on my hips, and stomped down through the house to scold you-know-who (I don't mean Lisa). I got down there and Daddy was just sitting down to the drums-- oh, right, now he has drums in there! --to play. The three men (and Lisa) all looked up and I stood my ground. I was still in the navy-blue tights and plaid club skirt and grey club sweatshirt and still with my hands on my hips. I must have looked like a very angry Sunday-school teacher.

'Oh, hello,' Daddy said, from behind the drums. Then-- drum crash, cymbals, cymbals, cymbals, cymbals....

'"Oh, hello"?' I said. 'Did you happen to know there's a meeting going on the other end of this house?'

The men laughed. Daddy looked a little sheepish. 'Oh, but I thought the doors were closed.'

Then I turned and scowled at Lisa. She immediately got a little red and scurried round behind the drums-- where, of course, Daddy put her on her lap. Before I could get out another word she was tapping cymbals.

Someone looked up and when I turned round there were five or six faces crowding in the door behind me. This was not a good omen.

And 'omen' is what I call it, for it did portend the next hour and a half, namely that first I, and then Jessy, and then a few other girls, all had to-- really were told to, but it amounts to the same thing-- sing along to whatever the men played. I personally sang lead on 'Favorite Waste of Time' and, ironically, 'Favorite Mistake'. Jessy sang with Daddy on 'Stop Dragging My Heart Around'. Lisa sang 'Stop In The Name of Love' (yes, she knows it-- we were all 'raised on the classics' as Daddy says. And she has the volume for it). Some other people sang some other songs. Mother came down with iced tea and, of course, little JJ, whose room is two storeys above the exercise room and so he couldn't get to sleep either. Mother would not be prevailed upon to sing-- not in front of Daddy's friends anyway. But when JJ had been taken back up stairs after falling asleep in the party room down the hall and Lisa was being tucked into bed, Mother descended to the big parlour and sat at the piano in the near-darkness. I heard her tender touch from the kitchen and for fear of disturbing her only lurked just the other side of the open doorway in the small parlour.

It was one of Daddy's songs (I shall not say which), the ballad he had given A Certain British Ingenue during his sojourn in London. It's Mother's half-sister's favourite work if his. But who knew Mother knew it so well?

I listened whilst she played it, with no hesitation or mistakes, and my eyes went wet. Only Daddy's footfalls as he came up to the kitchen, about to find her there himself, made me tiptoe out to the front hall and dash up stairs.


Go-go, GAGA

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Following last week's meeting with the school administration staff, a schedule has been set up for the GAGA 'executive board' to meet regularly with the principal, or assistant principal(s), to discuss current issues of harassment as perceived by students. First, of course, we had to name an 'executive board'. Most of the girls named me to it. I refused, of course, but then saw their point, that as one of the eldest students involved in this (my birthday being in December) I should have some sense of wisdom to impart here. Also, whether they like me or not (there is ample evidence on both sides), the assistant principals both know me and how to deal with me. So, I accepted.

The rest of the weekly delegation shall consist of Becky as recording secretary, one of Jessy's classmates acting sort of as 'vice president" (though I certainly throw off the suggestion that I am therefore the 'president' --I prefer 'paralegal' --ha!) and two floating delegates who are to be chosen by agenda at the preceding GAGA meeting (which is on Thursday afternoon) so that all members of GAGA have the opportunity to participate at least partly in the process. You'd be surprised how many of these girls don't really want to be 'on the front lines' in these administration meetings. Then you might be surprised about which girls actually do want to be.

Becky has developed into an intimidating force for righteousness. Even though she only takes notes, she has had a lot to contribute at the preparatory meetings we've had over the last week. This afternoon on her way down the gallery to the meeting she was swinging her clipboard under her arm and whistling 'When Johnny Goes Off To War Again' --which in itself is kind of scary, but, of course, also funny. She is thrilled to be part of a process by which she can leave a legacy on people who might otherwise never have noticed her. And, of course, she is very responsible towards that legacy and I am sure it will only be positive.

My sister Jessy couldn't really care less. She sat in on last week's meeting and because she chose to not sit in on this week's she kind of initiated the floating-delegate concept. This is good, though, because it does give other girls a chance and because, in her softhearted, egalitarian way, she refuses to allow there to be any kind of hierarchy in the GAGA movement. All girls are equal-- they should not have to defer to others' voices all the time. And she is right about that, and that's really the whole point of GAGA in the first place.

Today's meeting was to establish certain terms, definitions of things like 'harassment' as opposed to 'bullying' (one is inadvertent and careless, and one is deliberate and nasty) and a process for registering complaints, especially anything that happens between meetings. We did all agree that nothing a student considers either 'bullying' or 'harassment' should be shelved till some arbitrary time like the next GAGA meeting. It has to be stopped at the very moment it happens. ('What's right to be done can never be done too soon' --Jane Austen.) The APs assured us they would handle such issues just like any other behaviour problem, with the same degree of timeliness and severity as they've always considered appropriate.

It's important to remember that our complaint is not that our APs act too slowly or too leniently. They don't. Our complaint is that they do not recognise that some of the age-old policies of this school are in themselves the problems we girls face. This is a quiet, rural, working-class area, and people just aren't attuned to racism or sexism the way Jessy and I are used to. And you might think it's not a problem, but being a girl I have seen how some girls feel absolutely belittled by what everyone else, even female teachers, thinks is just 'the way things are'. So we hope to do is show how people-- everyone, from the superintendent on down to the newest freshmen-- can demonstrate sincere respect for each other and therefore receive more respect for themselves as well. And, of course, part of that means treating a young lady like a young lady.

The really sad part of all this is that Jessy and I, and, by extension, our parents, have been accused of being 'liberal Northerners' and even by some people we might have thought had more respect and even admiration for our differences. So let me make this perfectly clear-- I may have been born about 11 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, but I have spent all my life (but the two years in England) living south of it. And my father is about as liberal as Margaret Thatcher. In spite of being in the rock-and-roll music business, he did grow up under the 1980s concept of 'compassionate conservatism' and really does live the ideal of 'noblesse oblige' --the absolute requirement that the good people must do the right thing. If you knew him personally, you would quickly put aside the longish hair and the ripped jeans and the (sometimes shockingly) up-to-date vocabulary and especially the super-distortion guitar volume, and you would see a real, bona-fide, dyed-in-the-wool old-fashioned Christian gentleman, someone George Washington or Robert Walpole would definitely respect. And Mother, 23 years younger than he, is no less the traditional country lady with her homemade pies and gentle Old-World sweetness and her devout love for the divinity of Jesus-- and her impassioned ferocity whenever she sees anything even slightly unfair. So as compassionate conservatives, we donate liberally (of our own free will and to whom we choose), keep the neighbourhood roads and greenways clean, conserve energy as well as money, refrain from polluting from the lawn, pool, rubbish, or boats, and most especially practise respect towards everyone else, whether 'less fortunate' or not, regardless of race, heritage, native language, or gender identity. The good people do the right thing-- and no so-called liberal ought to disagree with that, whichever way we happen to vote.

In this way the GAGA movement reminds me of President Lincoln, who insisted that 'noblesse oblige' rule the day--

'Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'

If it takes another four years of GAGA girls standing up for respect and sitting down arguing with administrators till all girls in this county feel comfortable and safe and respected at school and in their community, as they always ought to have felt over all of the last 200 years, like ladies whose reputations are as important to them as a man's pride, then none of that time and effort is wasted. Lincoln would have agreed-- in fact, his Second Inaugural Address shows that he did.

And, for what it's worth, Lincoln was not a liberal! [wink]


01 March 2010

Time will tell

Wednesday 24 February 2010

I walked through the corridor at school this morning feeling really refreshed. My cold is not gone, of course, but staying home yesterday helped (even if all I did was type on the computer all day) and my voice is still raspy and sore but least I can talk today. I had on my black sweater and black tights and a really cute bronze-coloured wool skirt and my black booties and I felt really good about myself, like nothing was going to let me down. This is what an imbecile I am.

At homeroom is when the notes get passed round. You get passes to the nurse, to guidance, for early dismissal... and from your friendly neighbourhood school administrators. Mine was in an envelope--

'Sorry about your illness-- hope you are feeling better today. We have considered the girls' letter and are eager to meet with your panel this afternoon in the main office conference room. Please check in with the office this morning if you are able to make it.'

This cordial little note was signed with the principal's initials.

I sat and stared at it till the bell rang. Jessy met me in the corridor and saw me with the note in my hand. 'You got yours?'

I nodded. 'How many are there?'

'Just the exec board got them,' she said-- meaning the four of us who act as officers of the girls' club. The school administration are apparently mistaking the girls' social club for the GAGA movement. The GAGA movement doesn't exactly have officers, so maybe that's why.

I suggested we invite two of the other girls who are not in the club but who have been vocal about the bigger (GAGA) issues. Jessy agreed. We reconvened the nucleus of this meeting over lunch and agreed on the six people who would make up the board. From then on I began to feel nervous. Before eighth period I went into the lavatories and rang Mother. 'They're calling us in this afternoon,' I said.

She knew what that was about. She asked who was on the panel and I told her and then she said, 'Do you need me for anything?'

I thought about it. I really did feel like I needed guidance, you know. But I would be brave. 'No, Mother. It'll be all right. We have a legitimate cause, you know. We'll just say that we expect something good out of it.'

'Something good will come out of it, Janine. Because you are right.'

'Thanks, Mother.'

'God bless you, good girl. Call if you need me.'

That made me feel better. And I was not late to history class.

Rather than to all wander in to the meeting at different times, we all met in the front hall, just lingering as though we were waiting for a bus, and then at 2.20 we turned and marched en masse in to the conference room. The APs were already there, the child-study team guy was there, and my guidance counsellor, as on the other day. The principal came in a moment later. We had not even sat down yet. 'Ah,' he said, 'so this is it, then? The delegation?'

None of us responded to that. It sounded insincere. We were waved to sit down and there were not enough chairs, so someone got two more and we were able to sit in a semicircle at the end of the table. The AP (not Mr H--, but the female one) began by reading over the letter, of which we all had copies. I just nodded a lot.

Mr H-- said, 'We know that you girls have some issues with what you perceive the administration does regarding sexual-harassment cases in this school.'

The girls all looked at me, but I just nodded. Becky sat next to me, taking notes-- she was writing down their exact words (from which I have got most of this). The principal, who was sort of near her, leaned his head over to read what she wrote. It didn't matter-- truth is truth.

Mr H-- said, 'We want to assure you that none of this is personal, that no-one on this administration has anything against any of you personally, no matter what might have happened in the past.'

We all just nodded again.

'And we want to assure you-- to reassure you-- that we will continue to do all we can to ensure that you girls-- that all students in this school-- have the safest, healthiest learning environment that we can possibly provide.'

And we all just nodded again. Say nothing, that was what we had decided. Let them make the first move.

'Your letter addresses some specific concerns,' the other AP said. 'Such as... rude comments-- what you called "sexual innuendo" coming from teachers as well as students. Can you give some specific examples?'

I looked round and they were all looking at me. I pointed at Sherry first. Sherry nodded and gave an account of how she an administrator called her a 'player' because some boy she did not like was able to corner her in the cafeteria and kiss her against her will. Becky mentioned that her PE teacher (the male one) had told her to move her 'fat butt' during class. I mentioned Mr H--'s comments to me in the office about Sherry's detention. Jessy spoke up and contributed her experience about one of her teachers laughing when one of the boys in her class called her a 'foxy piece of ***'. (She actually said the word too. Sometimes Jessy can shock you.)

The administrators before us all stared with their eyes wide open or else looked down at the table. That guy from the child-study team was writing everything down at full speed.

So was Becky.

'The letter,' I said, 'requests you as the administration only to enforce what is already your job to enforce. We know the code-- we've seen it. We are wondering why the teachers and administrators don't seem to care about it.'

The (female) AP said, 'This thing about your teacher--' she wagged her finger-- 'Jessy, is it? When did that happen?'

'About a month ago,' said Jessy.

'And you didn't report it? Why not?'

'I said something to the teacher about it,' Jessy said. 'I don't think anything got done.' She looked at me then. Deliberately I would not look at her.

'Well, we can't do anything if we don't hear about it,' the (female) AP said.

'Are we supposed to be put in the position of having to report teachers to their superiors?' I asked.

They all looked at me. The principal-- not looking at me then-- said, 'If that's what it takes, yes.'

The other administrators all agreed with that. Then the AP said, 'You say that students have harassed you too.'

'They have,' I said. The principal asked us to give details. We had (written down in our presentation notes) four cases which were enough for examples. None of the cases was minor-- like, in this blog I mentioned my sister being gawked at. That's going to happen, but really it's just rude and stupid. The cases we mentioned were more like guys making rude comments on a girl's appearance when teachers did nothing about it, guys asking girls for sexual favours (not just dates) during school time, and administrators not taking seriously any girls' complaints about anything like this.

The female AP fixed her eyes on me and asked, 'Why do you wear a skirt to school every day, or nearly every day?'

I fixed my eyes on her. 'Why do you?'

'I don't, not always,' she said. She hadn't today.

'Neither do I,' I said.

'I have noticed you've been wearing skirts nearly every day since the winter break.' ('Winter break' is what American public schools call 'Christmas'. It's okay to declare it a public holiday, but not okay to say the name of the occasion for it.)

I said, 'I don't think it matters what I wear. I'm a lady, and I wear skirts. I'm still entitled to respect, which I am not getting.'

'Do you ever think that your choice of wardrobe invites a certain kind of attention?' she asked me.

'That's a sexist comment,' Becky said immediately.

'Yes it is,' Jessy said immediately after that.

'It's not a girl's fault that she has the body she has,' Sherry said. 'Or even that she's a girl to begin with. The whole point of discrimination is that you can't hold us to a different standard because we're girls.'

'And happen to dress like girls,' Jessy said. She had worn a nice skirt today too.

'I never thought I dressed inappropriately,' I said to the other girls, as though I were sincerely disappointed, you know. Then I turned round and looked at the AP. 'I thought I was dressing to look serious, and to show respect for the school, the teachers and what I have to do here.'

'That hardly matters to a bunch of teenaged boys,' Mr H-- said then.

'"Boys will be boys",' I said cynically then. 'Is that really what you want to say at this point?'

'Now, then--'

'So,' Jessy said, 'we should change how we dress and act because some idiot teenaged boys don't know how to act properly?'

'Maybe you need to,' the (female) AP said then.

'It's our school too,' said Bonnie, one of our other girls.

Mr H-- scoffed at us. 'Do you really expect to change that much of how all teenaged boys act? Unfair or not, wouldn't it be more sensible to play it a little safe?'

We all sat there with our mouths open for a moment. Then I pushed back the chair. 'Are we done, then? Is that what you're saying?'

'Tomorrow I'm wearing a swimsuit,' Jessy smirked then.

'No you're not,' the AP said. --and we all started to push back the chairs.

'Hold on,' the principal said.

We all stopped, pushed back from the table. 'Sir,' I said to him, 'if this is an educational institution, and it's supposed to be preparing people for the real world, is it too much to ask that you as an educator actually try to educate these miscreants?' He smiled when I said that. 'I mean-- I have been to places in the world most of these students haven't. And I know for sure that the way they behave, at times, would never pass anywhere but here-- maybe here. And, Sir, you know it too.'

He was nodding.

'And I was raised that if I have something good to offer people, I should try to share it with them. If what I have to offer is a good example, I'm going to try to set that good example. And I'm not wrong, Sir-- I'm not incorrect, and I think you know I'm not doing it out of ego.'

He was nodding.

'Because, Sir, you know as well as I do that if these... miscreants go out into the real world and see a young woman in a skirt, if they're standing there with tongues hanging out tossing sexist comments at her it's not going to fly. What if it's an employer or a bank lender-- or a police officer?'

'Police officers don't wear short skirts,' the AP said then.

I looked at her. 'Is it that you don't see my point, or do you just like mocking me?'

'I'm not mocking you--'

'I see your point,' said the principal, and then he looked round at the others then. 'I'm only uncomfortable because a student has to teach it to me.' Then he looked at me and smiled. 'But that's not something I mind, if it's a point well taken. So, Janine. What do you propose that we do? Be specific.'

I smiled a little back at him. 'Thank you, Sir,' I said. I couldn't resist glaring at the (female) AP then. Oh, and I glared at Mr H-- too. 'Well-- we're not asking to be treated like goddesses. Some girls at this school are completely inappropriate, and some boys are very gentlemanlike. But I do think that you, Sir, could speak to some teachers, maybe at a faculty meeting, let them know students have complained, let them know you take it seriously, and most importantly let them know that you believe it's a point well taken. That it's part of the... mission of a school to teach proper behaviour, for the real world.'

He nodded. 'I can do that,' he said.

'And please take it seriously when a girl comes in sincerely concerned about being treated impolitely. Some people won't say anything, some people will make a little thing into a big thing, but some of us will actually have a point to be well taken, Sir. And it only hurts when you're a girl and you realise no-one really takes you seriously, or like as long as you show enough leg it's not important. And it might be hard for some people-- I was taught not to use foul language and it's difficult if you ask me to repeat what someone might have said... but if that's what it takes maybe I could-- I don't know-- write it down or something.'

They all smiled then. Becky's hand was flying over the paper-- she was getting most of my words exactly. (The rest I have tried to remember.)

'But if it's serious, Sir-- and forgive me for saying this-- then you have to take it seriously. Look, we try to take you seriously, when you say we are under all these expectations. We do our work, we attend dances and club meetings, we are not inappropriate or disrespectful-- if I may say so, we're the students who hold up this school. We help make it look good. We're not your enemies.'

He was nodding. He tends to be quiet and to listen more than he talks, which is good. Jessy said, 'All we ask is that you respect us, Sir. And show us you do, by how you act, by how the school acts.'

He looked at her. 'I can do that,' he said. Then-- the moment of truth-- he looked round the rest of the administration at the table. 'Can we all do that?'

They all nodded. --the [female] AP last of all.

He asked if anyone had anything else, and no-one did. Then he said, 'What I would like to do, Janine, is to ask this group to meet back with us next week, so we can iron out some details. I think that if we're codifying a finer point about behaviour and expectations, we should have your input. Can we say... Wednesday next week? Can we all be here?'

This was agreed. The principal thanked us all, we girls thanked the administrators, and everyone got up to go. Then he asked me to wait a moment behind. The other girls lingered in the corridor-- Jessy leaned in the open doorway. Likewise the [female] AP stayed behind with the principal in the conference room. I got the feeling it was always going to be like this now, no one-on-one meetings without seconds present-- not because of the fear of inappropriate conduct (no, not at all!) but because of jurisprudence-- it's become all like a courtroom now, somewhat cold and formal even though there is grudging respect. We don't trust the school and the school doesn't trust us. Then the principal put out his hand.

'I'd like to thank you, Janine, for giving us a lesson we probably do deserve to hear, especially from a student.'

I took his hand and we shook on it. 'Thank you, Sir.'

'I'm not going to be blind, or proud, and say we haven't made mistakes. I only hope that working through these issues we can work as a team. Your eyes and ears in the hallways are as good as anyone's-- you, and your club, and all the girls you few here are representing. And you're right-- in some ways you very much uphold the good name of the school. I won't want to see that get tarnished.'

'I hope we can work through it too,' I said. 'All we want is to help.'

He nodded, and then followed me out to the corridor with Jessy. 'Majoring in English, hm?' he said, and then stopped and smiled at Jessy. 'See if you can convince your sister to take up law.'

Jessy laughed. 'Oh, she won't hear of it!' And we all laughed.


23 February 2010

Skirts on the warpath

Monday, 22 February 2010

I have not kept up in this blog concerning the big issue about the discrimination against us girls at the high school. Over the last few weeks we have taken a few initiatives to stand up for ourselves and to refuse to be treated disrespectfully. This movement (GAGA, for Girls Against Grobians Association) kind of came out of our girls' club but it is bigger than that and the club makes up only about a third of the actual membership. The other 20-odd of us are just girls who are fed up.

The first thing we did was to make t-shirts. Everyone in the GAGA group got one. We wear them on Mondays. Of course the girls' club have already been wearing our 'colours' on every Thursday (club meeting day), exactly what Mr H-- feared we would do, which is part of the reason why we're doing it. The 'colours' are the plaid parochial-school skirt (which we've all had appropriately tailored of course) and the plain navy-blue sweatshirt (for winter) with the club logo (designed by Jessy) on it, and navy tights and decent (black) shoes (sometimes Jessy wears high black boots with hers, which looks adorable). We look like girl scouts or private-school students, but not quite. GAGA girls who are not in the club wear a nice skirt and top or a dress. It's strictly voluntary, of course, but on any given day I'd say 25 or 30 of us are dressed up, noticeably more than the 3 or 4 I used to observe at this school. This is four days a week, and on Fridays we wear jeans or leggings.

The reaction has been mixed. Most other girls in school hate it-- they accuse us of 'taking over the dress code' or 'making it uncool to wear a skirt'. Of course this is their version of it. The reality is that we're really doing it for them too, and we haven't claimed anything but the right to respect. It's really about us and the teachers, the administrators, and the male students. Most of the male students like it-- they admit they like to see legs, but part of what we've determined as a group of girls is that we don't show too much-- nothing too short, nothing too low-cut, nothing gaudy or clingy-- definitely cotton-blend tights are the order for the day in winter.

Jessy and I gave some lessons on how to walk up stairs (close to the wall, legs together, short smooth steps) and how to sit (ankles crossed, never a foot off the ground, legs turned to the side, skirt held down with hands in lap). Everyone was impressed that we knew how to do that, and that they could do it as well. I also stood up at that meeting and talked about grammar. A lot of the girls said there wasn't time for an English lesson, and it kind of hurt me because I believe that's one thing we can always do better in (see? That should have been 'one thing in which we can always do better'). But I agreed and said, 'Can we just agree to not be egregious about it?'

'And to not curse,' Jessy said.

'Yes,' someone else agreed. That was what we all agreed.

Using foul language is about the single worst thing a girl can do if she ever expects to be respected as a lady. It reduces you to a skank who is letting everyone know you don't care what impression you make on other people. And the impression a girl who curses makes on other people is never positive. Guys won't be impressed at all, which is totally antiproductive for the girl. Other girls will alienate you. Teachers hate it. Parents hate it. In public it's the worst thing you can do without flashing your underwear.

A girl should avoid foul language at all costs. At the very least, you might learn new bits of the language you should use instead, and that would only make you look more intelligent. And to many people, a smart girl is a virtuous girl-- the two seemed to be assumed to go together, which even if it's false logic still works for us.

The other thing we did was to send a letter, signed as a petition by all of us, to the administration asking that 'decency statutes' --bans on cursing, sexual innuendo, sexual harassment by teachers and students, all forms of bullying, as well as the infamous displays of public affection-- be more consistently and quickly enforced. We wrote that 'there is no reason why a school response to any such infraction needs to be delayed.' In other words, we would rather have a teacher stop the lesson to enforce the rule-- send the violator out, assign a detention, whatever-- than to let it go, issue some kind of trite verbal warning, and essentially push the issue under the carpet, which is what most teachers and administrators do.

The letter continued, 'If a school is truly serious about promoting an atmosphere of dignity and respect, and about responding to infractions with meaningful disciplinary consequences, then nothing we have stated here should be considered anything but sensible, appropriate and within the full compass of what is reasonable and possible.' (I wrote that part-- can you tell?)

We also said that, seeing no reason for the school to not comply, that we expected a 'material improvement in [the school]'s de facto policy forthwith.'

This letter was sent on February 15th. Because of the snow we had not had the chance to meet before then. (Oh, by the way, we meet in one of the classrooms after school. Would they dare to stop us?) On Thursday the 18th I was summoned to the office (after school) to meet with Mr H-- as well as the principal and, as it turned out, the other AP, my counsellor and some guy from the business office (I think). I walked in (in my club 'colours' of course), set down my books (did not even sit down at the table) heard their first question and respectfully requested that the meeting be rescheduled when a more appropriate 'panel' of involved girls could attend all at once.

'This meeting is just with you, Janine,' the principal said.

'Yes, Sir. As you will see, there are thirty-two other names on that petition.'

'We recognised your hand in this letter,' Mr H-- said.

'But I was only one of about six girls who wrote that letter,' I said.

'We assumed you were the ringleader in this.'

I made a smirk then. I could not help it. 'I am not responsible for what you are willing to assume, Sir,' I said. 'Would a day next week be available? I'm sure we can get a panel together by then.'

'You say in here that there is some urgency, and you want to wait till next week?' they asked.

I did not want to get into the issues, but I couldn't resist that. 'Sir, there are disciplinary cases at this school for issues touching on sexual harassment that are not resolved in longer periods of time than that.'

They all stared up at me (I was still standing at the end of the table) as though I had accused them personally of these infractions. 'How could you possibly know if that's true?' the other AP asked me.

I scooped up my books under my arm. 'I'm sure the group will be very eager to meet with you all. I'll get in touch with everyone, and we'll see if we can schedule something next week. All right?'

They protested. The other AP said, 'Janine, the principal is asking YOU a question, not your group.'

I nodded at them all. 'Yes, Ma'am,' I said. 'Oh, one thing-- we'll need time if we have to engage legal counsel. Unless that won't be an issue--?'

They all stared at me with their mouths hanging open and I turned round and walked out.

This is part of the reason I did not want to stay home sick, for I have been worried that they would call in some of the other girls when they'd know I wasn't there to 'ringlead'. So far I have not heard if they attempted to talk to anyone today. I did hear yesterday, however, when I was on an unrelated trip to the front office, that a change to this week's school-board meeting agenda had been submitted (in writing as they all are) from our school's principal's office. When I told Daddy about that he said, 'Well, I'll be sure to attend that and bring popcorn!'


19 February 2010

The worst of American public education

Thursday, 18 February 2010

I have recently heard of a school in Pennsylvania that issues students new MacBook computers. This is a good idea. I have a MacBook and it's a really good computer-- I wouldn't have anything Windows for anything, especially if it came free.

However this school took a page from the antichrist of industries, Microsoft, and pulled a dirty rotten trick on the students. The students and their families had to sign the expected agreement that the computer would not be used for anything illegal or immoral-- all right, this is fair, because the computer belongs to the school and you can't expect to use public-school property to do something that's not in the best interests of the school and its reputation. In the agreement the students were informed that the computer had some (unnamed) software program that was 'intended' to help track use of the computer in case of theft or security breaches, and to help get it back. But-- guess what the software function was!

That's right-- the built-in web camera. The school had the computers seeded (best word for it) with a secret program enabling the school administration to turn on the computer whenever they wanted to spy on the student user. The students only figured this out because one of the two little LED lights at the top would come on and go off at random times. Naturally they got plenty of good pictures of girls doing homework in their underwear in what they thought was the privacy of their own rooms, as well as some guys doing the expected obscene things guys do whilst online, you know. The point is that the school broke two major Federal laws, the right to privacy (since the students were permitted to use the computers for non-school work and on non-school property) and the codes against wiretapping (since they did it in secret and without any warning that they might do it). In fact the program on the computer was totally hidden from the user and the user did not even know what it could do or even that it was there, and the agreement HID the facts from the users by deliberately misleading anyone who read it.

Needless to say there is now a huge class-action suit against the school. I kind of wish I were involved in it. There isn't much reason for me to ever throw a perfectly-good MacBook through a public-school building's window, but this would be it.

Then again it is NOT a perfectly-good MacBook-- it's a polluted one and the only way to ensure you are done with this problem is to throw it through a public-school building's window.

Or, like my dad suggested, put a piece of electrical tape over the web camera and drive them nuts when they don't get a picture. That would be clever because it's not like they could ever complain and say, 'Hey, how come your camera doesn't work?'

And people online have said our assistant principal, Mr H--, is unreasonable for saying that I think I am 'holier than thou' and that my friend is a 'player' when she's not. At least he had reason to believe he was being accurate.

I can't wait to get to Cambridge.

PS-- here is a link with the story (copy and paste):


Janine declares her love

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Tall, elegant,
Lithe, and lean,
A natural athlete,
Well-studied in skill and strength,
Modest and manly.

A beauty to watch...
and a daydream to savour.

Evan Lysacek--

I love you.


17 February 2010

I am sick

Ash Wednesday 17 February

I was up too late last night, mainly because I had had a nap earlier in the evening. I hate when that happens. I finally turned in at about 3.00 am and had to get up early to receive ashes before school. I was not in proper shape for it and by noon I felt awful with a terrible sore throat that felt like the roof of my mouth was bleeding every time I swallowed. So I called Roger, signed myself out and went home.

Mother was surprised to see me but when she realised I really am sick she sent me up here to my room with a cup of hot tea with a little syrup in it. I got out of my school things and into a warm flannel shift with a sweatshirt on over it and some high cotton stockings and am nestled in my bed amidst all my blankets and with the curtains drawn on the bed to keep out draughts. And I will be fine... I hope. I have a singing date on Saturday for one of Daddy's acts and I don't want this to go till then. So I hope the understanding will forgive me for babying myself a little for just a sore throat.

In any case I am lonely and can't wait for Jessy to get home.


After all the snow...

Monday 15 February 2010

The sum total is that since Christmas we have had something like 36 inches of snow and that most of it is still here. Daddy has been 'trimming up' the walks and driveway round the house with the snowblower (as though it actually needs it) but without caring for where we have to walk and drive we would have too much snow to just walk or drive through it. We have been out of school for the last four school days, counting today, and I can admit that none of us is much in the mood to go back. Rita finally went home on Friday after having spent the prior three nights here on what was supposed to have been a one-night sleepover. And I actually went outside, on Friday, just for a little, before more snow came Saturday. Other than that it has been very cosy just staying in, playing games, eating snacks and watching what little TV we have all actually watched.

Our Valentines' Day party was very pleasant and well-attended, mainly by people who did not go to the dance. In our basement party room we were nine girls and four guys, all of us dressed nicely as for a proper party, and everyone was very mannerly and talkative and eager to eat whatever there was. We exchanged Valentine cards and told funny stories and the boys played billiards in the other room, and no one went on FaceBook and there was very little text-messaging going on with people who were not physically present here. Mother did her usual best with hors d'oeuvres and snacks and we made a big bowl of punch with ginger-ale and ice cream in it. We had wanted to have it as much like an old-fashioned party as we would, since most of us there had not got dates for the dance or preferred a party where the focus was not on dancing somewhat obscenely or on showing off whom you had come with or whom you could pick up whilst there. We allowed little Lisa to invite one of her friends over and there was really nothing about the party that two 6-year-olds could not witness or overhear (although they did get bored with us and ended up in Lisa's room playing Barbies-- which is what I sometimes wish I could do when I find myself bored, or disgusted, at some other people's parties).

We had scheduled the party to be over round 7.00 and so it was. Daddy put on the Olympics in the TV room and a few of our friends stayed to watch some of it whilst others left to catch it at home or to do something else. Everyone thanked Jessy and I for hosting it. We in turned thanked Mother. Mother in turned thanked God for having such sweet stepdaughters. I figure God thanked Mommy, and then Mother too in turn.

So it is back to school in the morning for all of us, however we regret it. It's just as well because after the other week when I was late every day (out of necessity) I am already dangerously close to the maximum amount of time one is allowed to miss and still be considered a viable graduate for the year. And Daddy has more dates scheduled for me in the studio. Fortunately the next one is on Saturday and I won't miss school.


11 February 2010


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

These last few days of snow have been terrifically hectic... and there's no reason why. We had school the early part of the week, but in anticipation of the threatened snow storm we all settled in on Tuesday night-- all of us, Daddy and Mother and JJ being home, little Lisa, me, Jessy and also Rita, Jessy's friend. The storm hit late in the evening, it snowed for an hour or two, not lightly, and by midnight it was over. A weird phosphorescence settled over the bay outside my window-- the only one I have unshuttered-- like a bizarre white fog upon the water even though it was about 20 degrees out there. I sat at my little round table here and stared out at it till well past midnight. It was not the reflection of light-- there aren't many houses along here and none of them have the kind of candlepower that could throw that much of the air outside into a haze. It was like a signal of a shift in the weather, the kind of thing you often see out over the ocean, but I have never seen anything like that (and I've lived all my life, except for 2 years, within 50 metres of the beach). The atmosphere was white, but you could see through it, almost as well as if it were daytime. I could just about make out the horizon beyond the barrier island that's directly out there. I half expected to see someone sailing through the night.

Since Rita was sleeping in with Jessy, Lisa believed that this meant she should sleep in with me. As I have said before I don't mind this-- she is nice to snuggle with, warm and soft and fluffy in her flannel nightgown and fuzzy socks, and it's the kind of thing she appreciates like a very high honour. She was asleep for some hours when I turned in. Of course none of us expected school on Wednesday.

And the weather did not disappoint us. We had mostly freezing rain till about 10.00 when it got really bad. Wind picked up and soon we were being besieged with heavy sleet, going more sideways than down. Daddy started a fire in the kitchen so when we all came down to a rather late brunch it was just lovely in there. Mother made pancakes, the true southern-style hotcakes that she learned to make when she relocated here as our au pair years ago. She just kept serving them up, one after the other, and we devoured them. Outside the sleet hammered the window and the roof deck above the garage filled up with icy snow drifts. Daddy said he thought the pool cover, which is normally supported with a frame underneath it, has caved in, which will leave a big mess in the pool. But of course none of us are inclined to go out and inspect it in this.

Most of the downstairs windows have been shuttered through most of the winter weather, especially the French windows in the small parlour which has been shuttered since we took down the tree after Epiphany. It keeps the heat loss down (since we have authentic single-glazed windows here!) and makes it very dark and somewhat cosy inside, but in this weather you hear it all against the glass and it's very unsettling. Rita and Jessy retired to her room, took turns showering, and sat there fawning over FaceBook most of the afternoon. I had showered before brunch and had put on my long fleece pulli and ballet legwarmers (that's about it). I started a little fire in my room and sat at my table, reading in 'Northanger Abbey' (for about the third time). Lisa isn't allowed to use her fireplace and so, smelling mine, brought some Barbies in here and began in some high-pitched dialogue to comment on the events of the week. Most of the time her Barbies go to school the days she does and, in spite of the fact that they look about 17 or 20 years old, what they study seems to be about what a first-grader studies. I suppose that's to be expected.

When my fire died down she talked me into playing with her so I took my Barbies out of their own house (which stands in my room) and went in to her room, where she has her own dolls' house, just like the ones Jessy and I have. Daddy made them all, based on one Jessy and I adapted for our Barbies from an unused stereo cabinet, and when pushed all together for special occasions they resemble half a block of Philadelphia or London terraces. My Barbies are still in their Colonial costumes so I pretended they were time-travellers and allowed Lisa's people to show us round this strange new century. Jessy heard us and came in to see what we were about, still talking on the mobile phone, so I made a few amazed observations about this incredibly large person, six times our height, talking to someone in another dimension on what looks like a very large pocketwatch. Lisa giggled herself silly by the time that was over.

The snow continued till it had got dark and I think none of us have been out of the house all day. The bridge up the road is closed, leaving a very long and equally tedious trip up and round through town, so we rang Rita's parents and told them she would not be home. This is all fine with Rita-- for it saves her the trouble of getting dressed to go out. I do not mean she would rather not put on boots and long underwear and sweaters and all that-- I mean she would rather not be dressed at all, for she, Jessy, little Lisa and I are all barely dressed, in long flannel shifts and high socks or thigh-high hose, with the odd sweater or snugglie blanket accompanying us. There is something lovely about being cooped-up when we don't have to worry about impressing anyone but ourselves, and there is firewood and hot tea and family to keep us company all round the house.

I have got the e-mail saying school is closed tomorrow as well. Apparently they have not got the ploughs out to the school yards tonight. So I can imagine that tomorrow will bring more of the same!


10 February 2010

Little Miss Sweetness

Friday, 5 February 2010

Living with Lisa is a sweet sort of experience, rather like having a whole meal of strawberry shortcake and whipped cream on top and then realising that even doing the dishes afterwards is not a particularly distasteful chore at all. Even the worst sort of occurrences seem to turn out pleasantly, like when she got her hand stuck in the bath drain or when she spanked JJ for being disrespectful or when she coloured her panties with Sharpie marker to make them 'all flowery' like Jessy's and then it ran all over her other clothes in the washer. But really, since she has been out of diapers she really has never been much of a mess at all, unless it's only the normal sort of accidents that happen to small children. This last week with the three of us girls on our own has shown us all that we are all very compatible and thoughtful towards each other. I mean, Lisa actually cleaned my bathroom the other day-- not that it was so dirty to begin with, or that she used a good washcloth instead of the ooky sponge, or that everything wasn't put back where I wanted it, but that's really off the point, isn't it?

One of the amusing things is when Lisa mistakes who is in charge. I have said before that sometimes she slips and calls me 'Mummy'. But I've realised that it's almost always when I am giving her directions, like when to brush her teeth, when to go to sleep, when to say 'please' and 'thank you' (which she normally never has a problem with). I have noticed that she seems to be very sensitive to what the right thing is-- something I tend to stress often. At six years old Lisa never has a problem with discerning the right thing-- she has four teachers in this house and propriety and decorum are top priorities round here. She has been taught to do the right thing because it's what's expected of the good people. She covers her nose when she sneezes or coughs. She says 'excuse me' if she burps. She says 'please' when she asks for something and 'thank you' when it's given to her. She puts both loo lids down. She closes doors after herself. She picks up whatever she drops. She carries her dish (at the times when she remembers) and collects the used forks and spoons from her place too. Mother says she is the most eager-to-please child there ever was.

I believe that Lisa does it out of love. She values what Jessy and I teach her and she is committed to doing what she believes we want her to, just because she believes it's how you should show a sister you admire that you love her. And we cherish her for that. Most surprising is that she's developing a sense of what to do before she is told-- she takes initiative, figures out what some situation calls for, and then tries to do what she thinks she should. I can't say she always gets it right-- but her heart is in the right place and you can't fault a child for that.

Long ago Mother taught this conundrum to me. When she was at U.Del a professor opened his mouth and said, 'You can't teach morality to a five-year-old.' The entire class erupted in disagreement, mentioning their own kids, nephews and nieces, smaller siblings, kids they had baby-sat for. So the professor gave them the test case:

Say there are two children, both about five years old. The first spies the cookie jar on top of the refrigerator and finds a chair, pushes it across the room, climbs up on it, then goes up on the counter and then to the top of the refrigerator, and takes out a cookie for himself. In so doing he knocks over the cookie jar and makes a huge mess. The second child sees his mother is tired and goes into the kitchen, gets a plate of milk and cookies for his mother, even brings a paper napkin, and in crossing the room to present it to his mother he trips over the footstool and makes a huge mess.

If you are to tell this story to a five-year-old he will always feel sorry for the one who wanted to present his mother with a surprise snack and will always recognise that the one sneaking the cookies was doing the wrong thing (otherwise the cookies would not have been on top of the refrigerator, which is one thing the kids recognise as a way to tell). This is a natural tendency in all children-- it would take a terribly vicious parent who would have taught his child, by that age, that whatever you can take for yourself is rightfully yours (as Joseph Kennedy once told his children, probably when they were older than five).

I told this to Lisa once and by the time I was done she was weeping for the 'poor little boy who was only trying to do something nice.' I actually had to explain to her that it was only a made-up story.

'Did his mommy make him clean it up?' she asked me.

'I don't think so,' I said. 'I think she was just happy that he was being so sweet.'

'I do too,' said Lisa. 'Where does he live?' she wondered.

I was ready to laugh-- but if course I couldn't. 'I don't know,' I said. 'Why?'

Lisa looked about herself with that little blush. 'I just thought we could bring him some cookies, to make him feel better.'

'And you want to bring him the cookies?'

She nodded.

I scooped her up in a hug then. 'I think we should go make some cookies first,' I said-- and off we went to do that.

I confess I let Mother set her straight on the conundrum story, but only after Lisa made up a tray of cookies and milk and a napkin and took it in to Mother in the parlour. And no, she didn't trip over the footstool. (I think she actually went in and pushed it well out of the way before she got the tray.) Mother was pretty impressed with Lisa's gesture. Of course she recognised it from the conundrum, though she didn't know I had told it to Lisa then, and when I told her about Lisa's reaction she was pretty impressed with Lisa's compassion herself.

Really I don't know why she should have been-- for it's clear Lisa gets it from her mother who, aside from being stunningly beautiful, impressively intelligent, and irreproachably virtuous, maybe the sweetest, most charitable woman in the known universe.


Bugs in a rug

Friday, 5 February 2010

Our parents are still away, of course, tending to my uncle in NJ who is improving and is due home tomorrow. We three girls have been getting on quite well actually. I know it can be taken wrong, but sometimes it's healthy to have events that make you have to fend for yourself a little. Oh, I do not mean that it should be someone's health in jeopardy. I only mean that, for example, my parents should not feel concerned if they have to leave us on our own.

Of course this means Jessy and me looking out after little Lisa. Lisa herself is totally thrilled with the arrangement-- especially since her 'silly' uncle is going to be better. For her it's all girls all the time, which makes her feel like one of the big girls. We have been toying with makeup, dancing to CDs and iTunes, playing piano and singing along, baking brownies, making vats of pasta, working out down stairs and sitting up watching 'Greek' reruns and 'iCarly' and basically doing whatever we're not supposed to be doing when Mother and Daddy are here.

Last night we were all in this room, Jessy on FaceBook with her laptop, Lisa drawing in a pad of paper on the floor in front of the fire, and me as usual sitting up in the bed, surrounded by blankets, tapping away on this. When it got to about 9.00 we realised Lisa had to be going to bed, but of course she didn't want to leave. She had got her bath early (well, she and Jessy had it together) and I really ought to have tucked her into her own bed, but then the little conniver came up with a plan. 'We should all sleep in here!' she announced, and immediately set to organising the bed. Within three minutes she had three or four of her own 'stufties' in here, my Cinnamon Bear and Jessy's rabbit, three pillows and then all the covers turned down. Jessy, of course, indulged her entirely, even to the point of getting into bed early, so that by 9.30 both of them were completely zeed out in my bed-- with scarcely any room for me, of course.

When I did turn in, about 11 or so, I drew the bed curtains to conserve the body heat, although I can't remember that ever being a problem with this bed when there were three of us in it. Lisa was right in the middle, not leaving much room for me on the far side but I squeezed right up against her, wrapped an arm round her, and all was well. But I knew she would be the first one up. Sure enough I was roused out of a nice deep sleep (and a really good dream) by someone whispering right beside me.

'Jesseeeeee! Jesseeeeee!'

I winced. 'What time is it? I asked wearily.

Lisa turned right round under my arm, her face about an inch and a half from mine. 'Janine!'

'That would be me,' I said without opening my eyes.

'I have to go potty.'

I winced again. 'I trust you will be able to take care of that in the proper place and not in the bed,' I said.

She nodded and then wriggled out the top of the covers and crawled off the foot of the bed. When she returned she had left the light on, which I reminded her about, but she said she would not be able to find the bed in the dark.

'Well you can't leave that on all night,' I said. 'Follow the sound of sleeping people.'

'Okay!' she said. She left, the bathroom light went dark, and she returned, crawling up between us and settling back in. I put an arm round her, but she turned and faced me. 'I love you, Janine,' she said softly.

I sighed. 'I love you too.'

'Am I a good little sister?'

I smiled-- still with my eyes closed-- and kissed her forehead, which was about an inch from my lips anyway. 'The best,' I said, and drew her in to snuggle under my neck. 'Go to sleep.'

'Okay,' she said.

When I woke in the morning she was still there, under my arm, curled up against my chest like a small child with her mother. I am not her mother, but at times like these it can be hard to tell.


02 February 2010

Emergent occasions

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

We got a phone call very early this morning that my uncle had had a heart attack and had been flown to Philadelphia for surgery. This immediately upset my father to the point of insisting that he drive up there straight away. Little JJ was not even out of bed (and he is an early riser) and Daddy and Mother were packing things and getting ready to go. I stood there stuffing a toasted muffin into my mouth whilst they scurried round with suitcases and so on.

Of course Mother would not let him go alone. They would be taking JJ with them, so that he could stay with our other uncle's family in southern New Jersey for a few days whilst Mother and Daddy went on to Philadelphia. We were fortunate to have had Roger here the last few days-- working on the new (old) Buick project with Daddy, and so they would have him and the dark-green car for the ride. But it meant that I would be left to see little Lisa off to school for the next few mornings, and to arrive late each day myself (as her school starts an hour after mine, so I will miss first and half of second period by the time I get there. But, it cannot be helped).

Before they left this morning we did get another phone call and the news that our uncle had probably not had a true heart attack but that he has significant arterial blockage and so will need some bypass surgery. Other than this (significant but manageable) problem he is doing well. Daddy was relieved. But still they would leave at 9.00.

Roger drove Jessy in so she would not be late today and then would return for Daddy and Mother and little JJ who was getting dressed though crankily. I made a breakfast for Lisa and helped her get dressed and drove her in myself, a few minutes late, in the Regal and then got myself over to the high school. Of course we get out earlier so I was able, with Jessy, to drive over there and pick up Lisa when she got done. As of right now we are three girls on our own in the castle for probably the rest of the week.

Our uncle is out of his surgery and doing well-- they expect him to be much improved by week's end when they will release him. I rang my aunt in southern New Jersey and got a few updates and got to talk with JJ too. He is having fun with his cousins and does not fully understand the serious issues of his visit there. This is probably best.

I spoke with Daddy too and though he is relieved he is still concerned. 'It could happen to any of us,' he said. 'You always think it'll be the other guy, but it could be you, you know.'

'But you are very healthy,' I told him, 'and you work out and walk and ride the bike. And you don't smoke.'

Our uncle has always smoked cigarettes. It is a source of concern through the whole family. 'Yeah, but I could be better. And they're saying it's not due to the cigarettes.'

'What else would it be due to?' I asked (yes, incorrect grammar and all).

'I don't know. I told him as soon as he gets better we're all starting a fitness routine.'

Daddy already has a fitness routine. As casual as he has always been about other things (diet, paying bills, wearing ironed clothes) he has always enjoyed just doing physical things like walking, running, riding stationary and two-wheeled bicycles and of course swimming. He and I have a little competition on the rowing machine down stairs, trying to improve our 2k times. I am down to about 9:17-- and, by the way, have lost about 2 lbs of holiday-season fat.

Our other uncle tends to be a bit more rigorous in his fitness than either of his elder brothers and we worry perhaps less about his health than anyone's. Tonight they are both at Gran's house farther up in New Jersey and one aunt stays with her husband in hospital and the other is minding four little kids at the farmhouse. All the signs look good and so I have relaxed my own concern and left it all to God. I think sometimes this is all we can do.

For supper Jessy and Lisa (meaning Jessy, with Lisa sitting on the counter asking questions and talking incessantly) made a frozen entree of roast beef with fried mashed potatoes left over from Gran's birthday dinner and cranberry sauce and (mostly cold) broccoli. I planned for tomorrow to have macaroni-and-cheese casserole with the leftover chicken in it. I think we will not starve soon.

Lisa did ask to sleep in with me tonight but as of now she is in Lisa's bed, probably asleep if I care to go look whilst Jessy bangs away on the computer on FaceBook and Twitter and wherever else she needs to broadcast her news to her friends. We made sure Lisa brushed her teeth early because we kind of figured she would end up like this. I will leave my door open on the gallery side anyway in case she comes looking for me at two AM.

Oh, and I wrote a note for the school saying I will be missing first period all week because of getting my little sister to school and of course the teacher and the guidance people were fine with that-- British literature? --my major? --are you kidding? There is another section of the same class during fifth and they asked if I wanted to just sit in on that and miss lunch, but I said no way. Anyway I have the textbook, like I haven't read all that stuff already. And I can write my paper from home.

So we will be all right for the short term. Thanks be to God.


22 January 2010

A welcome phone call

Friday 22 January 2010

My mobile rang in the car on the way home. 'Janine?' came a long-familiar voice.

I gasped. 'Shirley?'

It was my friend from HOH ringing from England. 'Hi hun!' she giggled.

'My God! You are phoning me! What on earth--?'

'I couldn't wait till FaceBook, love!' she squealed. 'Did you get your letter?'

'My--' Then I gasped.

'It's not what you think,' she said. 'But as soon as I got mine I rang them this afternoon to ask after you.'

'Me!' I was still in shock that she was ringing me from Norwich.

'They're not emailing it,' she said. 'They've posted them all. Yours will be a few days then. I hope I shan't spoil it by telling you--'

'Tell me!' By now Jessy was staring at me in the car.

'Well, love.... It's Pemb.'

I held my breath. Pembroke College. 'Honestly,' I said quietly, to be sure.

'Yes, love. I even checked-- we're in Foundress Court. The icky building, but it's where they put first-years, you know.'

I was shivering. 'I can't believe it....'

Shirley giggled. 'Was I wrong to ring you then?'

'No! Oh, no... love. I love it. I just....'

'I'm sorry it's not St John's,' she said, 'but it was our backup and they seem very eager. I did speak with the director a little about you....'

'Oh, Lord. What did he say?'

She giggled. 'Oh, plenty. And that we must do a duet at the piano, for the Michaelmas bop. He says it'll be expected of you. I'm afraid your father's reputation does precede you.' And she giggled again.

'So....' I drew a breath. 'We're really in.'

'Yes, love. We're really in.'

I shivered all over, right there in the car. I mean I felt like I was about to wet myself. 'We're in,' I whispered, and Jessy's eyes went wide. 'We're in.'

'I suggested they ring you, since you'll be getting your notice last of all,' Shirley said. 'Unless they've already rung your family today. It's eight here now; I reckon they're closed now.'

'Yes, of course,' I said. 'Well, look, love,' I said then, 'let me text you on FaceBook as soon as I get home. We're in the car.'

'The big green car?'

'Um... yes.'

'You must promise me a ride in that car, for when I come,' she said.

'That you may be assured of,' I smiled. 'And anything else you want. You are... a dear, sweet girl.' And I blotted my eye.

'I adore you, Janine. Oo, I can't wait till this spring!'

She is coming to visit over her spring break. We've already planned it. 'I can't either. Give your sister a hug for me.'

'And Jessy for me,' she said.

I reached over and caught Jessy's hand in the car. 'Absolutely.'

Of course there was an expected reaction at home, involving lots of squealing and cheering-- Daddy had got the call and already knew. 'Now comes the fun part,' he said-- meaning the sending of cheques for housing, postadmissions testing, books, tuition, and of course air fare-- but we will probably all go over in late August just to see me settled there. This is a dream come true for me and I cannot sit still even now.

The princess of Terncote is accepted at Cambridge. Eeek!


Girls Against Grobians Association

Friday, 15 January 2010

Our meeting was organised on very last-minute notice-- basically Jessy and I spoke to as many girls as we could, especially those whom we thought would be sympathetic to Sherry's situation. By the way, that was about every girl in the school, whether they're dating or not, whether they've ever dated or not, even if they've never been kissed or have done it all the time, because it's not the rule about Public Displays of Affection we're riled-up against, but the way Sherry (and I) got treated because of it.

And we invited everyone to our house-- our house, because it's got the only rec room we know of that can hold 25 girls for any kind of actual meeting. After school we were able to use someone's mom's minivan and we borrowed a bunch of folding chairs from church. We set them up in the rec room, round the long table that we usually use for a buffet. Mother prepared a side table of homemade cookies and fruit punch and soda with ice and paper cups and coloured napkins. People started arriving at about 6.45. By 7.15, thirty-one girls had showed up, including Jessy and me and the seven other girls of the club, who were sort of hosting it, so that's two dozen girls we didn't know would be even slightly interested.

Looking out over the room I realised we had a pretty good cross-section of the best people at school-- honour-roll girls, band girls, theatre girls, athlete girls, a couple of cheerleaders and even a few who are not known for great grades or great involvement but who are typically maligned for their looks or by their boyfriends or maybe just because they are not so stellar as students.

As president of the club I started it like we would usually start a regular meeting, and then we went off our formal agenda and gave a report on what had happened with Sherry, what had happened in Mr H--'s office when he called me down, and what had happened when Jessy and Paulette and Rita had brought flowers and a cupcake down to Sherry in the detention room after lunch. The girls were all impressed by that-- they had not all heard of it. In fact no one seemed anything but interested. I mean they were sitting at the edge of their chairs hearing what Sherry and I and Jessy had to say.

Before taking questions I made the loaded proposal that we girls-- 'young ladies' as I called us-- had both the right and the responsibility to do something, to say something, to request a change in the way the whole school, even the administration, treats us. I said that civility at the school is at an all-time low, that even the teachers do not show us the respect we deserve, and that the crime of getting unexpectedly kissed in the cafeteria is nothing compared to the crime of just wearing a skirt to school or using good manners and speaking English properly. At that half the girls in our rec room reacted with agreement. 'We all know the boys are guilty of it too,' I said, 'but it starts with the administration and faculty. We can expect a bunch of churlish imbeciles to treat a lady poorly. We should not have to put up with it from adults who should be setting a better example.'

The girls all agreed with this at once. Then someone asked, 'But what can we do about it? You know if we said anything, they'd just make light of it or brush it under the carpet.'

'We insist,' I said. 'We stand up to it and demand to be treated with respect. Look, we're not asking to be treated like goddesses. None of us is perfect. But we deserve to be treated like a little better than just air-breathing mammals with mammaries.'

They all looked up at me when I said that. One or two giggled a little. But they all knew what I meant.

Jessy said, 'Has anyone here ever been cursed at, or treated rudely, or like your feelings don't matter? By anyone at school?'

Hands went up. No one didn't raise her hand. I smiled round the room at everyone. 'So... wouldn't you like to do something about it?'

'How do we insist?' someone asked.

'We act like we deserve it. We behave like ladies. We dress properly. We speak properly. We treat other people with respect, even if they don't respect us. We... intimidate them.'

Girls all looked up at that. I honestly think they had never expected they had the power to do that. Maybe they just didn't read enough Jane Austen!

'Look,' I said, 'maybe most of you don't really know about me... and my sister, but we were raised to believe there is power in being a lady. No one can deny you that-- only you can deny it. If you act like you don't care how you're treated, expect to be treated badly, because you're letting people do it. But if you act like you expect to be treated like you deserve....' I smiled at everyone again. 'The most powerful thing in the world is a pleasant-looking young woman with good manners and half a brain.'

They were all silent as they contemplated that. Finally someone said, 'That sounds so old-fashioned.'

Other people giggled. 'Yes,' I said, 'it is.'

'And what's wrong with that?' Rita finally said. 'You know it's what we all want to be. Even if it's old-fashioned. Why is it bad?'

'It's not bad,' someone said.

'It sounds so... simple,' one girl said. 'Sugar and spice and everything nice.'

Girls laughed. I laughed too. 'Yes,' Jessy said, 'but that's exactly what it is.'

One girl whom we did not know well spoke up. 'Well, that's fine for you,' she said, looking at Jessy. 'You ARE sugar and spice and everything nice. You're disgusting.'

People laughed. 'Disgusting' is what some girls call other girls who are a little too appealing, too sweet, too cute. Jessy is like that--a little TOO perfect. She was blushing. 'She also doesn't date,' one girl pointed out.

Jessy and I looked up then. 'No,' Jessy said bravely, 'I don't.'

'Why not?' someone asked her.

'Because,' said my little sister, 'I haven't met anyone I want to date yet.'

'Picky, picky,' one girl teased, and people laughed.

'What's wrong with being picky?' Rita said, turning on that girl then. 'Is it better to settle for someone who's not as good as you'd like a guy to be?'

The room was silent. Girls thought about that. 'Well, it's only dating,' someone said.

'You could just be lonely,' someone else said.

'I'm not lonely,' Jessy said, defending herself. 'I have my friends, and my family, and I have all of you. I'm never lonely.'

'Yeah,' someone said, 'but we all have... needs.'

Girls giggled at that. Of course I knew what she meant by 'needs'.

'Yes,' I said,' we all have romantic and emotional needs. But all of that becomes so much more valuable when you wait till it's a little closer to perfect.'

'Waiting till marriage?' one girl teased, and people laughed.

I waited till they were all sort of looking back at me and then I said, 'And just what is wrong with that?'

The room went dead quiet. I wasn't blushing. I think that was when I realised just how much power I had. Or, have. 'So what is this,' one girl asked then. 'Virgins anonymous?'

I smiled at that. 'Not anonymous,' I said.

'Coming out of the closet?' someone else teased.

They all looked at me. I sat there with my ankles crossed and my skirt on my knees looking back at them. 'I hardly think it's any big secret. I mean, if you're a nice decent girl from a good family who isn't married... what else would you be?'

They were quiet then. Probably half the room was suddenly feeling a little guilty. The other half of the room was suddenly feeling very empowered.

'I wouldn't have it any other way,' said Rita. 'You know, till I met Janine I had never really thought of it. Then she told me about Henry....' She and I smiled at each other then. 'What was it your stepmother said?'

I nodded at her. 'If he's willing to put a ring on your finger, show up at church, promise in front of all his friends, family, and God to love you for ever, all before he gets to sample the goods, he must really love and respect you.'

People actually sighed at that. (I am not making this up!)

'That's what I want,' Becky said.

'That's what I want too,' Josie said.

'Me too,' someone else said. By this time some of them were sniffling.

I remember a story my stepmother told me about when she had her own apartment at Delaware and she invited a new friend over for tea. She used to play classical music CDs and had a cute old-fashioned sofa and wing chairs and posters of Rococo art on the walls of her little parlour, and she was pouring out for her guest and the girl suddenly broke out into tears and said Mother was just like the way all girls wanted to be when they were about eight years old. And it made her cry, because Mother was still like that, and everyone else had changed. And she said she wanted to be able to get back to that, but she couldn't any more. And Mother told her, 'You can if you truly want to.' And that day her new friend literally changed her life, because Mother was pouring out tea for her in her little parlour.

I am not sure if that kind of epiphany actually occurred here at Terncote, but I like to think it's at least started. Jessy, Rita and I were able to get most of the girls to make a kind of pledge to each other and to themselves that we will all try harder to act more ladylike and to treat each other, and everyone else, with more respect. Everyone in the room promised to not ignore each other in the halls, but rather to say 'Good morning' or 'Hello' whenever we see each other. We promised to tell our friends how much we care for them and to hug each other regularly, even in school-- and so daring the administration to forbid us from showing friendly affection. One girl asked if we had to do the 'lady kiss' --that almost-kiss that the chicks in 'Mean Girls' do so insincerely. I said, 'Only if it's really sincere.'

At once most of the girls said that they wanted to, that it would seem really cool. 'That will really blow them away,' one girl said, and she is right-- it will.

'And we don't tolerate that stupid little "friend hug" that guys insist on,' I said, 'when it's really just an opportunity for guys to look like they can get any number of girls round the middle. It's a form of possession, and they're not entitled to possess us or even look like the do.'

Everyone had something to say about that. Some girls related their experiences with feeling possessed and we all agreed we don't like it.

Later I said, 'We can act as though we don't need rude people-- including guys,' I said. 'I mean, the one thing that will make them all want us more is if we act like we don't need them.'

Girls laughed. They all knew about that one. But it's not playing hard-to-get. It's only behaving with self-confidence and respect.

We also talked about clothes and manners and how to wear a skirt and go up the stairs and how to wear heels and walk in them, and Rita and Jessy both demonstrated how to walk and stand and sit properly and even as they were all fascinated by this-- since I'm pretty sure no-one's ever taught them before-- someone made a joke about going to 'charm school'. And we all laughed. But we did make a pact-- all thirty-three of us-- that we will dress better from now on and behave properly as ladies just to see how it will change how we are treated.

Jessy wanted to make Mondays and Thursdays 'legs days', meaning that we should all wear dresses or skirts, just to resurrect the convention as a form of ladylike behaviour. But actually not everyone has enough wardrobe for that, so we'll meet again after Valentines' to see if we can actually establish that, especially for the warmer weather.

Of course we club girls still wear our club skirts and blue tops on Thursdays. From now on I think the other girls will understand it better.

One of the girls (I do know their names but am not mentioning them all here) stopped me on the way out and said, 'Now I see where you get your reputation.'

I got a little red but asked her, 'What reputation is that?'

'Well,' she said, 'you're... a princess.'

I blushed. 'I am not.'

She laughed. 'But you are, Janine, you are. Everyone thinks so. It's not bad, honest. I think they all secretly admire you.'

I went beet-red then. 'I don't want to be admired!'

'Then why did you invite everyone to your beautiful house and show us how to sit with ankles crossed?'

I shrugged. I felt embarrassed. Was this all about ME after all? 'I just think it's a good thing when young women act properly,' I said. 'It makes it easier for all of us.'

'But, the thing is, it's not that easy. It's hard to act like you deserve respect.'

'Yes it is,' I said.

'It's a challenge,' she said.

I nodded. 'Yes it is.'

She leaned in and gave me a hug and kissed my cheek. 'Thank you,' she whispered. 'I promise we'll be friends.'

I hugged her back straight away. 'I promise too.'


12 January 2010

The crime of a kiss

Tuesday 12 January 2010

I first learned about it when I was summoned to the assistant principal's office. Here in the US the assistant principals (we have two at this school) are responsible for maintaining attendance and discipline. As you might figure the worst-behaved people are most familiar with them. I had never been called to see them before today. A student arrived in my 4th-period maths class bearing a pass and I got up amidst the teasing and jeering feeling like I was about to be guillotined in the square.

I stepped into the office and Mr H-- gestured for me to sit down. I sat, crossed my ankles, arranged the skirt in my lap, and exhaled to calm my breathing. If I felt awkward at least Mr H-- felt more so. He looked about himself for a long moment and then stared straight at me. 'Janine,' he said to me.

'Yes, Sir.'

'Do you have any idea what this is about?'

I shook my head. 'None at all, Sir.'

He looked oddly at me then, as though he had expected a simple No. I suppose I was long enough at HOH (in England) that know how to answer a proper question from a senior school administrator. So he went on to tell me that Sherry, one of my friends (who is in our girls' club) was 'caught' (his word) kissing a boy in the school cafeteria, which is against about three or four school rules (including, if you can believe, the health code) and is facing disciplinary action as soon as Mr H-- can figure out exactly what happened and, as he admitted, who the boy is.

I stared straight at him the whole time he told me this, not out of respect nor anything else but in total disbelief. I know that kissing in the school is against policy. We've discussed what's known as 'PDA' (public displays of affection) in our club meetings. I am very strongly against it, as anyone who knows me can verify. For one thing, it makes other people feel awkward. Just because you can get a date doesn't mean you should ever flaunt in front of other people. Then of course it's form of possession, as though the guy is saying, 'Look what I get to have, and kiss, in front of you, and you don't.' And of course a girl will feel the same thing about a guy. And for another thing it's never really a good kiss-- it's a polite kiss, or more importantly a gesture, being shown to other people, not intended to be particularly pleasant. If you want really good kissing, go somewhere where you're both more comfortable (like a Halloween party in an angel costume-- okay, that's somewhere else in this blog). And, for another, it's disruptive-- it makes people pay attention, not much better than a car wreck on the highway. Also, I guess, from the school's point of view, they don't want to be put in the VERY awkward position of having to determine where a simple 'see you later' kiss ends and where 'making out' begins, so they have to ban all of it-- which I am totally in support of. So I guess the next issue is, if Sherry is in our club-- and had participated in that discussion-- why one of 'us' (if I may say 'us') was 'caught' kissing a boy in the cafeteria.

'And so,' Mr H-- was saying, 'I asked you down here because I have a little problem with getting a straight answer out of her.' He looked straight at me then. 'Who is Sherry dating right now?'

I looked straight back at him. 'Sir--?'

'It's a simple question. You're friends with Sherry-- you must know whom she's dating. What's his name?'

'Sir, I really don't think--'

'Just an answer. Do you know who her current boyfriend is?'

I went red. I did know. I have met him often. He came to our Christmas party. He's been helping to organise our Valentines' Day dance. He hangs out with the other two boyfriends who date girls in our club at the moment. 'Sir,' I said, 'if you will forgive me-- I think that's a question for Sherry, and not--'

'I'm asking you, right now.' There was no awkwardness left in him now. 'Do you think you'd like to answer, or--?'

I waited. He did not finish. I swallowed and said bravely, 'Or--?'

He let out a long sigh. 'Oh, so I get it,' he said. By now the respect was gone too. 'It's not just a girls' club, then. It's a little gang you've got here. One for all and all for one-- is that it? All go down together? --something like that.'

'Sir, I don't think that--'

'You'll START thinking, young lady, and you'll start now. I've got your little lady-friend in the next room' (he meant the detainment room where they put people for the period, or the day, or after-school detention) 'for insubordination at the moment, for refusing to co-operate with administration, but it can very easily go to more than that. So start using your pretty little head right now. Do I have to bring every member of your little skirt-wearing gang in here to find out one little piece of information? How many is that? --a dozen girls? And will I be able to get a straight answer out of any one of them?'

I stared straight at him. I mean-- I was not going to back down, not now, not at all. 'Sir, I haven't said I won't co-operate.'

'I'll be the one to define co-operation here, Janine.'

'Yes, Sir,' I said, ignoring that. 'You should know, Sir, that we girls-- in our club, I mean-- don't condone "PDA". We've talked about it. We all agree it's pretty crass and tasteless-- not to mention against school policy.'

He made a smirk then. 'If what you say is true, if "PDA" is against your... principles, then why was Sherry caught doing this?'

I shrugged. 'I am as surprised by it as you are,' I said. He didn't seem to believe that-- he definitely didn't care. 'Sir, if I may ask something-- If Sherry was kissing this guy in the cafeteria... do you know which of them started it?'

'Started it? It's a public display of affection. It takes two. What difference does it make who started it?'

'Well, Sir, if you were to ask a girl, I would say it makes a lot of difference.' That seemed to stump him and it gave me a chance for another breath. 'I mean, Sir, not to be too tedious about it, but it's entirely possible that this guy just came up and kissed her.'

'From what I hear she didn't seem to repel him very much.'

I made a smile. 'If it were a good kiss, I don't think it would repel me either, Sir. And even so, you could hardly accuse me of initiating it. After all, Sir, some of the best kisses are by surprise-- and any guy knows that.'

Mr H-- sat back in his chair, made a cathedral of his hands and pressed his fingertips together over and over, staring at me as though his stare could make me feel intimidated. I was far from feeling intimidated. He had got my ire up and I wasn't going to back down. What does Lizzy Bennet say in 'Pride and Prejudice'? --'I always rise to any attempt to intimidate me.' So we sat there staring at each other for a long moment. Fortunately Mr H-- is not a bad-looking man of his age-- he has the ex-Marine build and close-cut hair and a pleasant, if serious-looking face. Unfortunately (probably because of being an ex-Marine) he is virtually impossible to out-confidence. 'You're very clever, aren't you?' he asked me.

I cocked my head a little at that-- maybe I should not have looked like I would flinch. 'Sir--?'

'You bring up these philosophies of yours-- very confidently, very smoothly. You, and your holier-than-thou clique, with your slogans and carwashes and charities, and it's really just all for one and one for all, isn't it? Not much better than a gang-- maybe a better-looking gang, but a gang-- as I suspected. Not much difference at all.'

'Lots of difference,' I said.

'You have gang colours,' he said, 'and initiations and creeds and even a form of territory. Gangs are illegal in this school, Janine.'

'We are not a gang, Sir. For one, we are not self-serving. We are not violent. We don't rebel against authority. And you allow other non-school clubs to wear "colours" here. You have non-school clubs here who wear team colours-- that's not considered a gang. You have clubs here that wear "Jesus" t-shirts, clubs that wear "Darwin" t-shirts, paintballers, Boy Scouts, the black-t-shirt groups and cliques-- Sir, you have a club at this school who wear colours and get together only to smoke pot and play Warcraft.'

'Do we?' he wondered.

'And you cannot compare that to a bunch of decent girls who practise good manners and chastity and honesty and raise money to feed poor people-- and, I might add, Sir, help hold up the reputation of this school, especially in behaviour and even in grades.'

'"Especially in behaviour",' he said back at me. 'And by that, you mean co-operating with school administrators in upholding school policy?'

I drew a breath and nodded. 'In everything good, Sir.'

He smiled smugly at me. '"In everything good",' he repeated. 'Who is your friend Sherry kissing these days?'

I sighed. Had he not heard anything I'd just said? 'Sir,' I said, speaking quickly and firmly now, 'I think what I've been trying to say is that it's very possible the guy who kissed her in the cafeteria and the guy she's currently dating are not the same guy.'

This completely threw him. His eyes went suddenly wide as if he had just been caught by an ambush. Then he smiled smugly at me. 'So, your little friend is a bit of a player, then?'

'A player, Sir?' I had never heard a school administrator say something so disrespectful about someone I knew.

'Two boys at once? Is that one of your club's core values?'

'Sir, I hardly think--'

'I'm still wondering if you think at all. Any of you.' He leaned forward to his desk. 'I'll write you up for insubordination right now, and we'll see about resolving the issue with your little player friend in the other room--'

'Sir?' I asked, suddenly getting an idea, 'will you allow me the benefit of the doubt? May I go in and ask her myself? Confidentially, of course. If it's any news that will... absolve her, I will tell you everything I know. If not....'

He nodded. 'If not, you'll plead the fifth... and take this.'

I nodded seriously, seeing the discipline referral form on his desk. 'Yes, Sir.'

He rose at once. So did I. 'You have two minutes. This isn't legal strategy. You can tell her I'll call every last member of your little gang in here if I don't get an answer out of her. I'll start with your little sister.'

I met him in the eye. 'Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.'

There was another student in the detention room, a boy in a black hoodie with his head down on the desk who, apparently, had been sent down for the day for failing to dress for PE. I stepped right past him and went to Sherry in the corner. She leaned down on her arm, with her long reddish hair spilled out all over the desk, her knees together, her ankles crossed, in a cute black-and-grey speckled wool skirt and black tights and an off-white sweater. She didn't see me at first. I crouched down beside her-- in a skirt and tights-- so that our heads were less than a foot apart. She was surprised to see me but I told her what was going on at once.

'He says,' I said quietly, 'that he'll pull us all in here, one-by-one, and interrogate us till he finds out. Whoever doesn't tell will get the same thing you get.'

She made a face. 'That's unfair,' she said sadly.

I nodded. 'I know, but what would be worse is not showing you the respect you deserve. I mean, it's your life-- he shouldn't interrogate us about it, like it's a matter of public record.'

'If we're talking about respect,' Sherry said then, 'then I shouldn't let any of you go down for anything I've done.'

I shrugged. 'That doesn't matter, if it's important to you.'

'Are you going to make that decision for the rest of us? --all the others?'

'We do love you,' I said quietly. 'All for one.'

Sherry shook her head. 'Then I guess I'd better tell you,' she said. In a near-whisper she explained that her boyfriend's best friend ('Mike') had often been teasing her by saying that he has a crush on her, that she looks hot (she does), that he would go out with her if she were not dating his best friend, and so on. And yesterday in the cafeteria 'Mike' came up to her and got her aside for some kind of 'private conversation'-- the topic of which I will NOT go into here, but it was very disrespectful towards a guy he has been claiming is so much his best friend that he wouldn't disrespect him by following his heart, or whatever such bile boys like to spew out as though some dumb chick will believe it. And Sherry had told 'Mike' she would not change her mind and said she thought it was better they did not have any such 'private conversations' any more. And so, I am sure mainly because 'Mike' felt it was appropriate (though we will all agree here that it wasn't), he needed to give her a 'goodbye and good luck kiss', right in the corner of the cafeteria, behind the big square column, where no one (except the teacher on cafeteria duty) would see.

'And I can't say anything, because [boyfriend] will get upset,' she told me, 'and there's nothing going on, there never was anything going on, and there never was anything going to be going on, but you know how guys are-- I mean sometimes they just don't accept that.'

'So it's a simple case of a guy unable to resist his best friend's girlfriend,' I said.

'Please don't tell [boyfriend],' she said. 'I swear I will, Janine, when the time is right, when I should. I just don't think--'

'"What's right to be done can never be done too soon",' I quoted. (Too much Jane Austen in one day, I know.) 'The right time is the very next time you see him.'

She blotted her eye. 'I know. You're right. I will.'

I stood up. 'Well, let me go tell Mr H-- that, so we can get you out of here.'

Mr H-- probably hearing his name in my regular voice then-- appeared in the doorway. 'No,' Sherry said, catching my hand. 'I wouldn't say a word-- It would get back to him and I couldn't bear that.'

I nodded. 'It means you're going to have this lunch detention,' I said. 'For like three days this week.'

She nodded. 'I'll take the lunch detention.' She looked past me at Mr H-- then. 'Mr H--, it's not her fault. It's mine. I'll take the lunch detentions.'

'Is that your plea, counsellor?' he asked me.

I stood up straight before him. The boy in the black hoodie looked up. The other assistant principal appeared in the door behind Mr H--. And another boy was just signing in from having been sent out of his class, and he looked up too. In front of this audience I said, 'Yes, Sir.'

He beckoned me with his finger and I followed him out. Behind me, Sherry put her head down on the desk again. The detention room is like jail. For someone like Sherry-- for anyone of our club, for anyone at all, really, it must be humiliating. I do not know how I would ever choose to be here. But somehow I just did.

I explained to Mr H-- that the boy had kissed Sherry without her permission, and that because of the circumstances she felt guiltier than she should, and she was choosing the punishment rather than giving up his name to keep the whole thing quiet and just put it behind her somehow. 'She's not a "player",' I said, 'as you called her, Sir. She's actually being very noble about it.'

'Noble? And now you know the guy, and you're not giving him up either?'

I stood my ground. 'No, Sir.'

He nodded, looked down at the discipline-referral form on his desk, and picked it up to read it over. 'All right,' he said past me to our other AP. 'She gets the three LDs, and the counsellor here-- I'll decide on her later.'

The other AP nodded and went out. My heart pounded. I did not want lunch detention nor anything else. 'Thank you, Sir,' I said, because I did not know what else to say.

'Thank me for what? I haven't decided on you yet.'

I nodded. 'Yes, Sir. But-- thank you for considering it.'

He made that disrespectful smirk again. 'Get out of here,' he said, and called over me towards his assistant who would write a pass for me to return to class.

I have thought a lot about it all afternoon and still don't know what the sin is in 'all for one and one for all.' If Sherry is wrong, it's because as a lady she allowed herself to be kissed by her boyfriend's best friend in school. And she really is being noble by taking the punishment to protect someone she loves and someone he cares for as a best friend in turn. I have to respect that. But she is being mistrusted and mistreated-- I probably am too-- and Mr H--, who should be a role model of fairness and noble behaviour, is being obstinate and arbitrary.

I texted everyone in our group this afternoon and not one of us, if we are asked, will be giving over 'Mike''s name, even if it means we are all sitting in lunch detention-- and not being allowed to talk or even communicate with each other-- for the rest of the week.

I have not told my parents, but I know what they will say. 'Do what you believe is right, Janine.' -- and I have done, and will do. Thanks be to God.