I guess I don't really know how to start, so I'll just ... start.
The first thing is ... I know I'm smart. I've just turned 15, but this story is mostly about stuff that happened about two years ago, though my life and attitudes and lots of things have changed, since then, so you could say that the story continues until now...
I don't like that beginning. It sounds cliche. Obviously I probably read too many books. Maybe just that I'm trying to tell it makes it cliche. Which makes me sound like my English teacher, Mr Douglas. Who I hate, by the way. I decided I wanted to write this down, but I can't really decide a good way to start. So here, I'll try again...
My name is Paige Tenn. I bet you're already laughing. That's really my name. The family name of Tenn isn't that common - it might be Scottish or something. And I guess either my mom or my dad was feeling cruel when they named me, but lately I've decided that actually I like it, because it means I could make people laugh just by meeting them. You have to keep a positive attitude, right? That's what my counselor, Ellen, says. Who I hate, by the way.
I haven't always kept a positive attitude. Right when I turned 12, my parents' divorce finalized. I was mad about puberty, too. More than mad, I was furious. It was like WTF is happening to my body? I happened to have liked being a kid. I had a lot of fun and stuff was easy. And I was suddenly unpopular in school. Kids called me geekette. So I was depressed, and my mom had me going to that counselor, even. But that just made me more depressed.
I was truly hating life. With my thirteenth birthday just past, I was thinking a lot about suicide. Really. My counselor calls it S.I. (suicidal ideation). Like ... you visualize how you would do it or stuff. I was obsessed for a while with jumping in front of a train and then I had this idea of bleeding out in the bathtub.
So. I was also messing around with this thing called cutting. Like, you will use a razor blade or a knife and make cuts in yourself, on your arms or legs or wherever. You've probably heard of it. Like hating yourself and wanting to punish yourself. Or just for the weird sensation of it. I was reading these cliche vampire books - you know the ones - and was fascinated by my own blood. I would even taste it. Which is creepy, I realize.
I found out about cutting from a sort of friend I had named Cecilia. She was majorly goth, and kind of charismatic in a recently deceased seeming way. We stopped being friends later, but I had sort of acquired that cutting habit, by then. I think cutting is like anorexia, too. Just refusing to eat, for all these complicated mental reasons that you don't even realize about yourself. I would do these binge anorexia things too, but I always lost patience feeling hungry. Cutting had more immediate feedback.
I guess there was a part of me that wanted to be nicer to myself, though. I was careful to only cut spots where I knew the bleeding would stop: like on my arms mostly (and then wearing long sleeves all the time) or the outside of my thighs above the hem of any skirts or shorts I might wear. I didn't want to get caught
So I was messed up.
Meanwhile, even though it was 2010, I was actually using AOL. Not only AOL, but definitely AOL. The reason for that connects to this whole story: I had started using AOL a few years earlier, because my grandpa was an old person who lived out in California and was still using AOL. My mom had thought it would be good to get an AOL account even though we had DSL and facebook and all that, just to be able to stay in touch with grandpa back in his medieval caveman-cave with his AOL.
So my sister, mom and I all had AOL usernames, which we basically only used for emailing or chatting with grandpa, or for looking at the stupid pictures or news items he sometimes forwarded. He was one of those people who did that a lot. I saw many dumb animal pictures.
It didn't take me long, however, to figure out, on my own, that AOL offered something most of social media in 2010 didn't - true anonymity. I found other people took advantage of this, too: people would lurk or chat in these amazingly dirty-sounding user-made chat rooms under the Special Interests section on AOL. Trust me, as I surfed around I got more than my share of weird, creepy, annoying and just bizarre IMs. Almost completely, I ignored them, though I had a few very interesting or informative chats if someone managed to spark my interest.
I would lie about details of my life - including, especially, my age. I would always make myself 18 or 19 or 20. My parents had drilled into my head the importance of not revealing details of myself online, and despite my self-destructive tendencies, the idea of being stalked or raped wasn't appealing to me.
The thing that changed everything was one night when I went into a chatroom called "Edging." I'd seen it before, and I was curious. You see, I didn't know what "edging" was - but I thought I knew. I thought it was another word for cutting - which I was doing, as I've said. So I was curious because I thought someone else would be in there who shared my situation or at least had some insight. I don't know why I thought this - it wasn't based on any actual (mis-)information, I just thought that's what it meant.
So I marched in there and typed something like, "do you do edging too?" The conversation that followed was somewhat hilarious, since I continued to believe what I thought it meant, while the person I was chatting to had a different idea altogether. In case you don't know, "edging" actually is a term for orgasm denial. At some point, our conversation moved to IM (which is more private) and the person I was chatting with clarified things.
I was embarrassed and disappointed, finding myself talking with some old weirdo about his masturbation habits instead of about my problem. But my initial misunderstanding had broken the ice, and so we kept chatting for a while. Then he said something creepy and I dropped him.
After that, though, I would sometimes use the "who's chatting" feature, out of a kind of morbid curiosity as to who, in fact, was chatting about this topic. At that point, I wasn't that interested in the idea of "edging," although I'd understood the concept perfectly. It wasn't like I didn't masturbate - I'd been doing it for a few years by that point. It was just that it seemed weird to try to avoid an orgasm.
Maybe a few days after that weird encounter, with it fresh in my mind, I was utterly shocked to see my grandfather's screenname sitting in that chatroom. That was already TMI, as they say. Yet I was understandably curious. I really couldn't believe he would chat about that - I thought of grandpa as some nice, old, basically sexless person that used to bring the best presents to us kids at Christmas.
I immediately knew I was going to be nosy - it's not like I vacillated, really. But I realized it was going to involve some deception. There was no way I would ask him with him knowing it was "me" - his 13 year old granddaugher. That would have been too awkward. The problem: he knew my screenname.
I'm not stupid, though, so I solved that problem pretty quickly. I didn't know how to make a new screenname on my mother's main AOL account, but I knew that if you made a free AIM username you could use it to send IMs to people in AOL (although you couldn't see or enter the chatrooms). I figured I could make a free, even more anonymous username, and then send him an IM.
I also realized, as I worked this out, that I'd been lucky, so far: apparently, he'd never detected me in any compromisingly-named chatrooms, as far as I knew. I felt a strange sensation of exposure imagining that he might have, and simply kept quiet about it. But certainly, aside from my little deception project, I was always more careful with my "official" AOL screenname after that - through my grandfather's carelessness, I'd learned a lesson about keeping my own online shenanigans under the radar of my family.
So one day, using the new screenname, I logged on.
I used both screennames, see - so I could watch if he went in the chatroom with my regular one and then send him a message with the other secret one. Of course, once I was all set up and lurking for him, naturally he didn't go in there for a long time. It was several days of occasionally waiting around before I finally caught him in the "edging" chatroom again. By then, of course, I was feeling nervous about my secret plan so I chickened out and didn't IM him.
To make a long story slightly shorter, it was actually several weeks before I worked up the nerve to send him my question. I had spent a lot of time trying to think of ways to broach the subject without being "gross." What I decided on was to replay the misunderstanding about my thinking "edging" was the same as "cutting."
In fact, it was interesting, I admit. Despite the weird subject, he was polite and nice for a random guy on the internet - which is all he was to me as far as he knew. Instead of going off on some self-centered thing about edging, instead he chatted to me about cutting. It was kind of surprised, he even knew about it. He seemed kind of with it for an old guy, actually. After chatting for nearly an hour I ended feeling almost cheered up and I kind of forgot I was spying on my grandfather, and instead it was just a chat with an internet guy who seemed smart and kind.