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.


09 January 2010

I learn a new word

Friday, 9 January 2010

It snowed over the night, but it was not very much and in fact the house wasn't even as chilly as I expected. I had a soothing warm shower in the morning and stood at my mirror doing my face wash for a while before Lisa came in. She was in her nightgown, one of the ones Mother made, like a long version of an 18th-century shift but in flannel, white with little red-and-gold roses scattered about it. She padded in with socks on her feet and leaned back against the wainscot beside the basin where I daubed at my face. I had my long white towel draped round my shoulders and the regular-sized one binding up my hair, but it was not cold enough to worry about more than that even though the basin is right next to the window. 'Hey,' she said.

'Hey,' I said.

'How was your shower?'

'Hot,' I said. 'Only way to have it on a cold morning.'

She smiled at me, leaning back against the wall and folding and refolding her hands in front of herself. 'You don't look cold,' she said.

I shrugged. 'I'm not.'

She leaned there, going on with her hands like that and swivelling a little, back and forth, on her heels. I realised she was looking me over, but I've always known she likes to look me over. When you're six and you have teenaged sisters, you're going to be fascinated by them. Jessy and I know we're her role models. When you're sixteen or eighteen and your six-year-old sister looks up to you, it's a pretty high honour.

Then again, having a six-year-old sister does have its awkward moments. She spent a long few minutes just looking at me-- as I said I wasn't dressed-- and then said, 'When can I get fuzz on my cootie?'

I moved the eyeliner pencil away before I laughed. 'What?!'

She got a little red, swivelling on her heels like that, and looked down-- at about my hip, maybe lower. 'I just wondered,' she said.

'Wondered about your... what was it--?' I looked down at her.

'Cootie,' she said quietly. 'That's what the boys call it.'

I scowled then. 'What boys?'

She got redder. 'Well, Richard and his friends call it that. They say it's what girls have.'

I nodded. 'We do, but I don't think Richard and his friends have any business talking about it like that in front of you.'

She shrugged then. 'Richard says his mother doesn't have fuzz on hers.'

I went red then. 'Good Lord!' I said. 'How on earth would he know?'

'He says he saw it,' Lisa said.

'Good Lord!' I put down the makeup bag on the back of the basin, wrapped the towel round my shoulders and strode round her and out to my room.

'Are you mad?' she asked, following me.

'No. Not at you, anyway. I just think this Richard character is a little unnecessarily rakish for my little sister to be fraternising with.'

'He's just a boy,' she said. 'They're all like that.'

'Remind me to tell Mother to say something to the school then,' I said, and took out my clothes to get dressed.

'Jessy says you get fuzz when you get your buppies,' Lisa said.

I smiled a little then. 'Yes, a little before, sometimes.'

'Will I get it when I'm eleven?'

I smiled at her. 'Maybe. Maybe a little after that.'

'Will I get it when I'm twelve?'

I nodded. 'I would think so.'

She nodded too. 'Okay,' she said, and she turned to go then.

'Out of curiosity,' I said, and waited for her to turn back, 'why are you wondering about it?'

Lisa got a little red then. For whatever she doesn't know, she makes up for it by blushing really well. She's studied in all the ladylike graces already-- thanks to Mother, me, and Jessy, as well as Gran. I have no doubt that when she's twelve she will be the most dastardly little charmer in whatever school she's in then. 'I don't know....' She stood swivelling on her heels again-- she does that when she's shy or embarrassed. 'Will I be as pretty as Jessy is?'

I smiled and went to her, bent down, and kissed her head. 'You already are,' I said.

'No I'm not. She's pretty and has pretty hair and pretty eyes and pretty buppies.'

'And fuzz on her cootie?' I giggled.

Lisa giggled too. 'Yes.'

I bent over and kissed her again. When I do that, especially naked, she looks upwards and I know what she sees. But she never says much about me. It's well carried in the family that Lisa takes after Jessy more than me anyway-- they are two of a kind, separated by ten years, both playful, witty, cuddly and with a tendency to pamper themselves. Jessy may be her role model, but I am almost a second mother. I'm the one she comes in to snuggle with when she's having a bad dream or feeling too chilly, not Jessy, and I'm the one she asks the important questions to. And as I said, it's a pretty high honour, especially when I think that I am actually closer to Mother (my stepmother, Lisa's mummy) in age than I am to her child.

I remember one time when Mother was still our nanny, a beautiful young woman (actually a teenager) living with us as an au pair, and I happened to wander in to her room and came upon her just putting on her bra. And I stood there and stared at her as though she were a goddess. We always thought she was pretty, and I had seen her in swimsuits (almost always a bikini unless she was swimming laps) plenty of times, but suddenly I was eight and she was gorgeous and I felt terrifically envious. And I started asking her about things, when she got her first period and how she knew it was coming and how she felt when parts of her started developing, and she never flinched and never got embarrassed and never refused to answer anything I asked. She realised then I was her role model and she considered it a very high honour. And so when I think about that, I realise that the way I pay back my terrific role model is to be the best one I can be for her child.

'Well,' I said, 'you are already very pretty, and your mother is pretty, and your sister Jessy is pretty, and I know you will only get prettier and prettier as you grow up. So I want you to remember that, and don't worry too much about when everything will happen to you. God provides in His own time, you know.'

She nodded. 'I know. But what if it never comes?'

'What if what never comes?'

'My... you know. Fuzz on my cootie.'

'Oh, it will come, sweetie.'

'You have it and Jessy has it,' she said-- and now she looked down at me as though to remind herself-- but Richard's mother doesn't. And I'm pretty sure she's old enough.'

I got red then. 'Well, all girls get it, but some girls just shave it off.'

'Shave it? Like with a razor?'

I nodded.

'Isn't that sharp?'

'Very sharp,' I said.

'Ewww!' And she covered her crutch, in the nightgown, with both hands then. 'What if I don't want it off?'

I laughed. 'Then don't shave it,' I said simply.

She nodded then. 'I won't!'

There it is-- common sense from the mouths of babes. 'There's a good girl,' I said, and turned to go back and step into my panties.

'I want to be pretty like you are,' she said softly then.

I stood up, shimmying into the panties, and smiled over at her. 'You will be, sweetie.'

She giggled a little and scampered off.

On the way down to the car Jessy asked me, 'Did she come into your room again last night?'

'No,' I said. 'Just after my shower.'

'She adores you,' Jessy told me. 'She's lucky to have you.'

'And you,' I said.

Jessy shrugged. She's heard that before. 'She learns more from you.'

'I learn from her too. Like, this morning, she taught me a new word,' I said, and when we got into the car I told her about it.


07 January 2010

The bed-bug

Thursday morning, 7 January 2010

'Janiiiiine!' came the urgent whisper.

I squeezed my eyes shut and turned onto my back in the bed. As I turned back onto my side I found the strength to open them, and there she was in her shin-length flannel nightgown, hair mussed, pink fluffy bunny held up to her chest, staring straight at me in the near-blackness of the room, two feet away. Instantly my eyes went wide-open. 'What's wrong?' I asked, worried.

'I'm collllld!'

I made half a face. 'You're cold?'

She nodded, urgently, as though this were an issue of the gravest importance.

'What's wrong with your bed? Go get yourself tucked in.'

'I can't! The covers are all twisted.'

I sighed and rolled onto my back again, turning my head to see the clock. It glowed, faintly-- 2.10 a.m. I sighed more and turned back to her, lifting the covers to let her in. She seemed to brighten immediately and snuggled in on her side in front of me as I shifted backwards a little to the other pillow. Then I pulled over the flannel sheet, cotton comforter, heavy bedspread and thick microfleece blanket, tucking it all in round her knees and elbows and leaving my arm round her hips, actually holding her lower hip to keep her close to me. It was actually very cosy, with her soft flannel bottom nestled into my lap and her head right under my chin.

She sighed, happy to be warm and to have got her way, and I batted some of her hair aside and got myself comfortable again against the colder pillow. I let out another sigh, the deep sigh of getting comfortable again, and she mimicked me, like that game we sometimes play-- one of us will exhale like that and the other will copy it, and it evolves into this teasing contest of holding our breath and seeing who has to inhale or exhale first, and there are plenty of tricks to fool the other one into breathing in too much or not holding onto enough air long enough, you know. But I would not play with her tonight. In another minute-- I think-- we were asleep.



This time I didn't move. I just opened my eyes.

Lisa lay facing me, her nose about eight inches from my own. 'What's that music?'

It was the Brandenburg No.6 playing quietly on my iPod which goes off as my alarm-- not the first movement... so that meant it was barely 6.05. I sighed. 'Are you still here?'

She made a cute little smile at me. 'My room is still cold,' she whispered.

'Were you up?'

'No.' She held the bunny up under her chin, like she does, right between us. I kissed the bunny's face and peeled back the covers behind myself to back out, leaving her in the warm middle of the bed. With Bach still playing I pulled out some black underwear and a black t-shirt and went round to my bathroom.

Halfway through my shower she tapped lightly on the door and then opened it a bit. 'Can I come in?' she called, in a scarcely-louder version of the same urgent whisper she uses in the middle of the night.

'You don't have to get up,' I told her from behind the curtain.

'I need the potty!' she said, half giggling, and went round the bath to it. When she was done she knocked on the vinyl shower curtain. 'When are you coming out?'

'When I'm done, of course. Go get yourself back into the bed and stay warm.'

'Okay!' she said happily, for she knew we both expected her to get back into MY bed.

She was asleep when I came out. I pulled on the black leggings and the oversize oatmeal sweater I had left on the chair for last night, and Jessy came in, in her own charcoal-grey leggings and heavy blue-and-black chequered flannie, as I was pulling up my socks. 'Hey. What's happened to--'

'Shhh,' I said, and pointed. Jessy saw the little lump under all my covers and nodded. 'Two a.m.,' I told her.

Jessy smiled. 'Are you just going to let her stay there?' she whispered.

I shrugged. 'Why not?'

'Well, at least she got warm. Her door was open. All hers are on the floor.'

I turned off the iPod to let her sleep and Jessy and I went down stairs. I suppose I should have done homework last night, but there was Epiphany Mass and the vicar's party afterwards and we had all got home quite late. I would have to get myself out of this predicament somehow.

In the kitchen there was a lovely little fire going. Mother took a kettle off the fire and poured out for tea. I informed her that Lisa had come into my bed last night so she'd know where to find her, and Jessy and I stood at the counter to share a toasted English muffin with strawberry jam with our tea. Daddy came down the side stairs and appeared in the doorway. 'Do you have anything important to do today?' he wondered.

I looked over at him. 'Well, school,' I said.

Jessy looked up. 'I have a test in history,' she said.

Daddy pointed at her. 'You'll go for that,' he said, and then he turned and pointed at me, like to tease. 'And you?'

I recognised my opportunity. 'Nothing I can't make up,' I said at once. 'Although I didn't get much sleep last night, seeing as the bed-bug came into my bed at about two o'clock.'

He smiled. 'Did she? Well, you can sleep in the car. David and Kurt are coming round to put down vocals and I could use you on the board... probably in the booth too.'

I nodded and set the books bag down in a chair. So! --I wouldn't need that today! 'But of course. When do we go?'

'We'll drop this one on the way out, and then leave. Roger's driving us. It might not be all day. It's supposed to snow tonight.'

Jessy scowled at me. 'I have a test in history, and you have this?'

I shrugged. 'You wouldn't want to have to take it tomorrow.'

'We might not even have school tomorrow,' she said.

'And then you'd have to take it Monday.'

'It won't be a big snow,' Daddy said, and went out to the side stairs again.

Just as we were gathering in the hall, little Lisa came hurrying down the front stairs. Without a word she ran up and threw her arms round me. I hugged her back. 'Thank you for keeping me warm,' she said sweetly.

I bent down and kissed her. 'You kept me warm too!'

She giggled. 'Can I keep you warm tonight too?'

'I think what we will do is get your bed all in order, and all your covers tucked-in, and then you and that silly rabbit will be just fine together.'

She smiled at me. 'Okay,' she said, and leaned up and kissed me too. 'I love you.'

'And I love you, good angel.'

'Snug as two bugs in a rug,' Jessy said to me as we descended outside to the car with Daddy. 'She really is a good little snuggler.'

I smiled. 'Like you were,' I reminded her.

'Hey! Still am.'

'I'm sure.'


06 January 2010

Four degrees of separation

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

I have to admit I get a lot of friend requests on FaceBook. And I turn most of them down. For those who don't know what this means, it's that all FaceBook accounts are private by default. No one can see more than the first page and your most basic information (name and where you are from) without your approval. If a FaceBook member wants to chat with you, share pics with you, learn who your other friends are, and get other benefits of knowing you in the online world, he or she sends you a confidential request and you are able to approve the contact with the person or not. (AOL's Bebo tries to be like this, but that's another issue-- don't get me started on that).

I just think that I don't need to enter into a whole bunch of online friendships with people I scarcely know, or, in some cases, don't know at all. For example, one of my friend's boyfriend became my friend on FaceBook-- I know the guy at school, I do talk with him in the real world, you know. But since I approved him on FaceBook somehow his cousin in Ohio became my FaceBook friend and then some guy him my friend's boyfriend's cousin's band became my friend on FaceBook too. I mean-- he doesn't even play the kind of music I like (sounds like barf in a bowl to me). Why do I have to correspond with this person?

Two years ago when I was in England I first got a FaceBook account, and I made a rule for myself that if I did not know the person myself, personally, I would deny the FaceBook friendship request. Then someone came up to me at school and told me her boyfriend said I was a snob for turning down a friend request from his roommie and so he (the boyfriend) thought maybe they (he and my friend) shouldn't hang out with me any more. This threatened to blow up into a full-scale social war till I said, 'Can I just approve him so we can move on?' And it did sort of calm things, although that's not really how I really wanted it to go, you know. And then of course the roommie (who was 18) sent me (who was 16 then) some inappropriate photos of himself and passed my then email address on to some friends of his (also at least 18) who did the same thing, till I had to change my email address and block him, and his friend, and anyone else that I had accepted on FaceBook whom I didn't really know... and, of course, shortly after this began my friend broke up with her boyfriend for an unrelated reason anyway. So I had my friend's ex-boyfriend, his roommie, and their friends, all sending sweet little Janine the peacemaker all these messages and emails and photos and friend requests for other sites-- and all incidentally very interested in finding out my current dating status as well (I was dating Henry then, but I digress). All this... and I had never met the guy (the boyfriend's roommie) face-to-face, and he shows me his private parts in photos and then hates my guts for being such a priss because I reject him. What a piece of work is a man!

So... I do not share my FaceBook site with people on AOL. AOL is my chance to chat online with no strings attached. I am 'me' on AOL, same as anywhere, only I do not connect AOL to my FaceBook page which has my photos and family photos and family news and favourite music and current updates in my life, and it names names and places and dates, and so on and so on. My FaceBook page is appropriate-- there's nothing naughty on it at all-- it just represents more of my real-world life than my AOL/Bebo page does, and it's for my friends, not the strangers (by comparison) I meet on AOL. If you are one of my AOL friends I'll apologise if that offends our disappoints you, but I won't change my policy on it... and please don't expect to be made the exception.

The other day I received a very disturbing IM from someone on AOL who referred to my FaceBook page. It seems he has been trolling FaceBook recently for any pics that look like me to see if he can identify me, and he finally found me on someone else's FaceBook page and was soon able to identify all my friends on the same page. And then-- you guessed it-- he sent friendship requests to everyone he could find who was somehow connected to mine. And so my friend's friend's classmate approved the friend request from this quasi-stalker, obviously without knowing he had sent friend requests to several other people too. And so, I got an IM on AOL from someone who knows my last name and where I live and what my dad does and what my stepmother looks like (from sites from other people who are friends with me). And he said in the IM, 'Hey Janine! Nice bikini!' --and referred to the photo on the friend's friend's site. The photo is of me at the beach in NJ with my friend, and her friend, and so ended up on my friend's friend's site, tagged with all our names as they are on my friend's site. (As far as I know it's the only one of me she has there. One is enough.)

A lot of people would think this is harmless. Of course I am not ashamed of being on this girl's site-- I am actually on a LOT of people's sites whom I do not know, because my friends have tagged me on their (my friends') photos and their friends get the same photos, and maybe THEIR friends get the same photos too. I am on a lot of bands' sites for being their legitimate FaceBook friend, and as I have said before I have been recognised at some band's shows from being seen on the band's FaceBook page. It is the price you pay on FaceBook for having your face out there. But it's clear that now some guy from Texas who's on AOL now knows how to find me on FaceBook-- because of of these simpleminded twits on FaceBook approved a 25-year-old online stalker, probably because he seemed like a cute older guy (and he's not really that cute, but...).

All right, I am naive and innocent, but I am not stupid. I deleted his friend requests on Bebo and FaceBook without a response, blocked his IMs on AOL and untagged myself (took my name off the photos) on some other people's sites. Already some people have said I am harsh and self-centred and conceited (mostly people on FaceBook, and in places where I can't delete the comments) because of it. So I'm saying this in an open letter to AOL/FaceBook users who like me enough to read my blog. If I don't know you, please don't keep my face and name on your site like we're friends. Not all FaceBook contacts are true 'friends', just acquaintances, and mostly not even true acquaintances since we've never actually met (nor even exchanged IMs or messages on FaceBook). I'm a face to which you know the name, and that's all. I could as well be Taylor Swift or Demi Lovato for all you know of me, really. Don't obligate me like a friend by saying the famous Janine is on your page.

And that goes for AOL Buddy Lists too!