This is probably the right time to explain about the Sibley Incident, which is what led to me start my business. In a way, it’s connected to what made me make up my mind to leave the suburbs and that family that kept thinking I would blend in once I learned how to be one of them, because who wouldn’t want to be one of them? When they realized I didn’t, they thought it must be some mental disorder that could be fixed if they found the right treatment. Which they tried. I went through no less than four therapists and three diagnoses, including my favorite, “oppositional defiant disorder,” which sounded so neat I considered getting the T-shirt.

So this all happened when I was in sixth grade, which is no fun even if you’re going to a school you like, which I wasn’t. There was a girl in the eighth grade, Sibley, who looked to me pretty much like everybody else. She had long straight hair and braces (the kind that don’t show) and she was skinny and so far as I could tell, she wore the right clothes. I could be wrong about that, because I decided early on that I wasn’t going to pay attention to that stuff, so I never really knew what the right clothes were. It’s a really big deal in eighth grade to wear the right brands and know which ones were right two months ago but aren’t any more, so that you can laugh at the people who are still wearing the wrong ones. Also, it’s how you know who to hang out with. You do not want to be friends with people who are wearing last month’s brands.

Have I mentioned that I didn’t have any friends at school? Not that I wanted friends like that.

So anyway, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with Sibley, but for some reason, the most popular girls, who had been best friends with her, suddenly decided she was a joke. A total fail. A person who was so awful nobody could have anything to do with her unless torture was involved. They would invite her to parties and spend the whole time making fun of her. They said mean things about her in places where they knew she would overhear them. One week they would repeat everything she said in a weird, nasal voice. The next week, they would all pretend she wasn’t there at all, staring right through her, which you could tell really got to her, being suddenly invisible, moving through the school hallways like a ghost. They snickered when she got called on in class, which made her freeze up and stutter. They wrote mean things on her locker. They had a Facebook group about her and bragged about the Snapchats they sent her saying, basically, you’re fat, you’re ugly, nobody likes you, why don’t you just die, already?

Your typical eighth grade misery in concentrated form.

When her mother complained to the principal, it got worse. Sibley transferred to another school, but the hate followed her. That’s one of the ways this stuff gets so hard to deal with. They make you think that there’s no escape. In ninth grade, she got drunk at a party and some boys basically raped her but said she went along with it. So no harm, right? They took pictures, of course, and they went viral and the police got involved and everybody hated Sibley even more.

I didn’t like Sibley, either. Way back in fifth grade she’d been one of the girls who made fun of me on a regular basis. She got really upset when my class had to do PowerPoints about Minnesota history and mine was about Henry Hastings Sibley, the first governor of Minnesota. He screwed over the Dakota by getting them to sign a document that they thought was a copy of a treaty, but was actually a trick to take away their money. (The teacher had never heard of such a thing and accused me of making it up until I showed her it was in a book that has footnotes.) When Sibley was in charge of the trial after the Dakota war he got 300 Indians condemned to death. They only hanged 38 of them because Lincoln said it was too many, but still, Sibley was a pimple on the face of history so far as I’m concerned, and it bugs me that he’s treated like a hero and gets counties and high schools named after him.

Sibley (the girl, not the uber-jerk governor) heard about my PowerPoint from a kid in my class named Dakota, who was not the least bit Indian, and they were both mad at me and said I was picking on them and was using the race card. I said “This is about race, you idiots,” and I got sent to the school psychologist who told me I had to stop being so confrontational all the time.

But what happened to Sibley later pissed me off because it happens to kids all the time, but nobody ever does anything about it. I went around feeling all stabby for a few days until I decided I would take action. For a couple of weeks I watched the three girls who were behind it. Then I came up with a strategy that would basically ruin their lives. It wasn’t that hard.

First, I created fake Snapchat and Kik accounts for a boy who was cute and cool and using that persona I started chatting with each of them privately. Before long they each said things about the others that I could use to drive a wedge between them, which I did. (One of them, Lyndsay, also started to send these embarrassing pictures. It’s unbelievably stupid to send naked selfies of yourself to anybody, let alone someone you haven’t actually met.) I also studied their behavior and picked one thing about each of them to use as a weapon.

For Rebecca, it was her hair. She was always playing with it, tossing it over her shoulder, spending time in the school bathroom staring at herself in the mirror as she brushed it and squirted stuff on it, and she freaked out every time she found a split end.

For Lyndsay, it was food. She liked to eat, but she was always obsessing about her weight.

Harper was a harder nut to crack. She was the tough one, the meanest one, the girl most likely to succeed at making other people miserable. She was beautiful and smart and had perfect timing so that whatever she said seemed to be exactly the right thing at the right moment – if you call making mean jokes the right thing. It took me a while to find her weak point, but after studying her habits and online identity I knew what would really mess her up.

Then I went into action. I got a bunch of hair that more or less matched Rebecca’s hair color from the trash behind a hair salon and carried a baggie of it with me so I could leave clumps of it around – like, dropping some by her spot in the chemistry lab, where she goofed off while her lab partner did all the work. I slipped her hairbrush out of her purse when she was distracted and jammed a bunch of hair into it so when she next used her brush she would think it was falling out. I sprinkled it on the floor by her locker every day for a week. Once when I went to the bathroom, she was brushing her hair (as usual) but she got a text and went over to the window where the signal was stronger. I put a big chunk of hair in the sink and spread more on the floor. I had left the bathroom before she went back to the mirror to finish admiring herself, but I heard her scream from way down at the other end of the hall. She started skipping school and her Facebook timeline filled with hair-related trauma. The weird thing was that when I ran out of hair, she still found clumps of it everywhere. I guess if you worry too much about your hair, it starts to falls out all by itself.

Lyndsay was easy. I just left chocolate truffles all over the place. She’d eat them and then she’d hate herself. (Later I heard that she had to go into a residential treatment program for eating disorders. I would have felt guilty about it, but she was mean and totally deserved it.)

Taking Harper down took more imagination, but in the end, it was sweet. She fell hard for a university student, a guy she’d met at a party. He started sending her Tweets that were funny and sweet and made her feel special. They started texting each other hawt  heavy-breathing stuff and when he invited her on a special date to hear an amazing band, she told everyone about it and spent a fortune on some pre-torn jeans and three new pairs of shoes because she couldn’t make up her mind which ones to wear on the special night.

When she got to the bar for her date, it turned out it wasn’t a bar and there wasn’t a band. It was a coffee shop and they were having a stupid poetry reading instead. The cute guy was there, but he acted like he didn’t remember her at all. Worse yet, he was with somebody else. And everybody looked at her like she was last month’s brand. Some people were laughing at her out loud. She might have been the Queen of the Suburbs, but she was out of place in a university coffee house full of hipster poetry lovers.

I was watching from a corner, totally invisible to her because I’d put on a hijab. I had spent ages trying out a variety of disguises before I realized it only took a headscarf to hide my hair and turn me into some weirdo Muslim immigrant she would never look closely at, because who does that? They’re foreigners and they aren’t Lutheran or anything else normal. I was so sure of my disguise that I even followed her into the bathroom, where I could see her expensive new shoes under the toilet stall, and hear her whimpering and blowing her nose.

Everybody wanted to know how the date went, of course, and she made something up, but it rocked her confidence, particularly since he wouldn’t answer her texts and unfollowed her on Twitter. (Well, okay, I unfollowed her and nuked the account that she thought was his.) Since this happened just as the three girls were starting to get mad at each other over things they’d said that somehow got repeated and shared on Twitter and Instagram, Harper suddenly wasn’t as powerful as she had been and pretty soon all three of them were fair game. And boy, did everybody pile on. All the girls who had been trying to be friends with them but weren’t good enough, not to mention all the boys they’d snubbed, were tearing into them. It got pretty nasty, actually. Rebecca’s parents started a blog about it and the school brought in an inspirational speaker and launched an anti-bullying program.

I suppose it didn’t do Sibley much good, but I felt righteous about it.

And then – the weirdest thing. Rumors started that somebody was behind the three girls’ fall from power. A sophomore tweeted that somebody should do the same thing at their school.  A bunch of people retweeted and commented about situations that they wish could be fixed. It turned into a hashtag and people started saying they’d pay good money for #secretavenger to come and kick butt at their school.

So that’s how my business got started. It was pretty simple to set things up: I rented a box at the post office and got an extra phone number so I could have an anonymous domain registration, set up a secure email account, worked out a dead drop system for exchanging information using USB drives, got an untraceable PayPal account – and I was in business.

Honestly, if I was one of those Silicon Valley types, I could have made it into a successful company and gotten rich. Or possibly landed in jail. But I didn’t want to run into legal trouble or take a job that meant that I would be hurting someone who didn’t deserve it, just for money. I evaluated each case carefully and took only the ones where I thought the person who paid me had a serious problem that needed to be solved and I would be making the world a better place, or at least a less annoying, stupid, abusive place. I solved problems for people and got paid and luckily Monica didn’t really pay close attention to our money situation or she would have realized it was getting easier to buy groceries and pay the rent.

Occasionally I did jobs pro bono. That’s what lawyers call it when they work for free, because they’re into saying things in Latin instead of plain English, probably to make everything sound more important and worth the money they get paid. But I like that phrase because it means “for the good,” which is even better than free. So when a jackass department chair was making Monica’s life miserable I returned the favor. I won’t say how because some of it wasn’t exactly legal. But it worked, and he took early retirement, which made a lot of people happy, including Monica.

~ ~ ~

I got so deep into thinking about ways to mess up Simon Meyer that I forgot to watch the time. Suddenly I realized I’d better hurry if I wanted to get to the meet-up on time. I shoved my laptop into my backpack, bussed my dishes, and was in such a nervous rush it took me three tries to unlock my bike.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

if then else Copyright © 2016 by Barbara Fister is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.