Bullying is a worldwide issue. I think I knew this, but it was really driven home for me when I was contacted by NoBullying.com to do an interview. The company behind the website is in Ireland. They do a great job with it and I am happy to be a part of it, but as we discussed, we are also saddened by the fact that there is such a need for anti-bullying information and assistance.


Video  —  Posted: May 24, 2014 in parents, teen
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As parents, when it comes to finding job openings that are suitable and legal for teens, your job is to act as a guide.  This article will discuss how to be a guide while imagesprotecting your teen’s need for independence when it comes to finding work.

Labor Laws
As the parent of a teen, you should begin with labor laws.  Labor laws regarding minors were created for a child’s safety and to ensure their right to an education.  These topics should be paramount for parents as well.  I would like to say that all employers who hire teens are not going to break or ignore child labor laws, but I can’t.  There are those employers who are looking to save a buck and are therefore willing to overlook child labor laws.  Therefore, setting some ground rules for your teen’s employment should happen before a teen starts to look for a job.  Here are a few examples of those type of ground rules:

  • Will not work for an employer who breaks labor laws.
  • Will have to quit working if school grades begin to fall.
  • Will put _____ % of each check into a savings account.
  • Will keep certain days or times for family time.
  • Will keep certain days or times for friends or activities.
  • Will take on no more than ______ clients in your business.

You should think of the conditions of your teen’s employment.  Just because they are old enough to look for a job, doesn’t mean they aren’t still kids who need boundaries.

Where to Look
Parents can offer suggestions, brainstorm possibilities and help teens research job openings.  But, YOU CANNOT DO IT FOR THEM!!!   Parents should be hidden in this process because your teen must assert their independence if they hope to make it in the world of work.

  • Use the Job Service.  One resource not used enough by teens is the Job Service.  The Job Service can put you in contact with employers your teen, or you, may not think of.  The Job Service will often do summer job fairs for teens in the spring and they also are abreast of any government programs available for teens.
  • Let your teen use your connections.  Use your connections for your teen’s benefit.  But if your teen is going to learn about the employment process, he or she should fill out an application, or turn in a resume, and they should interview for the job.  Connections should be just that, connections.  Teens should not think of them as sure things.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.  There is no law against simply applying at a business. If you are out and about with your teen, have him or her pick up applications, or once they have a master application, he or she can apply at a computer kiosk while you shop.  Do not hang out with your teen while they apply and do not pick up applications for them because he or she needs to appear independent.
  • Being their own boss.  A teen’s desire to start a business should be a family one.  Parents should know what the time and/or financial commitment is for them .  What do they need from you – tuition for a babysitting or first aid class, equipment, money for fliers, etc.?  How many clients can they realistically take on and still maintain an appropriate academic level and time for social and family activities?  How much are they going to charge for their services?  Teens are still working on the ability to think ahead, particularly when an idea like making money excites them.  Parents need to help them look beyond the cash.  Parents should also screen possible clients.  Meet and talk with people who want to hire your teen.  Just because your teen is old enough to work, doesn’t mean he or she is too old to need a parent looking out for them.
  • Consider volunteering.  In a down economy where jobs are scarce, if your family doesn’t need the money, consider volunteer positions for your teen.  Volunteering can be a great way to gain work experience.  Some possibilities for volunteer work are at:  hospitals, animal shelters, zoos, libraries, nursing homes, children’s programs and any organization with non-profit status.  Your teen will have to apply and interview for volunteer positions because, like employers, organizers don’t want to waste time on someone who won’t work out.  Volunteer work looks very good on applications for employment, college admissions and college scholarships.

A parent’s responsibility in the job process is to help them look for openings and ensure their teen isn’t getting into something that will prove harmful in the present or future.  Keep in mind, however, parents who overstep their role as a guide on important rites of passage such as getting a job may create a teen who refuses to grow up and be independent.  If you support your teen and act as a guide in this exciting endeavor you will get them started on the right foot to becoming a contributing member of society.

For more help, go to www.heygetajob.com.

ImageWhether it’s a new job at McDonald’s or on Wall Street, there is going to be a learning curve. For a teen starting a new job, there is the added pressure of being new to the work force. I think that as a adults, we sometimes forget how panicked we were to start a new job, and how exhausting it can be until we become proficient at it. It could be helpful to prepare teens for this and let them know what to expect from their new jobs.

In Hey, Get a Job!, I point out some workplace expectations that teens may or may not be familiar with. Talk to them about these, explain them and maybe throw in some personal stories to emphasize these points. If they know the expectations going in, maybe a little stress can be avoided.

Workplace expectations:

  • Willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and done well
  • Takes initiative
  • Shows up and shows up on time
  • Dependability, keeps promises
  • Self motivated
  • Able to accept mistakes without blaming others
  • Honest
  • Able to handle change, flexible and adaptable
  • Respectful, doesn’t participate in harassing behaviors
  • Listens
  • Enthusiastic and positive

I’ve been thinking about this because I started a new job, and I have decided the cliche phrases are true. I definitely feel like ‘I’m drinking from a fire hose’ and that ‘I’m just keeping my head above water.’ I could go on with the drowning metaphors, but I’m sure you get the point. My family has been great, but there is a certain lack of understanding because my kids haven’t had work experience yet and it’s been almost twenty years since my husband started a new job. But, I was prepared for it because I’ve had previous work experiences. Your teen hasn’t. Talk to your teen before they begin work, and maybe then they can avoid that drowning feeling. 

This interview with Book Journeys on Blogtalk Radio was fun. It wasn’t about bullying, parenting or teen job hunting. It was about how I write and my experience with the world of publishing. It was a refreshing change of pace. Hopefully I helped some budding writers out there!



Video  —  Posted: January 31, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Gay marriage is currently a hot topic in this country. From celebrities and members of the media who speak to massive audiences to parents at their dinners tables, it seems everyone has an opinion. Our youth listen todownload their role models. Unfortunately, the anti-gay messages seem to be loudest. It seems kids are receiving the ‘okay’ to bully those who are not heterosexual.

The statistics speak for themselves. GLBT teens hear anti-gay slurs approximately twenty-six times a day, once every fourteen minutes.  Twenty-eight percent of gay students drop out of school, three times the national average for heterosexual students.  Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. (Hey, Back Off!, pg. 215) The social programming in regard to GLBT citizens of all ages has to change.

This change can begin with adults, especially parents. Parents are the greatest teachers a child has. Parents have to send the message that bullying is never okay, regardless of sexual orientation. In order to do this, parents have to believe, “It is not a show of faith or strong principles to reject my child, or anyone else’s child, for being gay.” (Hey, Back Off!, pg. 237) Parents are powerful. You have the ability to save lives.

If your child is being bullied because of their sexual orientation, or their perceived sexual orientation, he or she must take some assertive steps to stop it. Here are some ideas for what your teen can say or do.  Tell your teen:

  • Don’t deny or confirm. Someone’s sexual orientation is none of anyone’s business. Denying or confirming are both no-wins. The harasser is likely to escalate because either answer lets them know they’ve gotten to the victim. Instead, focus on how you feel about the bully’s behavior.
  • Use “I” statements. I want you to stop… I don’t like it when… I don’t understand why… I feel like you’re trying to get a reaction out of me. “I” statements focus on your feelings and the harasser’s behavior.
  • Report what is happening to a trusted adult. If the harassment is severe, persistent or pervasive you must report. Remember, you are protected by law as a human being and by school district policy as a student. Parents, you have to be okay with your teen reporting to someone besides you. Tell him or her it’s okay if they go to someone else. The important thing is that your child is safe.
  • Have a plan. Get your sense of safety back. Make a safety plan that includes secure places, people you feel safe with and how to contact them, a phrase to say to let someone know you’re in trouble, and who you can report to if needed.
  • Work on your self-esteem. Your sexual orientation is a large part of who you are, but it is far from the complete picture. Refuse to let others define you and tell you there is something wrong with you. Know that harassment is not your fault and is certainly never deserved. Find family, friends and other sources of support who will see you, not a label. You have the right to feel safe and secure. Parents, please, please don’t be one of your teen’s harassers. Accept and love them for who they are. They are your child.
  • Find a support group. There are groups like GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) clubs in schools, in the community and online. Find your allies, both gay and straight. Never feel alone, because you aren’t . There is support for you. (Hey, Back Off!, pg. 216-217)

It is a powerful thing when parents discuss anti-gay harassment with their teen, whether he or she is gay, straight, bully, victim or positive leader. It says to them there is no place for bullying of any kind in this world. If we truly want to protect our kids, the messages they are receiving about homosexuals and the way they should be treated have to change.

I have had several requests lately for my lesson plan that accompanies Hey, Get a Job! A Teen Guide for Getting and Keeping a Job. Although it is available on my website, www.heygetajob.com, I thought I would includeCover_wBorderSM it in a blog post as well.

Helping Teens Find, Get and Keep Jobs
Jennie Withers


The lesson objective is help students not only prepare for entering the workforce, but also the life skills required to keep a job.

Subjects covered:  labor laws, finding openings, etiquette for picking up applications, do’s and don’ts for filling out applications, resume writing, interviewing, hire packets including defining harassment, what employers expect from their employees (otherwise known as how not to get fired), and managing money and time.

Grade Levels:  8-12

Time To Complete:  5-11 days, fifty minute class periods


  • Students will know the labor laws for their age group.
  • Students will know resources for them to use when looking for job openings, and they will know how to pick up applications.
  • Students will know how to properly fill out a job application.
  • Students will know to complete a resume and cover letter.
  • Students will know how to interview effectively.
  • Students will be aware of what a hiring packet is and what one will contain.
  • Students will know what workplace requirements are so that they will be competent employees.
  • Students will learn how to manage money, time and know when they are being taken advantage of by employers.


Materials needed:

  • Withers, Jennie. Hey, Get a Job! A Teen Guide for Getting and Keeping a Job – Teacher’s Edition
  • Optional –    Withers, Jennie. Hey, Get a Job! A Teen Guide for Getting and Keeping a Job – Standard Edition (student)
  • Computer projector (optional)
  • Student computers for generating resumes and cover letters
  • Optional:  various applications from businesses that hire teens, various hiring packets from businesses that hire teens, your local Job Service information on what services they provide for teens, various assignments located in the Supplements folder on this CD



  • Day 1 – Hey, Get a Job! Section 1
    • Survey the class to see who has or had a job and who has gone through the application and interview process Assure those that have been through the application and interview process that they will still learn something and that you may call on their expertise.
    • With students generate a list of where they might look for job openings.  Eliminate those that don’t really work for teens (i.e. newspaper) add web sites like snagajob.com and others you find for your area.  Find information for your local Job Service.  See Hey, Get a Job! Section 1
    • Discuss picking up applications – appearance, alone, and that they may have to stay and fill out an application on computer Hey, Get a Job! Section 1
    • Show example applications from various businesses
    • Hand out a copy of the Child Labor Laws ( Department of Labor link by state is in Section 1, more specific information can be requested through a state’s Department of Labor or on the Department’s web site) 

*Optional – create a worksheet for your state’s labor laws   (example for Idaho in the Supplements folder)


  • Day 2 – Hey, Get a Job! Section 2
    • Handout a blank application to students.  Hey, Get a Job! Section 2
    • Section 2 of Hey, Get a Job! Goes step by step through filling out an application. 

*Optional – project the section located on the CD


* Copy the examples onto a transparency 

    • Their completed application turned in for credit

*Optional – make them the employers and they decide if they would interview their peer according to the application


  • Day 3-5 – Hey, Get a Job! Section 3
    • Discuss a resume’s purpose and basic rules for resume writing
    • Have students create a basic resume using worksheets in the book or going to http://www.heygetajob.com  and clicking on ‘resume template’
    • Demonstrate available resume templates (Microsoft office online or Microsoft Word)

*Optional – have students input the information on the basic  resume into a template to jazz it up

    • A completed resume turned in for credit
    • Discuss and assign the cover letter (there are also templates for business letters)
    • A completed cover letter turned in for credit


  • Day 6 – Hey, Get a Job! Section 4
    • Give the Interviewing Tips handout (located in the Supplements folder) 
    • Role play interviews – ask a student a question and then discuss the good and the bad of their answer with the class


  • Day 7-9 – Hey, Get a Job! Sections 5 & 6
    • Discuss filling out a W-4 form

*Optional – have students fill out a W-4 from the worksheet in  Hey, Get a Job!

    • Discuss reading a paycheck, paying taxes

*Optional – paycheck worksheet (located in the Supplements folder)

* Optional – have students fill out an EZ income tax form using fabricated information (the 1040EZ form, IRS instructions and tax tables and the 1040EZ key are pdf files, the fabricated                                         information is a Word file – all are located in the Supplements  folder)  If you would like an example of a W-2, it can be a printed  from  http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw2.pdf .

    • Workplace Expectations ppt. presentation (on the teacher’s edition CD) covers technical skills, communication skills, work ethic, dependability, responsibility, honesty, flexibility, respect, attitude and the definition of harassment. 

*Optional – students take notes on the presentation for a pop quiz (located in the Supplements folder).  The quiz can be open or closed note.  Use the PowerPoint slides for the quiz key.


  • Day 10 – Hey, Get a Job! Section 7
    • Brief discussion of handling money, not letting employers take advantage of teens.

*Optional – Budgeting worksheet (located in the Supplements folder)

    • Provide a newspaper classified section or online help wanted site to each student.  Assignment: List 30 job requirements, and 30 adjectives describing the type of person employers are looking for.
    • Exit card – list three things you learned about getting and keeping a job, and one question you still have.


  • Day 11 – Wrap up
  • Answer exit card questions
  • Hand back and discuss graded assignments


Extension:  Choosing a career and applying to colleges or trade schools.


Assessment:  Various assignments including a completed application, completed resume and cover letter, workplace expectations quiz and the exit card.  And, of course, students who land their first jobs.


Teaching Standards:  Meets standards in Career Education and Vocational Technical curriculums as well as Language Arts-Technical Reading and Writing curriculum.


Helpful links for students, teachers and parents available at http://www.jenniewithers.com



backpackIntroducing my new book, A Backpack, a Eurorail Pass and Some Serious Baggage. This has been a different project for me because it is extremely personal. It is my story of growing up, choosing what I believe and overcoming abuse. It is twenty years worth of work.

Author’s Note:

Travelers, like writers, believe in the power of setting. Before this trip through Europe with my friends Jeanne and Bert, my setting had always been conservative, small town Idaho. I absolutely had to leave that environment and the people insulating me in order to gain perspective of the world and myself. Maybe most importantly, without this journey, I don’t think I ever would have revealed or dealt with my abuse. With the help and support of Jeanne and Bert, I found a voice in Europe.

A Backpack, a Eurorail Pass and Some Serious Baggage is almost twenty years of work. I’ve started and stopped writing it many times and revised the manuscript more than I can count. It was very difficult for me to put myself out there this much.

Bert and Jeanne have been involved and passed off on this project. Theirs are the only names that haven’t been changed. To this day, they are my rocks.

What I hope to accomplish with A Backpack, a Eurorail Pass and Some Serious Baggage is an honest account of a young woman’s struggle to get to a place where she can run unabashedly through the pages of her story.

Chapter 1

England doesn’t put its past in museums or rope it off into National Landmarks; history is merely assumed into daily life. (Let’s Go Europe 1994, pg. 339)

I left the United States and it wasn’t to trudge door to door begging for converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons. Going on a mission for the church was the only credible reason for an unmarried twenty two year old woman to leave the country according to the folks back home in Paterson, Idaho. I was rooted in a religious, rural Idaho town whose population was less than a thousand. In my experience, small towns could be peaceful, nurturing and cruel.

I hoped my studies abroad program and subsequent travels would provide the freedom I needed to discover not only who I was, but who I wanted to be. The Mormon paradigm was all I’d ever known and self-discovery was not exactly encouraged. I needed to leave. I even came up with three official rules for my time away: 1) Be Worldly, 2) No Guilt! 3) Discover the perfect pint of ale.  So here I was, living with a London family, attending school at the University of London, running amuck in England with an Eskimo named Bert, and living by my own rules, not my family’s and certainly not the church’s.

Despite my best efforts to remain apart from Idaho, there were times I had to reconnect. After all, there were people there I loved. My weekly postcard correspondence was one of those times.

I flopped onto the pepto pink bed in the pastel pink bedroom I shared with Bert, short for Roberta. I wrote to my grandparents, parents and Aunt Steph. I loved and missed them, but even if they weren’t exactly accepted by the Mormon majority in Paterson, they were a reminder of who I was expected to be.

I dealt the postcards onto the bed thinking that they would be particularly tedious today because I was running out of time. My semester was over. My classmates from various colleges in the Northwest were headed home. My only consolation was that I still had another month of freedom traveling with Bert and Jeanne.

I would start with the postcard for my grandparents. Mission or not, they were proud of me. I described Leeds Castle pictured on the front of the card and the maze I got hopelessly lost in because I had no sense of direction. The frustration was well worth it when I made it to the exquisite sea themed grotto in the middle. Gram liked stories of triumph after tribulation, particularly mine. I was, after all, her favorite.

I closed with most of the pertinent information; I was eating well, was learning a lot, missed them, loved them and signed it, Jennie Gal. I couldn’t bring myself to write that my prayers were being said every night. It was what they wanted to hear, and it would have been easy to include, but I had never been a liar.

I was about to start on Steph’s postcard when the phone rang downstairs, two vigorous rings followed by a pause then two more rings. Every call in England sounded urgent. Knowing my home-stay family was in bed and Bert was probably downstairs asleep in front of the TV, I slid my five eleven frame off my five foot nothing bed and scrambled down the stairs. I glanced into the living room as I reached for the phone and saw that Bert was indeed laid out on the couch.

I had known Bert since my Freshman year at Mormon owned Ricks College. As a Native Alaskan, she was pretty much my only ethnic friend. Bert was a round faced, brown skinned, Asian eyed, mischievous character whose smile was contagious. I’d never seen her serious side, until now.

“Hello,” I said knowing immediately the crackling airspace meant it was an overseas call.

While she slept, Bert played with her long brightly designed hair wrap like those you get on a beach in Mexico from a poor woman who was skilled with embroidery floss. Bert didn’t get hers in Mexico, but from her sisters before the funeral. I didn’t know how to deal with this Bert. This one retreated into herself, and although I understood the trauma that took her there, I didn’t know what to say to bring her back. Luckily, being busy seemed to help.

“Did you hear about Steph and Ray?” My brother asked.

“What, no is Jen there? How about hello?”

“I knew it was you. So did you hear about Steph?”

“No, what?” I ran a hand through my not so permed anymore thick brown hair out of frustration with my little brother. It was a habit I picked up in the 80’s when we wanted big hair. Darin knew something big. Otherwise he wouldn’t be dangling it like a treat he made his dog do tricks for. I wasn’t in the mood to perform.

I pictured his smug face. We looked quite a lot alike, Darin and I. Square jaws, ski-jump noses and easy smiles which showed slightly crooked teeth. Apart from gender attributes, our almond shaped green eyes seemed to be the only difference. Darin’s were described as warm, maybe slightly mischievous, while mine were said to be intense and mysterious.

“Quit being a jackass or I’m hanging up.” Even though I was twenty two and my brother almost eighteen, I still resorted to name calling. Sibling rivalry doesn’t ever grow up.

“Steph and Ray are getting divorced,” Darin hurried to say.

“Divorced? Why?”

“The bastard cheated on Steph with his secretary. And she’s pregnant.”

“Who’s pregnant?”

“The secretary, retard.”

I rotated the phone so my brother wouldn’t hear the deep breath I took which according to my self-help books were supposed to quiet the drummer in my chest and the panic screaming through my brain.

“Jen, you still there?”

“How is she?” I asked.

“Pissed. And get this, Ray’s probably screwed other women too, might even be other kids. There’s all sorts of shit hittin’ the fan. I think Steph should cap him in the nads.” There was barely a pause before Darin changed the subject. “Hey, you got me anything yet? My birthday’s tomorrow you know. Is Jeanne there? Dude, tell her I’m not jailbait anymore and I’m totally available.”

“Not until tomorrow. Tell mom I’ll call,” I said flatly and hung up the phone.

I glanced into the living room. Bert was still dead to the world. She hadn’t heard the conversation. It didn’t matter, it wasn’t like I’d talked to anyone before about any of this shit. As I climbed the stairs I thought becoming blissfully distracted by my European journey was what I needed. That, and the root cellar.

The root cellar was the place in my head where I locked away my worst memories. It was aptly named because Gram’s pitch black, earth storage room scared the hell out of me. A piece of plywood on hinges groaned open to reveal cement stairs that descended into a damp, dirt walled, acrid smelling black abyss. Once I threw a memory down into the darkness like a sack of potatoes, I didn’t retrieve it.

Ray was the reason I created the root cellar. I knew it was going to be difficult to keep it locked down. Ray hurt Steph. Something I’d always wanted to prevent.

Back in the room, I picked the postcard I chose for Steph off the bed. It was The Execution of Lady Jane Grey. Of all the people staring from canvasses at the National Gallery, this blindfolded girl kneeling in front of the executioner’s block haunted me the most. Her loyalty to family and faith earned her the title of queen for nine days, and then it got her beheaded. I tossed the card in the trash, realizing that writing postcards, particularly that one, would not serve as the diversion I needed to keep that plywood door closed.

I placed the other postcards on the nightstand and turned off the light, covered up and pulled my knees to my chest. I might be able to keep out of the root cellar, but there would be no avoiding the what ifs. I shut my eyes and my thoughts took over. What if being a lawyer and Mormon man in a small, predominantly Mormon city made Ray as powerful as I thought it did? What if he took the boys away from Steph? What if I had to tell? What if I was called into the Bishop? What if I was told to repent? What if Steph blamed me for all of it? What if she didn’t believe me? What if she hated me? What if I just stayed out of it? What if Steph didn’t need my help? What if Steph didn’t want my help? What if Steph shot Ray in the balls? What if I did?

The various answers to these questions played out in my imagination or in my short, but intense, anxiety dreams. Bert never came to bed so at first light, I got up and opened the curtains. The dull gray of the London morning was there.

I sat on the floor next to the radiator and wrote a sunny description of the last class party overlooking Brighton’s white cliffs in my journal, and then read from my English History book which read more like a soap opera than a textbook. When I heard voices coming from Eric and Liz’s bedroom, I showered and got ready to meet Jeanne at Victoria Station.

As I walked up the hill to the Rayner’s Lane station, I was rather sentimental. The semester was over and so was my claim to Rayner’s Lane. My cup of Postum and a scone at the local I had become commonplace, but today they were the last time. My only comfort was knowing I had one more adventure before I had to return home.

I was not quite so sentimental about the Tube. I boarded a train and realized I truly hated London’s subway that day and not just because of the stale air mixed with a variety of dirty odors that created the black boogers I blew from my nose after a Tube trip. It was the quiet. Only the socially inept or obnoxious American tourists talked above a whisper on the Tube. My favorite hobby, eavesdropping, wasn’t possible so I’d brought my juicy history book.

Before reading, I looked to see if Miss Idaho Lovely Lips was in my car. She was. This time she launched her dirt bike off a mountain peak and sailed shiny lips first at observers. Advertisements for Blistex plastered inside Tube cars provided the only knowledge Londoners had about Idaho. They featured a female daredevil named Miss Idaho Lovely Lips who, despite the dangerous activities she participated in, always had great looking lips. The one I’d stolen after a pub crawl with my literature professor and classmates featured Miss Idaho Lovely Lips riding atop an airplane.

The advertisers had gotten one thing right. Vast landscapes were featured as the backdrop for the glossy lipped adventurer. I missed being able to jump in a car, on a motorcycle, snowmobile or bike and in a few minutes be the only person on earth. It was easier for me to be calm in wide open spaces. For now, I would have to settle for having my own seat on a Saturday morning Tube ride.

My luck changed when I switched trains at South Kensington. The Tube was packed with Saturday morning shoppers. I found a seat next to an older woman in a turquoise slicker and a neon purple hat. Londoners seemed to compensate for their dreary skies through their wardrobes and home décor. The woman nodded in greeting as I sat. Idaho Lovely Lips wasn’t in my car.

I flipped open my book to a random page and there was Lady Jane Grey. The universe was obviously trying to tell me something. Was I Lady Jane? Was that what I was supposed to get? I turned to another chapter, but found my mind was too occupied with Lady Jane Grey to read. I wished I’d brought my Walkman instead of the book.

When the train stopped, the woman sitting next to me patted my leg before I could make my move toward the exit. “He’s not worth it Love,” she whispered. “Tell him to sod off, then get pissed and get on with it.”

“Thanks.” I forced a smile and smoothed down my big hair.

I exited the eerie silence of the Tube into bustling Victoria Station. The board said Jeanne’s train should arrive in an hour. It seemed like yesterday I came in on that train.

I was excited to have Jeanne, aka Barbie, back with Bert and me. She was the best distraction there was. Jeanne was always focused on fun. She would keep the cellar shut and the what ifs at bay. As an added bonus, Jeanne could help me keep track of our Eskimo friend who was evidently a nomad by nature.

I mailed my one postcard, paid my ten p to pee, rented a locker, and then found a bookstore. Bookstores in London were as prevalent as coffee shops in the states. I loved it. Reading gave me the opportunity to live in someone else’s head for a while which was probably why I chose to be an English major. I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with an English degree, but I was succumbing to the idea of being a teacher like my parents.

I browsed through the store’s clearance novels. I was drawn to a book with the picture of a women’s basketball player on the cover. It was a truly odd find in London, England. I turned it over and read the back. Mandy Lewis is living her dream. It’s her last year of high school. She’s the star on an undefeated basketball team, college scouts are paying attention, her friends are solid, and she’s dating the hottest guy in school. Mandy’s life is going as planned. That is until Lisa comes into the picture. Mandy’s attraction to Lisa threatens her game plan. If Mandy and Lisa are together, Mandy may have to sacrifice everything for love.

 I knew the dyke jock stereotype well. When I was in elementary school, I played football and basketball with the boys. I bought Star Wars figures with my allowance. I rejected clothing with lace, ruffles or flowers and I only wore dresses to church because it was required.

As a teen, I was interested in boys, but they had to be taller than me and able to keep up with me on a basketball court. There weren’t many who fit my qualifications and weren’t related to me in Paterson. The most noticeably queer thing for people in my hometown, however, was that I wanted more out of youth than learning to cook, make baby blankets and embroider on dish towels to put in a hope chest for the prodigious day I was married in the temple and started on a big family.  My refusal to learn how to be a good wife and mother was not only a reflection of my neglectful family, but of my perceived sexuality as well.

I tossed the book carelessly onto the pile and went to the travel section. I noted a bright yellow cover belonging to a book called Let’s Go Europe 1994. It was the size and thickness of a standard bible. On the cover it announced it was written by college students as a guide for young travelers on a budget. Jeanne, Bert and I were far from wealthy. We’d worked, saved, and in my case, taken out a student loan to pay for our time in Europe. I decided the book was a worthy investment.

Back at the arrivals area, I sat and flipped through the first pages of Let’s Go. I paused to read about the importance of choosing compatible travel companions. I knew Jeanne, Bert and I would travel well together. After all, we formed the kind of bond that only outcasts at Ricks College could. Bert was a Catholic who tagged along to Idaho from Alaska with a Mormon friend. She was a follower with a knack for finding those who needed to feel like leaders. Jeanne’s Barbie exterior hid a recreant sent to Ricks by her parents to force her on the straight and narrow. And then there was me, a student athlete determined to keep my mouth closed and my soul open so I wouldn’t have to function on borrowed faith any longer. We were rebels with a cause to discover who we were despite being immersed in a religion that wanted to define us.

A train rumbled in and squealed to a stop. Passengers poured out and hurried off to various destinations. I quickly located Jeanne in the throng of people. English people were generally known for their propriety, pride and drinking boat loads of tea. They were not known for their platinum blonde hair, blue eyes and dimpled smile that revealed perfect teeth. Jeanne’s backpack was slung over her shoulder, she wore her favorite well-worn, blue plaid flannel shirt and loose fitting jeans that couldn’t hide an athletic build or a young woman who had attitude. Bad-Ass Barbie had arrived.

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