Wednesday, February 19, 2014


"Dearest Kashena,

Do you ever wonder how many things are lost during the course of history? How many things in your life that you've forgotten, but you only hope that at least one person who was there remembers? That used to make me insane. That's why I started to journal. I didn't want to lose anything, and it makes me cry sometimes when I look back at what I wrote and can't remember what I was talking about. And we lose so many dreams too. But the things that are important to us, we remember. My dad doesn't remember his high school graduation. I barely remember anything in my life. But I remember the time Dylan cut his hand with a scissors when he was trying to make me a board game about dogs for my birthday. And I remember the sock pants. And I remember that the first time you came to my New Years party, you were wearing green corduroy overalls, a gray shirt, your hair was in braids, and you had that greet hat that's like ..., only it's cool, and it looks like a hat. I'm not saying the hat's important, but I'm saying it's a memory. Not the kind you have to write down to remind you of it, but the kind that triggers itself."

I've started looking back through a bunch of notes, trying to pick something to write about in order to start working on this blog again, but at every turn I came across something that embarrassed me or made me sad, or nervous, until I came across this lovely card from my best friend, Kate*. She wrote it as part of a pack of letters she gave me before she headed off to college early, right before I started 11th grade. We were both devastated we'd be apart from one another, and her goodbye gift was sweet and thoughtful and generous. We'd been avid note-writers from the beginning, and the sudden void would have been so much worse without a set of notes I could delve into from time to time.

I talked to her about this card yesterday, and while we both agreed it was beautifully written - especially for a 16-year-old, I broke the news that part of her self-triggering memory is false. I've never owned a pair of corduroy overalls. Both fashion-blind Kashena and fashion-conscious Kashena concur on this.

It's a nitpicky thing to pick up on, especially considering the poetry of the card, but it reminded me of this Radiolab podcast on memory. They said that every time you access a memory you essentially re-create it, and in most cases, re-write it, dampening the truth every time until no one can be certain - especially if you remember it often - what is the true memory. From the beginning, before she had a chance to write it down, Kate had re-written the memory.

She still remembers the day of the New Years party, and after talking more about it we agreed I wasn't wearing overalls. I don't remember the day at all, so I'm willing to agree that all the other details are correct; for now, they remain static in her mind and on the page.

 The other thing that hasn't changed over time is our desire to keep each other in frame. I have hundreds of journal entries, as she has, about our lives - what it was like before she left, and after. We have lengthy, separate accounts of how we've both grown, closer together and apart alike, for the last 19 years. If you had to pick one person, outside your parents, who knows you best - for me, it would be Kate. I trust she knows me now, and will know me forever. This is comforting in the extreme, of course. What better feeling can you have, knowing there is someone who understands who you are as a person, and will always? As humans, we crave this understanding, this connection, and I am lucky enough to have found it as a teenager.

The time has come, however, for me to move away from this comfort - into the letters and notes that make me uncomfortable, that reveal what feels like too much. Things that are honest accounts of a darker adolescence, things that still follow me today. I have them on paper, sharp details contrasting my re-written, softer memories, and it's time to face them.

*name changed to keep as much anonymity as possible.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The mocking, the mocking.

I just want to say - these blog posts are getting harder to write. The notes I'm coming across have so much backstory, so many raw feelings, it's a little disturbing to put myself back there and then try to pare it down to one post. Still, I want to have 12 solid posts before this blog's birthday in January, to average out to one a month... so hopefully I can get it together in the next little bit.

Well, I think it's time the tables turned. Today, I bring you a note not written to me, but by me! My best friend also has a stash of notes from junior high, and recently, we stayed up too late, drinking whiskey and giggling our way through them, trying to figure out what in the world we were referring to 12 years ago and carefully re-folding our well-creased triangles.

This note is a prime example of one of the best kinds of junior-high notes - the language is fascinating. It's full of what I call "inside language" - like inside jokes but it's not funny -  and its use was never designed to be a secret code, but that's how it reads and is a tribute to the relationship Kate* and I had. Our friend (and my ex-boyfriend) Alan**, around the same time, described us (in writing - this is verbatim) as being "somewhere between best friends and constellations of each other; the path of one depends on the other's gravitational pull" and after nearly 14 years of friendship, we're not that twinny but we're just as close. Even though I express concern that she might be "sick of me" and give her option to not hang out at the end of the note, I'm pretty sure she didn't take me up on it. We slept over at each other's houses at least twice a week - often on weekdays - and would follow one another home from school. We had A.P. U.S. history together, which resulted in long nights of studying and worked together at a coffee shop not far from my house. We were together nearly all the time and I called her my sister.

I'm not exactly sure which "situation" that turned into "problem" and then an "annoyance" I was referring to, because the "tragically depressing ingrate", our friend Sam***, caused a lot of these for me in 10th grade. In fact, this note could probably be written nearly any day of that school year. The three of us were on an Odyssey of the Mind team together with some other kids that made up our core group of friends. I'm not sure the word "disaster" can truly convey what that experience was like -  coaching 6 nerdy, manipulative, angst-ridden friends that are trying to work together to solve a stupid problem (this was the year Odyssey of the Mind actually became Destination: Imagination in Minnesota and it sucked) sounds like probably the worst thing you could decide to do, but our coach did an admirable job considering the kind of stuff we pulled:

1. One punched (through) door.
2. One plot to put razor blades into shoes and kick the ankles of another teammate at a rave.
3. One half of the team going on strike, leaving the other 3 kids to do nearly everything a few days before competition.

You get the idea - it was tumultuous at best. The only thing we were really good at was Improv. Our angry tension turned into pretty great comedic timing, and was the only point at which we actually came together as a group to create rather than destroy.

Sam and I had a friendship in which we challenged each other to the extreme. There was a lot of lying, violence (he once slammed my head into the ground and gave me a minor concussion during a game of flashlight tag - to be fair, I kind of deserved it) and manipulation. Our friendship was so involved and time-consuming that it resulted, in part, in the breakup between Alan and I. He was jealous of it, sure I was in love with Sam rather than him because I put so much effort into cultivating our ridiculous relationship, particularly one long-term lie/manipulation/deception, which I'll write about another time.

I'm not exactly sure what was wrong with me that day. It was obviously troubling me, and he was obviously concerned, but all of that other stuff came between his expressing it and my receiving it well. While I was able to communicate the infuriation I felt ("the mocking, the MOCKING") to Kate, and which I'm sure I re-hashed for her in person, I wasn't able to ever communicate to Sam without more trouble, more lying, and more violence. He had this way of masterfully getting under my skin even when reaching out, and the idea of being honest and open never occured to us so it was hard to tell when that happened.

Despite this basis for friendship, to this day Sam and I are connected on such a deep emotional level I can't fully describe it. To others, I call him my twin without blinking, like he's the male version of me, an extension of me. Just like family, he's always there, integrally a part of my life. And just like my family, we have communication issues sometimes, but I know they will never touch our fundamental relationship.

Still, it troubles me that I can't describe Sam and I's friendship well, or trace back how and why we're so close, when I am able to discern and pick apart most of my relationships quite analytically, noting significant moments, turning points and motivations for both sides. I think in part it's because everything was so crazy then - adolescence is full of changes and growing, and obviously mine was a little extreme at times. But I also think it's because, like my family, it feels like Sam has always been there - there's no "start" to our friendship, just like I foresee no end, so if I still feel the need to try and track it all back, at the very least, I have time.

* & ** & *** - all names changed to protect these people from hating me too much.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More Church! More Camp!

Four out of the five years I attended youth group, I went to something called workcamp in the summer. They're short-term youth mission trips - about a week - where 5 or 6 kids and an adult leader team up to help residents in the community with a construction project, like painting the house, re-shingling a roof, or building a wheelchair ramp. Each person on the team had a role - lunch/snacks/breaks coordinator, devotion leader, team leader, etc. The company (Group Workcamps Foundation) does all the organization and creates the "kits" needed for each project, as well as organizes evening programs and logistics like housing (usually on the floor at a local school) and breakfast.

Each one is really formulaic - for example, Sunday night is when everyone meets their teammates and decides who has what role. Wednesday night is the talent show, Thursday night is Jesus Died For Your Sins And You Should Feel Really Bad About It night, Friday night is a celebration of all the work done and goodbyes, since everyone makes a mass exit Saturday morning after breakfast.

The official stance of the Group Workcamps Foundation is that it's not so much about the service projects but rather a chance to deepen a relationship with Christ, which I'm sure a lot of people felt, but I just wasn't one of them. My mom is fond of saying that Presbyterians like "a little religion with their art" which made it pretty easy for me to "pass" amongst them as a young atheist, but it wasn't as easy in my Group Workcamp team, especially when I decided in my second year that I wanted to try being devotion leader for the week.

It didn't seem hard, nor did I feel any conflict - you read the prescribed scripture for the day over lunch and lead a discussion about what it meant to everyone. The theme was later repeated in the evening program. Even though I didn't feel as though I had a personal relationship with God, I've always been able to read poems and fiction and dissect them for discussion - in fact, it's one of my favorite things - and I didn't figure this to be much of a challenge. Simply because I didn't believe everything didn't mean I could parse out greater meaning and depth.

What WAS a challenge, however, was my team - especially when, about halfway through the week - I divulged that I wasn't so sure about God. I'm not sure what scripture reading I had just done, or what someone else said that prompted me to reveal this information, but the silence that followed told me I'd made a big mistake. The kids looked at the ground until one of the adults tried to salvage the conversation about the scripture, ending quickly with a prayer and having everyone finish up their ham and cheese sandwiches. I was then pulled aside and demoted from devotion leader to... nothing. I remember numbly continuing to paint the inside of a garage, mostly ignored by the rest of my group for most of the day, while I tried to understand what had just happened and why I felt as though I'd done something horribly wrong when all I had been is honest.

At the end of the week, we said our goodbyes and I left, clutching an envelope full of something called "Care Cards" - they're short notes you're supposed to write to your team and every member of your youth group during the week. The notes are all little nuggets of inspiration and gratitude like "Thanks for your hard work!" and "I see God's light shining in you" and "You're the best!" They all go into an envelope and when you leave on Saturday morning, they're distributed so you can read all the notes from the week on the ride home. My notes also tended to say things like "No offense but you're really strange" and would mention I had a "unique attitude".Reading through the care cards from that week is a little hard; I remember how confused and hurt I was. One of the girls, Jenny, wrote "Your love for Christ is already shining through to me with the work you're doing. Keep it up!" in the beginning of the week, and at the end of the week she wrote "It's been interesting this past week working w/ you."

Jenny on Monday -  I'm the best girl ever!
Jenny on Friday - not feeling the love.

Another girl wrote "I liked talking to you this past week. Even though our beliefs and opinions differed, I found you interesting. Good luck with your future plans." I get it, I'm obviously not full of Christ's love, so obviously how hard I worked to make our resident's house a better place is irrelevant.

One of the things we differed on was whether or not she should take her narcolepsy medication. After she fell asleep on the roof one day, my vote was YES.

The mass-distributed care card from the M.C. (who essentially was the Head Devotion Leader) says "It was not a freak accident that you were your crew's devotion leader. Continue to tell people about Jesus, and explore the gifts God has given you!" I came across this care card right before I read one from a friend of mine in youth group.

It starts "My Atheist friend. Why do you bother with workcamp?" I remember thinking to myself, "Yeah, why?" It was 10 days out of my summer, with all the travel. I stuck out from the group as an unknown, I was frustrated with feeling alienated and alone, I was both a little intimidating and intimidated, my eye-rolling muscles were getting a huge workout, and I didn't know if I was doing any good or really belonged.

I don't know if I really answered myself in the end, but I kept going until I left for college.

Over the years, Group Workcamp programs changed; they got a little more extreme, contrived and disturbing, especially Thursday night:

Thursday morning: Workcampers! Bring a rock from your worksite to tonight's program!


... the rising part I may have made up, but you get the idea. I spoke out against returning, and instead finding another program that suited our needs more (and didn't result in a late Thursday night trip to Dairy Queen to debrief so we wouldn't be afraid to fall asleep) but was shot down because it wasn't tradition (this was also the response to the notion of NOT riding 900+ miles in a school bus from Minneapolis to Tennessee. I'm pretty sure my spine has never been the same).

Over the years, I also changed. I played to my "audience" in a way: I learned all the words to "Flood". I kept to being in charge of lunch, snacks, and water breaks at camp. I took over the back of the school bus and reigned (nicknamed "Queen Kashena") with the combined force of my eye-rolling and sarcasm... but I also kept trying to change things for the better, making the experience more inclusive, introducing more levity. One year I decided to write a care card to every single camper. All 500+ of them. I succeeded, but I didn't really sleep. One year I held a dramatized re-enactment of the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Canada on the ceiling of the bus (green army men with magnets on the bottom and duct-taped flags everywhere).  I also refused to participate in our youth group's yearly "initiation" which took place during the first lunch stop of the first day. The senior kids would haze the first-year kids in a bizzare hostile takeover of what would otherwise be a peaceful time to stretch and eat a sandwich.

In the years since I've left, the youth group has changed too - they pick more community-centered programs. They travel in 15-person passenger vans. They try new methods for fundraising... and they know the percentage of the youth group that secretly considers itself to be Atheist or Agnostic: a pretty shocking (to the congregation) 70%.

That 70% gives up 10 days of their summers, makes ham-and-cheese sandwiches for campers, dutifully paints houses and builds wheelchair ramps for the elderly.

I think they're doing OK.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I have a crush on U.

I basically got this note twice in one year.
In the last winter of junior high, my parents expressed their wish that I attend a private high school in order to prioritize and maximize my chances of attending an exclusive university. My mom touted the college acceptance statistics of preparatory schools in the area and sent me for admission testing, interviews and tours. She also started pulling me out of school to send me on exploratory overnights with daughters of her friends at local colleges and universities, hoping that I would get a feel of the campus and the gravitas of college life; what I discovered was that you could have ANY CEREAL YOU WANTED for breakfast, and no one stopped you from being on the MUDs at 3 in the morning, allowing my half-elf half-human to launch psionic assaults on evil creatures and level up four times before dawn.

By spring, I’d narrowed it down to two schools – the exclusive, Episcopalian Breck School and De La Salle, a Catholic high school on an island. I knew that Breck was the smart choice - I had no interest in Catholicism, a strict uniform policy, and a mandatory religion class. Breck had an extremely strong program, was close to my house, and had several acquaintances from elementary school, assuring my transition to a new school smoother than usual.

Unfortunately, I had no interest in attending private school. I didn’t want to leave my friends, was confident in my public high school to provide a great education, and was probably a bit terrified of having to actually work at doing well. Instead of communicating these very valid concerns to my parents, I hurled myself toward the school where I knew would end in my failure, because that’s the kind of self-destruction I excel at.

In my admission interview at De La Salle, they asked me what denomination of Christianity I most identified with, and I said I was an Atheist. They asked what my favorite Bible verse was, and my response went something like this: “The one where they eat babies. You know, because of the famine.” (This is true. 2 Kings. Look it up.) They then asked me what I’d taken away from this particular verse, and I’m pretty sure I said something along the lines of “Always eat someone else’s baby first.”

The acceptance letter came three weeks later.

So we bought the uniforms, I got my first metro bus pass to go to school, we paid tuition. My first week was a blur of August heat and disorientation; I was terrified of being stopped in the hall by an upperclassman and ordered to sing the school song or recite the school’s mission statement, failure of which would result in detention. My 8th period math class was held at the top of a tower, where I was held prisoner by algebra and an angry, bitter nun who liked to start class by wordlessly pacing around the room for a few minutes before returning to the front. She’d stand up there, dressed in all black despite the heat – and would gravely announce in a low voice: “Three of you are in uniform violation. Detention awaits.” Seriously. I could practically see the wheels in her head, churning out malice. As she moved forward with her lesson, we’d spend the rest of the afternoon wondering which of us were to be written up; the suspense was torture as we all continued to wilt, our uniforms wrinkling, our brows sweating.

I had a hard time making friends. Most of the other kids already knew each other from their private, Catholic middle and elementary schools. Almost all of the Catholic schools in Minneapolis fed into De La Salle – particularly the schools where the student body was predominately Black. This was also new to me – even though I’m half Black, I’d attended schools with a very small Black population, and the culture seemed foreign to me. I felt guilty and awkward about this, particularly when my mom asked me why I didn’t really have any Black friends – and I didn’t have a response. My family had attended a Black Methodist church while I growing up, where I fell in love with gospel music and hats, but I’d never felt a connection to anything else there. We stopped going around 4th or 5th grade, so I never entered a confirmation class or a youth group, or found anywhere else I’d have made friends. We didn’t live near my grandparents, aunts or cousins, so they weren’t a big part of my universe, and as a result “Black culture” wasn’t a big part of my life.

I was also in the very beginning of my disordered eating habits; I’d become a vegetarian over the summer and refused to buy food from the cafeteria – instead I brought my own raw cabbage and sunflower seed sandwiches with butter. This weirdness didn’t really endear me to the rest of the kids at lunch time, so I took to eating alone and reading. Eventually, I made friends with a kid named Harrison*, whose parents were psychiatrists; we’d spend hours on the phone discussing our mutual strangeness and all of the things we observed about our fellow students; I’ve been hyper observant most of my life, and Harrison was taught from birth to put meaning and weight to everyone’s words and actions, so we had a pretty complete picture of what everyone else was doing, and how separate we were from it. One night he asked me if I liked him, and I said sure; we were friends, right? He pressed the issue, and I realized he was asking if I like-liked him. I went quiet, and I heard him breathing shallowly into the phone. It was the last time we talked.

That movie deal comment is a whole other blog post worth of material.

Three weeks into the school year, I knew I’d had enough. For all its preparatory laudation, I wasn’t challenged. My classmates were more concerned with makeup, boys, and Homecoming, and I longed for familiarity and wearing jeans to school. My parents asked me to give it more time, and I did – but only about two months. By late October I was miserable, and ready to flee. I re-enrolled in public school, and when I told my classmates at De La Salle I was leaving, I was unprepared by the attention I received. I was passed the above card with everyone’s best wishes, most of them saying things like “too bad we didn’t get to know each other” and “I’ll miss you” and “it was nice knowing you”. One of the boys in my English group, Matt*, wrote me this other note, telling me he had a crush on me:
I have a crush on U. 

He passed me this note as he left our last class, and I never saw him again; I’m not quite sure why I didn’t call or write, and I doubt he had my info. Maybe I was afraid of being friends with someone who liked me, as I’d been with Harrison, or trying for my first relationship. Maybe I was too wrapped up in getting caught up academically and socially at my public school. Maybe I didn’t want anything to do with my time at De La Salle.

I doubt I’ll ever really know what I was thinking then, but only part of me wishes I did; a few years ago I even burned all of my journal entries from around that time, so only these letters remain. Many of the choices I made were painfully irresponsible and self-destructive; I did everything I could to set myself up for failure, time and time again. I know hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but I know I was cognisant of the consequences of bad choices, and I still made them. I still felt trapped. The only theory I have is that even now, my inability to communicate negative emotions and thoughts constructively trips me up, and so I was probably completely unable to do so back then.
Thankfully, we grow up, we talk things out, we try new things, we learn. I went to good high school, I went to a good university; I am at peace with these aspects of my education, and joyful about all the things I’ve accomplished.

That nun, though. I hope she got what she deserved.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hormones! Hormones! Hormones!

Apparently "this week" in blog time is approximately 5 months, so from now on I'm not going to make any promises about when I'm posting. It'll keep everyone on the edge of their seats... and keep me from being such a liar.

This note is from my friend Megan*. Megan and I had a very serious, very intense, very brief (8th to 9th grade - probably shouldn't count the summer) friendship, and after that it faded until we were simply acquaintances whose only ties were based on mutual interests and some social group crossover.

I can't speak for her, but I'd say that the basis of our friendship from 1998 to 1999 was probably the following things:

- the art of letter-writing
- tea
- classical music, theater; doing anything related to those
- feeling superior to other people because we liked classical music, theater, letter-writing and tea

And that's pretty much it. That's a friendship that doesn't last when you're 14, but when you're 14, it's a friendship that looks like what you think must be an adult friendship, which everyone tells you will last forever. So you think it's going to last forever. It's telling that I don't remember much of the actual things we did together - I remember the things we imagined together.

I imagined Megan and I swapping out our tea for martinis and her performing classical music and theater and my writing about classical music and theater, but the letter-writing would remain the same, because that's just what the civilized world does. Megan had, like most of the girls I loved being friends with, a rich verbal and imaginative life - we could talk and pantomime and dress up and use props to our hearts content to create any scenario and fulfill any fantasy or "future self" we wanted without much effort. We fed off of each other, making crystal palaces out of our suburban homes; intelligent, sophisticated, confident women out of our impatient adolescent selves.

Megan wrote me in her beautiful handwriting most often during science class; there must have been some sort of health or physiology section that February, or maybe we actually had a health class - I don't remember. Either way, I bet I was also depressed and intrigued by the alcoholism stories. In junior high, if you're still a little sheltered (like we were) and you're not drinking, or know anyone who is drinking, or know any alcoholics - alcoholism is something that sounds incredibly exciting, disturbing and adult. Even as a kid, I liked to pull down the crystal decanter and put cream soda in it, pretending it was whiskey. We were obsessed with getting there, getting to adulthood, getting to where we thought our lives were going to begin; watching videos on how people finally - finally! - got to drink and then were apparently so overwhelmed by it they "threw their lives away" as the announcers would gravely pronounce - WAS depressing. Was it possible that we'd get just that far to screw it up and never get to really live? Were we to be left wanting forever?

By the time the lecture got to hormones, I'm not surprised she was tired of it. Learning about how our bodies were changing because of them, and that they had their own timetable, and that we had to go through all these changes to get through where we were to where we wanted to be - only to find out maybe we didn't really want it - or maybe we couldn't handle it - might be a bit much for one class period.

*Name changed to protect people from other people finding out they wrote me letters I now put on the internet please don't kill me.

Monday, March 14, 2011


... I'm sorry it's been a while since I've posted, it's been busy around here. This week I'll be sure to put up a new note and story!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Clearwater... part 1

I've just realized that the majority of notes I have involve camp. This note, from Cate*, was written to me from Clearwater Presbyterian camp in northern Minnesota, about 2 hours from Minneapolis. Our church held retreats there, and the greater Minnesotan Presbytery holds a summer camp there annually, which Cate attended every year until she started to go to Workcamp. I have a HUGE amount of "care cards" from when I used to do Workcamps also, but that's another story.

Cate and I were very good friends from 1998 - 2000ish... We were still friends after that, but not very close, and understandably so. She's one year younger than me, and was definitely the lighter half of our duo; 1998 was the year I started to get really depressed, which freaked me out to no end. I had a very hard time expressing it, and unfortunately, when it did come out, Cate, and her boyfriend/my good friend Tom*, took the brunt of it. For two years. I'm pretty sure I just completely burnt her out, which I'm very sorry for now; it was a lot to try and deal with. Reading through all these notes gives me a picture of myself then that is very often funny, but just as often, or more often, really sad.

Cate touches on an anecdote from the first time I went to Clearwater. Our youth group had done a retreat earlier in the year, in the fall. Since I was brand-new to the church, and it was the first time I'd ever gone on a retreat of any kind, I didn't know what to expect - but I definitely did not expect to be taken on a sort of "living history" scavenger hunt which involved running up to a door like Martin Luther and nailing the "95 theses" to a door. The rest of the time was spent singing, eating, and running around the woods that surrounded a calm, clear lake.

One night during the retreat, my nervousness about being new - new to the group, new to organized religion where people held hands and sang (I didn't know any of the songs!) - resulted in my telling a ridiculous story, which is what still happens today when I get nervous and have too many glasses of wine. We'd gathered around a fire pit, and I started telling the story of a novella I'd written between 1996 and 1998. I'd sent it to be judged for a children's writing contest earlier that summer, and when I'd returned from Costa Rica I'd found out I'd won first place, which was pretty exciting for me.

The story was about a girl named Lindsey, 11, who was the second-youngest in her affluent family, and felt she was quite out of place - her older siblings were all brilliant and successful (one was a law student, the other very popular) and her younger sister, Jan, was beautiful and the apple of her parents' eyes. She decided, in a jealous haze, that she'd push Jan off a bridge and into the river near their house, jump in after her, and save her, becoming the hero of the family.

She pushes, she jumps in after - but the current is too strong and Jan drowns. Quickly getting rescued herself by passerby, she lies and says Jan slipped and she jumped in after, and she's so sorry she couldn't save her, blah blah blah. The family and majority of the people in the ensuing hoopla believe her, except for one police detective, who is suspicious of Lindsey's account of the events (I do not explain why he's suspicious, but I was 13). Lindsey starts acting weird, not sleeping or eating, and eventually her older brother Peter gets a confession out of her. The entire family is disgusted and shuns her - she's sent to a sort of school for emotionally disturbed youth, and the rest of the story is a series of letters from her to her brother Peter, discussing her life, life at home, and the results of one distressing trip back home to see her family. The letters end when her school writes a letter expressing sympathy for her suicide.

When I finished telling the story, there were tears in nearly everyone's eyes. The girls immediately expressed that it was the saddest story they'd ever heard, and oh my goodness how awful for that family, and where did you see this, did your mom know them - and it dawns on Cate and I that they missed the fact that it was fiction.

If this happened now, I'd put my hands up to stop them and calmly explain that no, they'd misunderstood, I'm so sorry - it's a work of fiction. That's all.

But 14-year-old me and 13-year-old Cate burst into a fit of giggles, nearly falling off the logs we were perched on. I was gasping for breath and trying to control myself as the girls who had been incredibly sad minutes ago now thought we were heartless for laughing at such a sad story and cruel for laughing at them for being sad about it. I did eventually manage to explain it was fiction, but I doubt I apologized, and by then the damage was done. Cate remained my only church-friend for a while.

* Names changed to protect people.

Do you have notes you want to talk about? Comment below!