Well, my fears of being compared to my sister and found wanting in the looks department were never realized. Instead, I became one among many anonymous faces in the halls. No one saw me. I might as well have been invisible.
“Don’t be dramatic,” Peggy rolled her eyes at me when I told her this. “You’re not invisible. You’re one of the smart ones. Teachers are always calling on you.”
“That’s teachers. No one else notices me. Well, except when they bump into me in the halls, and then it’s just an annoyed look as if it was my fault that they didn’t see that I was walking in their path.”
“It’s not just you,” Peggy insisted. “It’s all freshmen. We’re like the lowest of the low. We haven’t had a chance to really do anything yet.”
“What’s there to do?” I sighed, and flopped back on the lower bunk of my bed.
Peggy didn’t say anything at first, just looked away from me. “What?” I demanded.
“Well….I thought…um…I thought we should join one of the after school clubs,” she said, hesitantly.
I laughed. “Not sports club! I am not like Lydia. And not dance club either. I am done with ballet. Lydia might have stuck with it, but I don’t want to torture myself any longer.”
“No,” Peggy agreed. She hadn’t liked our forced ballet classes any more than I did. “I was thinking more like doing study club or the politics club.”
“Nerd central?” I gave her a look. She blushed. We’d both inherited her mother’s brains. I wasn’t ashamed of being smart, but I didn’t think I wanted to be in a club that was like a neon sign flashing above my head proclaiming me one of the school’s brains. Peggy might secretly aspire to become valedictorian, but I didn’t.
“What about the music club?” I asked. I thought it would be fun to hang out with the musical crowd. I could picture myself playing guitar in one the many stairwells at our school. I’d be surrounded by other musical types who’d either jam with me or bob their heads in time with my music.
“We don’t play instruments,” Peggy reminded me, interrupting my fantasy.
“What else is there?” I asked.
“Stop it Sasha. Not everything academic or computer-ish makes you a nerd. And maybe I want to do those things?”
She said it like a question causing me to feel bad for teasing my cousin. I sat up. “Pegs, if you want to do one of those things go ahead. I’m just teasing. But really, if we’re trying to be noticed, we need to think about how we are getting noticed. I don’t mind doing those academic things, but that’s not what I want to be known for.”
“What else is there?” I asked.
“Drama,” she started, looking at me. Everyone acknowledged that I was a bit of a drama queen. But that didn’t mean I had a flare for acting. In fact, the thought of going up in front of people scared me to death.
“I get stage fright,” I said. Peggy nodded. “Me, too. And I can’t sing or dance,” she added. So drama club was out.
“There’s newspaper,” she said.
“Journalism?” I thought about it.
“It’s sort of academic, but not as nerdy as the study club,” Peggy said. “You’d get to write what you want. And you’d get to go to things around school to report on them, but you don’t have to participate in any of them.”
“I like to write,” I said. Peggy agreed that she did, too. So we decided to join the newspaper club.
Here’s the funny thing. I joined the paper to get to know people and maybe make people in the school notice me, but just the opposite happened.
The paper had always had this column called “In the Halls”, which was an anonymous column reporting the crazy things people do around the school. It was supposed to be a humorous column and no one’s names were ever mentioned, but usually everyone knew who the column was referring to.
The author of “In the Halls” was always kept secret and usually everyone speculated on who it was. Some thought that our advisor, Mrs. K, wrote it, but most knew it was a student. Mrs. K offered the job to any of us who attended the first club meeting. We had to audition for the job by turning in a story. She’d pick the best of the stories and that person would be the new author.
I decided to try for the job, even though I didn’t think she’d pick a first year writer. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that she had run my story in our first issue. In private, Mrs. K told me that I would be a beat writer for academics, but I was to submit an “In the Halls” column for each issue.
“Just keep it fun and light,” Mrs. K told me. “This is supposed to be humorous, not scandalous. And no matter what, don’t tell anyone that you’re the author. This column only works if no one knows. It’s part of the appeal.”
I agreed to keep the secret, and discovered that the “In the Halls” column was perfect for me. I got to watch what everyone else around me did and then I got to choose the most ridiculous to put into my articles. It was fun. But then, as I got better at observing, I started to notice other things going on around me. Things that weren’t funny at all.
Like the football guy who stood at the bottom of the stairwell and looked up as girls went up the stairs. He stationed himself in such a way as to look up the skirts and shorts of any girl dumb enough to wear something revealing. As if that wasn’t pathetic enough (for the girls and for the football guy), I also caught him using his phone to take pictures.
I tried to put this in my “In the Halls” column for the next issue, but Mrs. K wouldn’t run it.
“Sasha,” she admonished me after she cut it, “this isn’t funny. This is serious. You should have reported this as soon as you saw it.”
“I am reporting it,” I argued. “I’m putting it here. Maybe people reading this will get a clue. Girls should pay attention to what they wear, and guys like this guy should grow up, get a life, and stop being such a perv.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Mrs. K said sternly. “You need to tell the principal.”
I agreed to report what I had seen, and I did the next morning. I was still mad that Mrs. K hadn’t put it in my column, though. And what was worse, nothing was done about it even after I reported it. Because it was just me telling the principal about it, he couldn’t do anything to the boy. “You don’t have proof,” the principal said.
And I didn’t, but I knew that if I had written about it in my column, people would have done something about the problem.
So I decided that I was going to start a blog that reported what really happened in the halls of our school. I’d do it anonymously, of course. I didn’t want to get in trouble, and I didn’t want to open myself up to being ridiculed or picked on.
The only people who knew about my blog were Peggy and our friend Ian. I told Peggy because I tell her pretty much everything. She agreed that someone needed to expose some of the things going on at our school. She had joined the politics club as well as newspaper, and her new mission in life was to make the school a better place.
Ian I told for a different reason. Ian was a computer genius. He’d started hanging around Peggy and me right after we’d joined the paper. He was in that club, too; he wrote a computer and video game feature that often was over the heads of average students.
Ian was like a little puppy, following us around, sitting with us even when he wasn’t invited. At first we found him sort of pathetic and felt sorry for him. We let him join us because he seemed to have no one else. And then he got annoying, but we could find no way to get rid of him. But then we sort of accepted him, defending him against those who would pick on him in his utter cluelessness.
I knew when I came up with the blog idea that I’d have to get Ian’s help to make it truly anonymous and untraceable to me.
“No one, not even the FBI, can know about this Ian. Seriously. You’ll have to do whatever it is you do to keep people from hacking your stuff. And don’t act like you can’t hack into most computers…even the FBI. I know you can,” I said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ian grinned. “I’m a gamer, not a hacker.”
“Sure. So can you do what I need?” I asked.
“No problem. I can have your blog built and all the security in place in like a week. But you have to get the type of computer I tell you to. And all the software. Last I checked, you don’t have a personal computer.”
“I can get one,” I said with more confidence than I felt. I crossed my fingers and hoped my dads would be susceptible to my wants this time. They rarely indulged me, saying that I needed to earn what I got.
The machine Ian suggested I get was a laptop. I figured that might make it easier for me to convince my dads that I should have it. I’d have to make them believe that I needed the portability.
“What’s wrong with the family computer?” Dad asked when I broached the subject with him over breakfast.
“Nothing,” I said. “But, now that I’m on the newspaper staff, it would be nice to bring a laptop to events and stuff so that I can write my articles right when they happen.”
“Couldn’t you just write them on paper and then transcribe them at home?”
“I could, but that’s sort of old fashioned. If I want to be a reporter someday, I need to learn how to do things the way the pros do.”
That got Dad’s interest. He was always going on about choosing what I wanted to do with my life like Lydia had. She was going to study ballet in Bridgeport. I always figured soccer would be her ticket to college…Dad had, too…but she shocked us all by choosing a dance school.
“Mom made me apply,” she told Dad. “But I wanted to,” she assured him when he started to protest. “It’s a great school. I’d get a good education, and I’d be working with the best dancers and choreographers in the country.”
“I thought you liked soccer,” Dad said.
“I do. I love it,” Lydia said. “But I’m really good at ballet. You always said I was. Mr. Millieux at the Bridgeport Academy of Performing arts said I was a natural. He thought I could be great if I got more training.”
Dad didn’t protest much about Lydia’s choice. She was a talented dancer, musician and athlete. I guess he realized that she was going to be able to use all of her abilities at this performing arts academy.
Daddy was harder to convince than Dad that I needed a new laptop. Like Dad, his first response was, “There is nothing wrong with the computer we have.” But then he added that having a personal computer would make me vulnerable to online predators.
“Daddy!” I whined when he started going off on how girls like me were always getting lured in by pedophiles using chat and Simsbook and other social media.
“I know how to be safe on the computer,” I insisted. “I’m a 4.0 student. That means I know how to do quite a lot of things. I’m not some vapid girl looking for a date. I want the laptop to write my newspaper articles,” I insisted, not really lying. “And I’ll also use it for school and homework.”
In the end, I had to agree not to have a Simsbook account or any other social media subscription to get Daddy to even consider getting the laptop. It wasn’t that much of a hardship. Who would be my friend on Simsbook anyway? Peggy, Lydia and Ian would not make an impressive friends list.
To get Dad to agree, I had to earn half of the money for the laptop myself. Dad bought it for me, but I would have to pay him back. That meant I had to get a part-time job. Again, I didn’t really mind having to work for the computer. I got a job at the bookstore, which suited me perfectly. I was responsible for shelving new books, watching for shop lifters, and keeping the store’s shelves tidy during business hours. I liked it because it gave me a lot of time to think and plan out the stories I was going to put on my blog as well as those I would pen for the paper.
My blog was almost an instant success. I might not have a Simsbook account myself, but Ian and Peggy told me that it had been shared with most of the school. My exposure of the boy who’d been taking pictures up girls’ skirts, got him expelled and nearly arrested, too. I couldn’t be sorry. The blurred out picture I had taken of him taking pictures showed enough from someone to recognize him. And, when they did some checking on his computer, they found all of his pictures. And worse. Looking up skirts wasn’t the only sort of voyeurism he had done. The only thing that prevented the boy from going to jail, I found out from listening in on one of Daddy’s conversations with Dad, was that he was a minor and had done nothing more than keep the pictures on his computer. If that boy had published them, things would have been different.
I felt a momentary qualm about publishing my blog. Could I be arrested if it was known who had written it?
Of course everyone wanted to know. My blog was one of the most talked about things at school. All of us on the newspaper were questioned and so was Mrs. K. I was questioned the most, of course, because I was the one who had reported the kid to the principal in the first place. I had wanted to write about him in the paper.
“It wasn’t me,” I lied. “I wish it had been. I told you about him and tried to get you to do something about it.” I turned the principal’s questions back on him, putting him on the defensive for not listening to me in the first place.
“I guess you got the proof you needed,” I added. “But I didn’t write that blog.”
I didn’t like lying straight out like I was, but I had to do it. The whole time I was sweating, thinking that I wasn’t as convincing as I hoped to be. However, I shouldn’t have worried. They couldn’t prove it was me. They didn’t find anything on my computer thanks to Ian’s fancy security programming. I volunteered to let them look on it knowing that they wouldn’t find anything.
Eventually all of the speculation died down and everyone pretty much forgot that the blog ever happened. I didn’t write another one until nearly the end of the school year. The title of the second blog was: “Bulimia at Twinbrook High.”
Lydia Fields, the most popular senior at our school, my sister, and the girl I looked up to the most, was shown in a blurred out photo puking up her lunch with her finger down her throat. She had been so focused on what she was doing to herself that she hadn’t heard me come in or notice when I pushed the door open, thinking that I should help whoever was in the stall.
She didn’t hear me ask, “Are you ok? Should I get someb…” I didn’t even finish my sentence because I was so surprised to see my sister. And then I was appalled at what she was doing. I didn’t even think about it. I used my phone to snap a hasty picture.
I backed out of the stall and turned to the bank of sinks against the far wall. I made a show of washing my hands until Lydia finally emerged from her stall. I thought I was going to show her the picture I had taken right then, confront her about what I’d seen her doing. But she looked so sick and shaky. I thought I might have been mistaken.
“Sasha?” she asked, startled to see me.
“Lydia!” I said, revealing my own shock at her appearance. “Are you ok? Are you sick?”
“Oh,” she looked away. “I’m fine. I think something in the lunch disagreed with me. Violently,” she chuckled weakly. “It was probably the chicken nuggets. What are those made out of anyway?”
“It could have been the dressing,” I said. “I don’t always think it’s fresh.”
“Maybe.” Lydia came over and splashed water on her face.
“Do you think you should call your mom to take you home?” I asked.
“No. I’ll be fine now. It was just bad dressing or something.”
But it wasn’t food poisoning. I knew it even then. I started watching Lydia more closely. I watched to see if she did that sort of thing all the time. I did not like what I discovered.
Lydia wasn’t the only girl who threw up at school. I became a bathroom stalker, which I admit is disgusting and a bit morbid. I was mostly trying to catch Lydia in the act again so that I could confront her about it, but I ended up catching others. And the worst part was that the girls who did this sort of thing most were the ones who were in the dance club like Lydia.
I did a little recon work at the dance studio that Lydia and the others trained at regularly. I offered to pick Lydia up from dance classes and got there early.
I made excuses to use the bathroom at the studio whenever I showed up. I hoped to hear something or see something that would give me more information about this forced vomiting I had witnessed.
Then, while I was waiting for Lydia, that I overheard two mothers talking about their daughters and the rest of the girls who were still practicing.
“Brittney looks like she’s putting on weight,” one of the women said. “Her ankles are a little swollen. Madam will surely notice that.”
“My Clara always has thin ankles,” the other woman said. “She eats no salt.”
“Neither does my daughter. But, I heard that Ann Smith cut soda because Madam said her stomach looked like a beer belly.” Both women laughed. “She was a little round.” The two women continued to critique most of the girls on the floor. I sat their fuming at their nastiness. I was about to turn around and tell them what I thought of them when I heard them mention Lydia.
“That Lydia Fields always looks graceful,” the one said. “I heard that she’s going to Bridgeport Performing Arts Academy.”
“She’ll have to keep up her looks there,” the other said. “It’s not just about performance but also about appearance.”
“Do you think she’s naturally that thin?”
“Probably not. Most girls have to work for it. She probably eats like a bird or uses the two finger diet.” Both ladies laughed again.
That night I wrote my blog exposing my sister’s diet and implicating the pressures put on her by the dance classes. I did some research and found that bulimia is a common illness in the dance world. I didn’t want my sister to continue harming herself in such a way, so I hit publish on my blog before I could change my mind. I just hoped that when she saw it, she’d forgive me.
I knew that Lydia would figure out that I was the mysterious blogger revealing secrets about the school. It didn’t matter that I had blurred the picture and named no names. I had revealed enough so that everyone would know the dance studio and could connect the dots to the girls who were regularly barfing in school.
I tried to assuage my guilt at exposing my own sister by linking all sorts of useful help information for people who have bulimia. I published the number of a nutrition and health center near Twinbrook that helped people with the disorder develop healthy eating habits. I just hoped that when Lydia saw it, she’d try to get help.
The whole thing blew up in my face, of course. Lydia knew it was me and when Dad was yelling at her for making herself throw up, she revealed my secret.
“Why don’t you get mad at Sasha for spying on me and invading my privacy? You let her get away with everything! She wrote all that awful stuff.”
Dad looked at me, his eyes promising that he’d deal with me later. I wisely said nothing as Lydia continued on.
“I can stop. I don’t do it that often. I had a dance recital that week. My costume was really tight and I’d eaten a donut in my 1stperiod.”
“I saw you do it three more times,” I said, ruining any chance I had of weaseling out of getting punished for my blog. But, I knew that getting help for my sister was more important.
“See she’s spying on me!” Lydia wailed, but Dad told her that he’d deal with me later. Right now he was more concerned with Lydia’s health.
“It’s dangerous, making yourself throw up. It can stop your heart. You could die,” Dad said, gravely. He would know. As a fireman, he was often first on the scene along with the cops whenever people got hurt.
“I don’t do it that much!” Lydia insisted, but Dad wouldn’t listen. He told her that he would make an appointment with the nutrition specialists.
“What you don’t understand, young lady, is that being a professional dancer requires that you stay healthy. It means you have to provide your body with the right fuel to perform its best. Throwing up food like donuts doesn’t help you with nutrition or fuel. And if you don’t figure this out now, you will end up stopping your heart someday. I do not want to be the one who has to answer that 911 call!”
Lydia ran upstairs to her room, crying. I stayed where I was.
“You shouldn’t have invaded your sister’s privacy,” Dad said to me quietly.
“You wrote that other blog, too?”
Daddy, who hadn’t interfered with Dad’s handling Lydia’s problem, finally spoke. “Sasha. You could have been arrested for harassment or for violating that boy’s rights.”
“I was just reporting what happens. I didn’t name names.”
“You took his picture,” Daddy looked at me sternly. “And you published it. You can’t do that.”
“He was doing something wrong!”
“You should have reported it to the authorities.”
“I did! The principal said I needed proof. So I got it. You saw what that boy was doing. They found other pictures on his computer. He was a sexual predator, Daddy. You said it yourself, it was just a matter of time before he had done more than take pictures of girls.”
“I don’t deny that the boy needed to be caught,” Daddy said, “but the way you caught him was the wrong way. You didn’t alert the police. You should have let the proper authorities know of your suspicions.”
I thought that even the police wouldn’t have done anything because I lacked evidence. I’m sure they would have ignored the situation, but I wisely didn’t say that out loud. It took all my willpower to just look at my feet and stay silent as Daddy told me he was taking my computer away. He told me I could write one more blog before I lost it, though.
My third blog revealed who I was. I had to expose myself to my school, explain that I had been spying and reporting what happened around me. I had to apologize for invading people’s privacy, and promise that I wouldn’t write any more anonymous blogs.
It was humiliating. People finally noticed me at school, but now I was looked at like I was a leper. Everyone but Peggy and Ian avoided me.
“Watch out,” people would say loud enough for me to hear, “if you’re not careful, Sasha Fields will tell everyone all of your dirty little secrets.”
No one seemed to understand that I had just exposed injustices at the school. It wasn’t like I had revealed real secrets like who cheated on the recent calculus test, or which cheerleader stuffed her bra, and which football player was secretly gay. I would never have revealed those types of secrets. I didn’t care about those stupid things.
I was bemoaning this very complaint to Peggy while we were doing homework one afternoon when she said, “You know, you never promised not to write your blog. You just promised not to write it anonymously.”
“But now that everyone knows I write it, I could get in trouble.”
“Actually, you can’t. You’re protected under the 1stamendment as long as you aren’t causing harm to anyone.”
“But Daddy says I could have been arrested for taking that picture of that pervert. He says I violated his privacy.”
“You did. So, don’t put anymore pictures in your blog. Just write articles. Make sure you check your facts and do things above board, perfectly legal.”
“You mean do some real investigative reporting?”
So that’s what I did. Daddy and Dad wouldn’t give me back my laptop, but I was able to publish my blog from the library. I made sure that anything I included on it was absolutely true and that I maintained my journalistic integrity.
When my next blog appeared, revealing the inequities in the PE department and how the coaches grade girls and boys differently, I was ready for the fallout. I armed myself with knowledge of the 1stamendment laws, journalistic ethics, and publishing regulations.
And it was a good thing, too. I was called into the principal’s office immediately. This time, Daddy was also called in both as my father and as a police officer. I felt really bad that he had to be bothered, and I knew that I’d be in big trouble. But, I was thankful that I had done my research and had only presented the facts as I had seen them. When I gave my opinion, it was obviously my opinion.
“If you don’t take the blog down, we’ll have to take measures,” the principal said.
“You can’t force me to take the blog down. Under the first amendment, I have the right to publish what I want as long as it isn’t libelous.”
“You have implicated the school.”
“Yes, but I have only reported facts that anyone can check up on. I did not implicate anyone specifically. I also reported without bias unless I was giving my opinion.”
In the end nothing happened to me. I was almost suspended, but I hadn’t violated any school policies and I had done nothing illegal. And I was shocked when Daddy supported me in my right to free speech.
“I am not happy that she published this blog, Mr. Obermiller, but Sasha is correct that she has done nothing wrong,” Daddy told the principal.
When we got home, however, I was still in trouble. “Sasha, you agreed not to write that blog anymore,” Daddy admonished me.
“No, I didn’t. I just agreed to apologize for writing those exposés and for doing it anonymously.”
“You are still exposing people!” he said. “How is this blog any different?”
“I’m exposing what’s happening at my school. Not people. I didn’t do anything wrong. You said so yourself. I made sure to check on the legality of what I was writing.”
Finally, after ranting a bit about knowing the difference between right and wrong despite what is legal or illegal, Daddy managed to calm down. That’s when Dad spoke up for the first time. He’d come home from work to find us both arguing.
“It’s true that you did do anything illegal, but are you sure you want to keep taking this path? People generally are unhappy when their secrets are exposed.”
“Dad,” I said matter-of-factly, “it is the right thing to do. These sorts of things shouldn’t be happening.”
Dad nodded. I think he was actually proud of me, though he didn’t say anything. He just pulled Daddy out of the room.
“She didn’t do anything wrong. That principal will just have to fix the problem she exposed.”
Both of them were still concerned with my blog, but they eventually gave me back my computer. I kept writing the blog. I didn’t always write exposés. Sometimes I just wrote observations or posed questions. My blog developed quite a following.
Peggy used my blog to get elected for school president our senior year. I did an interview with her asking real questions and getting real answers instead of the normal “I promise to get open campus” speeches that the others did. The other candidates wanted me to interview them, too, so I did.
“But why!?” Peggy whined about it. “If they read everyone else’s answers, then someone else might win!”
“I have to be unbiased, Pegs. I can’t just pick who I want to win. This way it’s a fair race, not a popularity contest.”
“Ethics, ethics,” Peggy muttered. “I should never have helped you learn about journalistic ethics.”
“I think you’ll win anyway,” Ian said. He was secretly in love with Peggy. I’d known for years that the reason he always hung around us was because of her. He was still like a puppy, always fawning for attention from Peggy who seemed oblivious to his interest.
“But I could lose! I’m not a cheerleader or one of the in-crowd. Even if I give the best answers, it will still be a popularity contest.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” I said.
And I had a lot to say about it. Before I did my interviews, I made sure my blog observed that students had the real power in schools…or at least their parents did. If students made enough noise about something, it could be changed. I used the analogy of ants and grasshoppers. Enough ants can overpower a grasshopper if they all work together. Then I mentioned it was the students’ responsibility to choose student leaders who can really get the job done, not just a pretty figurehead. I admonished my readers to read my candidate interviews carefully and pick wisely, proving we deserved to make changes in the school.
Peggy won by a pretty good margin. I knew she would and I didn’t have to do anything to help her except make people think about their reasons for voting.
It’s funny. Peggy and I were invisible when we first came to Twinbrook High School. In the end she became president of the student body and I had a blog read by pretty much the whole school. Everyone knew our names. They recognized us when we walked down the halls.
Neither one of us was as pretty as Lydia or other girls at our school, but we’d both made an impact.