Josephine Cameron ’14
Because my parents were free spirits who were unwaveringly supportive of my creative clothing choices, I spent the last year of my elementary school career as an outcast. On a daily basis I could be found dressing up ‘like a French poet’ or ‘like a goth,’ and in a time where little girls all wore Hardtail yoga pants and Ugg boots, my choice to wear black lipstick and berets was not looked upon pleasantly. When I made the transition into sixth grade, things only got worse for me. I became enrolled in an all-girls private school where we donned uniforms and couldn’t dye our hair, and while girls often complained, I always felt that none of them suffered quite as intensely as I did. While I remained as much an individual as I could by refusing to hem my skirt, safety pinning patches to my rolling backpack, and carrying around a binder embellished with a large decal of Joey Ramone’s face, it wasn’t enough. I could feel myself sinking into the teenage mold and my resentment for “the establishment” was beginning to grow.
It was around this dismal time that I created my Myspace, and things really began to change. Originally created as a means of communicating with people in my class, things quickly began to spiral as I started to add anybody and everybody who lived in the area and looked “cool.” This word to me, of course, meant raccoon makeup, skinny jeans, pistol-shaped belt buckles, and Panic! at the Disco lyrics as picture captions. There were plenty of these teens to be found, for as original as each one of them seemed to me, they all fit a mold of a different type. Regardless, as my friends list increased in number, so did my confidence. With every picture comment I received telling me that my studded belt was awesome or that my electric blue pants were totally rad, my sense of self-worth ballooned. Through the internet I had discovered an underground world of people just like me; misfits and black sheep had found a virtual arena in which to convene, and I was hooked on the feeling of acceptance. It was a place where we could all revel in our teenie-bopper problems together, a place where I could complain about my black, bleeding heart and have my voice be heard.
It soon became my only goal become a “Myspace Celebrity,” to have more friends and more comments and to take more pictures of myself than any of the people in the small group of “real-life” friends I’d made, all of whose assimilation processes had been similar to mine. It became a competition between us, and soon it was all we talked about at lunch and between classes. We could be found in the bathrooms taking pictures of ourselves at flattering angles at all hours of the day, constantly fluffing our hair and preening to ensure that we looked as close to our internet personas as possible. We took on pseudonyms (‘Myspace names’) and referred to each other almost exclusively as Josephine Jailbreak™, Emmaline Electric™, Sydney Scandalous™, and Madelaine™ Masochist, slowly shifting into these unfamiliar people and all the while believing we were staying true to ourselves.
I was twelve years old, but I never felt it. I had always been told that I was mature for my age so I believed that I was older, and Los Angeles private schools have a way of making kids grow up too fast. Additionally, I’d had unsupervised access to the internet going on three years at this point, and my parents hadn’t a clue what happened when I turned on my white Powerbook G4 every day after school. While they knew I had a Myspace, they had no reason to believe I was talking to strangers, posting semi-scandalous material, or doing anything other than using it to make plans with friends. I was still their little girl, and it wasn’t until they received a call from my school saying that I was being expelled for cyber-bullying that they realized I’d done some growing up.
It all started when a friend of ours, henceforth referred to as DarkInTragedy as her screen name would have her be known, got a boyfriend. The rest of our group had all been in myspace-official relationships for months, and were all thrilled that she had finally found a wonderful emo boy, Ashton, to take pictures and look cute with. He added us as friends and got our approval quickly, often initiating conversations with us on instant messenger and always saying all the right things. Though the pair were “deeply in love” and though he had become an integral part of our e-community, he shied away from every insistence that we meet in person. Things went on like this for four months until eventually we stopped making attempts to meet him, resigning to the fact that we would only know about their seemingly perfect relationship from the outside. Around the same time, however, things for the two of them took a turn for the worse. Their relationship became tumultuous when DarkInTragedy received word that she was no longer allowed contact with Ashton. Through tears, she told us that his father was a homosexual who was attempting to change his son’s sexuality and no longer wanted him to speak to females. While it was an absurd story, stranger things had happened and we chose to believe it, doing our job as friends and consoling her until she had once again reached our natural state of feigned indifference. However, soon the story of Ashton’s life had become a muddled web of semi-related events. His mother’s business burned down so they were forced to move to Florida, she said, but then it happened again and he moved back. She told us that his father had set him up with a boy named Derryl who he was then forced to be in a relationship with, and even after Derryl himself added and talked to us on Myspace, we had grown irrevocably suspicious.
One night, during a sleepover to which DarkInTragedy had not been invited, the group of us began to air our suspicions about the possibility that Ashton may be nonexistent. We decided then to do some detective work. Excitedly, we got on the computer and, trying different combinations of her e-mail addresses and known passwords in the login box, successfully logged into all three of their myspaces and AIM screen names, even going as far as to send DarkInTragedy an IM from her now provenly fictionalized boyfriend’s account. Enveloped by our anger and feelings of betrayal, the three of us came up with a plan for revenge. The next two hours were spent writing a public blog post detailing the entire sequence of events, to be seen by everyone we knew and designed to humiliate her. Sitting behind our computer screen, sustained by the power the keyboard brought us and the anonymity the monitor provided, we tore her to shreds. To us, there were no longer real people involved or feelings at stake- it was just our anger and the ability to write about it so easily, made palpable by the words we used to describe it. Because the internet had become a place where merciless insults were tossed around so casually that they no longer meant anything, and because our identities were so wrapped up in never having to bear witness to the outcome of such viciousness, the idea of consequence never crossed our minds. We were pleased with ourselves as we pressed ‘post’, and even more so as we printed a hard copy to present her with the following morning at school.
The next few days were filled with drama after DarkInTragedy, physically cornered in the hallway, buckled and admitted to having invented the entire situation. She told us about how she’d used a random boy’s pictures and written the comments to herself in an attempt to fit in, and before she knew how to stop it, things had spiraled out of control. She cried and apologized for what felt like a millennium, and after delivering threats of social destruction were it to happen again, we forgave her. Things returned to a tense version of normal after a few days, and we all seemed glad to put the issue behind us. The betrayal we felt was still fresh, but we knew that eventually it would fade.
Not more than three days later, I was forcibly removed from my classroom by the headmaster who, on our way down the hall, told me that “she couldn’t even look me in the eye because she was so disgusted.” I wasn’t told what was happening until my parents, both of whom had been called home from trips outside the state, arrived at school. It was then revealed to me that DarkInTragedy, henceforth known as Jessie, had arrived home sobbing every day since the confrontation and refused to tell her parents why in fear of making us angrier. It required a search of her computer to extract the information, and even then she was terrified to talk. I distinctly remember the excruciating guilt that took over the moment I was told, and to this day I recall it as the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Every part of me had become so engrained in the overly-confident, make-believe e-version of myself that I had completely left my true self behind, and when that morality came back to me, it came as a flood. While I don’t mean to sound like a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I had forgotten what it felt like to have words mean something, an idea I’ve vowed to never forget again. Whether they are spoken, written, or typed on a blog by a small girl hidden behind a big computer, words mean everything.