Authors: Lauren Frankel
“I'm okay.” I waved one hand to reassure them.
“You sure like to make an entrance.”
Great-Aunt Gina rubbed her forehead. “Callie, I'm making eggs. Can you eat an egg?”
An egg? I thought about it. Yes, I could eat an egg.
Great-Aunt Gina brought me a glass of juice and a handful of pills. She held the glass to my lips. “Can you take a sip?”
I sipped, I ate the eggs, and then I asked for more. When I asked Grandpa what month it was, he told me October.
By the time Rebecca came home they'd been keeping me company for hours, and I felt relaxed, alive, actually laughing. Grandpa kept saying hilariously stupid things. He said he was thinking of becoming a nurse. Or a professional darts player. “But playing darts is thirsty work,” he said. “You have to drink beer the whole way through.”
“How can you hit the target if you're drunk?” my great-aunt asked.
“You'd be surprised. Sometimes it actually helps.”
Rebecca opened the door and saw us cracking up on the sofa. She looked surprised at first, like finding aliens in the house. She didn't take off her coat; she was in such a rush to get to us. Then she kissed each of our cheeks, one by one.
When I was a lot better, Rebecca told me about the billboard. She'd put a picture of my face up on the road near my school. She said she'd tried calling the parents of the kids on my list, but they hadn't wanted to listen to the truth about what happened. They didn't believe her and they had
all kinds of excuses. “I guess I can understand that,” she said. “I was the same about you.” She said that some of the parents had even threatened to sue us. They sent her letters about defamation, and that was when Rebecca decided to get the billboard. She wanted them to remember, and to think about who they were, and she was showing them they couldn't intimidate us again.
My principal sent out an e-mail while I was still in the hospital, after the first articles in the newspapers started to appear.
Dear Pembury High Families,
I'm writing today to inform and reassure you about a recent event that has affected our community. It may be upsetting or confusing to many of our students, so your support and understanding is invaluable at this time.
This morning we learned that one of our students is recovering from serious self-inflicted injuries. We were stunned and disturbed by this news, as well as by the student's allegation that a number of our students were involved in harming her. The police have since confirmed that the student acted alone, however, we are investigating whether unreported acts of bullying may have occurred prior to the incident.
Bullying, hazing, or harassment in any form, physical or verbal, is prohibited at Pembury High in concordance with state and federal laws, and will not be tolerated under any circumstances. If you or your child is concerned about any act of intimidation, I'd urge you to contact me immediately. At Pembury High, we pride ourselves on working hard to create a safe and inclusive learning environment for all our students. We've been involved with the anti-bullying league for over five
years, and our own student group against bullying has been a growing success. On the rare occasions when harassment does occur, we respond swiftly and vigorously, and encourage all our students to report any incidents they have witnessed.
Counselors and teachers will be available to support and reassure our students in the coming weeks, and we ask for your patience and understanding as our community gets through this difficult time.
“What happened with the investigation?” I asked.
“You're going to be disappointed.”
Rebecca put her hand on my shoulder and then closed the laptop. “I wish I could tell you that everything's all better. That your school really cracked down and your classmates became nicer. But I'm not going to lie to youâchange is rarely that fast.”
It turned out that no one was suspended. Or arrested, for that matter. The kids who joined the Babyshits group had to sign a contract about their online behavior. I never found out if Dallas was elected class president. Or if Ella kept swimming for our high-school team. Sometimes I wondered if they'd gone on with their lives like I'd never existed. Would they ever change? Would anyone be different? If they called some kid Meatball could he turn around and say, “Murderers”? And would that remind everyone what might happen? Or would they laugh and laugh like it was the greatest joke? I didn't know. Maybe I never would.
After we moved out of Pembury I started paying more attention, and I noticed something about bullying that hardly anyone mentions.
It's not just teenagers. Or bad little kids. It's everywhere, in everything, it's adults as much as us. On TV. In the movies. Politicians. Comedians. The guy pushed off his feet will always get the biggest laugh. When a singer gets called a hag the talent judge is “honest,” and when a congressman calls the president a liar the whole world wants to see. It's drama. It's insults. It's enjoying humiliation. The adults pile in to comment on the girl who twerks on TV.
It was pathetic. It was gross. I feel bad for her mom. She turned out to be such a joke. I bet she wishes she was dead
. I had once wished that I was dead, but now I wondered if I could even blame them. If it was everywhere in everything, how could they resist?
I resisted. I changed. I remembered my humiliation. And I found words that made more sense when I thought about myself. I was real, kind, living, alive. I was the daughter of two people who had been those words, too. They had been breathing, red-blooded, not perfect people. And their stories changed my own as I carried them inside.
There was one other story I carried as I found new ways to be different, to fight against the tide of doing the same as everyone else. It wasn't that Robyn was perfect, or even perfectly different, but I missed who we'd been together. I'd liked the people we were starting to be. We'd been connected, wanting to know each other, understanding and not judging. We'd shared stories about our parents that nobody else knew. I remembered how we'd sat on the floor in the library, and she'd wrapped her arms around me, her warm hair against my face smelling like fruit.
It feels like this
, she said, and her body was like my shell. And when we imagined holding hands in our bedrooms, we wanted it so much. She said she thought about me thousands of times, and now I thought about her, too: when my alarm clock went off, when I brushed my teeth, when I opened my window and looked at the sky.
We were friends back then, and maybe someday, I hoped, again.
From: [email protected]
Date: Fri, Jan 1 2010, 17:48:19
So I'll be 100% honest. I didn't think I'd EVER write you because 1) what you did to me was EVIL 2) I didn't trust you. Everyone said you were a psychopath. My mom thought you might try blackmailing us, and when a reporter called our house she practically burst his eardrum “We DON'T know Callie McKenzie!!!” & she was right, huh? All those times we talked, I still don't know who I was talking to. Was it you or who you wanted to be or just a really bad liar? My friend says people like you do it to get you under their power, and if that's what you were doing, congratulations, I guess it worked. I felt all the things you wanted me toâI really fell for itâand then I felt like such an asshole for being so dumb. I don't know how I could've known, but when I found out I wanted a hatchet. *Chop-chop-chop* until you told me the truth.
So let's start with that first day I met you. A day when my life felt extremely shitty. Inside I was Endless Doom but I was trying to be Miss Perky. There I was acting all sunny, humming along with the chorus, asking you about pit bulls like there was nothing else on my mind. And that Xmas song was actually so sad. “Frosty the Snowman.” About this kid who meets a great friend who ends up melting away. It made me think about my dad and I was like ROBYN, KEEP IT TOGETHER!!! Then you told me about this pit bull, and all of a sudden my fakeness popped. Was that story true? About the pit bull saving those people? I don't know why
it matters now, but I kind of feel like it does. Anyway you were nice to me that day. You pulled me out of the quicksand and then we were talking together online and you know all the rest.
I don't know how much of what you wrote was just lies and stories. I read through all our old mssgs and there's a lot I want to believe. I know you lied about the ketchup, but did you lie about how they watched you, after your parents died, and you felt like you couldn't be you? Was it a lie when you gave me Papa? When you said you dreamed we slept under a tree? And what about when you told me that you
it, too? All the stuff you wrote me after makes me think you felt
. But by then I was in a new school, and I was trying to be someone different. I decided what happened between us only happened in my mind. How could I love someone I didn't even know?
So here's the thing, when you started e-mailing me about Babyshits and everything, I swore I wouldn't change my mind or let myself feel anything for you. I thought the old Robyn was dead and the old Callie was never real, and how did I know you weren't tricking me again? But then I heard about what you'd done and I wished I'd tried to help you. I was sorry you got so lonely and I never wrote you back. I know how it feels when you want to die, and what it's like when everyone hates you. I didn't want to chop you with a hatchet or find out you had drowned. I talked to my mom and we decided it was too risky for me to ever write you. But here I am, risking it, wondering when you'll write back to me. Wondering if it could be different this time if we can figure out how to be real.
I want to start with Lizzy Kremer, my agent at David Higham Associates, whose early belief and long-enduring patience has sustained me for many years. Also, to Harriet Moore, Alice Howe, and the team at David Highamâthanks! I'm also massively grateful to Allison Hunter and Kim Witherspoon at Inkwell Management for seeing where the book needed to go and giving me the expert guidance to get it there.
I couldn't have asked for a better editor than Christine Kopprasch at Crown. Her sympathetic ear, boundless enthusiasm, and awe-inspiring professionalism make her a force to be reckoned with. Not to mention that her e-mails never fail to cheer me up. I'm so thrilled to have worked with her, as well as the whole team at Crown.
I've been lucky to have some excellent feedback from readers who I also count as friends: Megan Bradbury, Emily Midorikawa, and Gayle O'Brien all read early drafts of this book and have inspired me, motivated me, and acted as role models. My sister, Jane Frankel, gave me amazing insight into Callie, and was willing to listen to me ramble longdistance about plot points on numerous occasions. Most of all, I want to thank my mother, Leslie Frankel, for her invaluable feedback on later
drafts. Not only is she a great mother, but she's also a serious reader, and she was always willing to offer her unvarnished opinion.
My friends have played a big role in my life as well as in my writing, and I wish I could mention everyone who's given me support and inspiration. Special thanks go to: Dana D'Auria, my best friend since '88, a girl who's happy to fly 3,000 miles just to pop out of my laundry room as a surprise; Stephanie Litos, whose advice on the High Line kept me going for longer than she imagines; and Laura Fowles, a girl who's still always up for a game of “make me laugh.”
Also, big thanks and love to all my family: Bob and Deborah Frankel and all the Frankels, the Kramers, the Seldens, and the Howards. I couldn't have done it without you.
Finally, to my husband Johnâthe funniest, most fun, and kindest guy. The one who's been there every step of the way, with otherworldly patience and love. I couldn't have dreamed you up. You're the best, for real.
received her BA in English from Vassar College. She has worked with young people, as both an educator and a librarian, in the US and the UK. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she won the David Higham Award. Born in Connecticut, she now lives with her family in England.