Wednesday 30 July 2014
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Protect Yourself Before You Connect Yourself: Kate's Story

In honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Sgrouples will be releasing a series of “Protect Yourself Before You Connect Yourself” stories every week for the remainder of October! So what happens when shy Kate finally comes into her own at her high school and makes a relationship official on social media?

“It’ll be fine,” Kate’s mother attempted to tuck her hair behind her ear, but Kate swatted her hand away, upset. “This is something we all have to do. It’s called ‘growing up.’”

Distraught, the 16-year-old looked out the car window and at the new high school that seemed to loom largely in the distance, yet was 10 feet from her in reality. She didn’t feel much like talking, but she knew that it would stall the process. “Can’t I just be homeschooled?”

“We’ve been through this…It might seem like that’s something you want right now, but you haven’t even given this a try. You’ll make friends!”

Kate scoffed. “Yeah, because I’ve been so good at that in the past.” Years of moving from state to state hadn’t exactly fostered great people skills.

“All you have to do, sweetie, is smile and introduce yourself. There’s no harm in that.” Kate’s mother laid a hand on her shoulder, assuredly. “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll reevaluate. Now get out of here! Or do you want me to physically remove you from this car?” Her mother’s voice took a turn for the mockingly stoic and Kate knew it was time to give it up.

She rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened the door, making sure she didn’t look back. She didn’t want her mother to see the look on her face. As she walked forward, she realized that she was clutching the right-hand strap of her backpack so tightly that she was sure it might pop off. How embarrassing would that be? She quickly let go.

Alright, smile, she thought. Simple enough. She looked at the first person she saw and tried to put on her best grin, but she could feel her bottom lip quivering. He had almond-shaped blue eyes and sandy brown hair, but what she noticed first was the fact that he smiled back. She abruptly looked away as her own eyes widened. Why didn’t she expect that to happen?

This was going to be a long day.

In fact, it was a long first month. It took Kate 13 days to ask the person next to her in math class for help on a homework question, and it was 26 days before she sat with anyone at lunch. But finally, eventually, she started to realize that talking to people wasn’t that bad. They always had interesting things to say and sometimes they even wanted to hear from her.

It was on the 38th day that things really got interesting. She caught the sandy-haired boy looking at her. And before she knew it, he had asked her out on a date. Not too long afterwards she found herself excitedly accepting a “relationship request” online.

Kate sat back in her chair and took a deep breath. This meant it was truly official, didn’t it? Wasn’t that what people said? She had a boyfriend. Her first instinct was to find her mother for a gossip session. After all, she generally told the woman pretty much everything…However, this bit of information felt somewhat different. Kate was finally starting to form her own life and some piece of her wanted to keep these worlds separate.

And so, instead of running downstairs, Kate clicked on that Microsoft Word icon and began unwillingly typing out her latest history paper. It must have been no longer than an hour later when she flipped back over to the Internet, excited to see if anyone had commented on her latest update.

She clicked on her profile with anticipation – she couldn’t wait to just see the words again: “In a Relationship.” Watching her Macbook’s rainbow wheel spin around and around, Kate was about to refresh the page when it loaded. But the words weren’t there…

Perhaps she hadn’t clicked “Save?” She messed around with the page in an effort to find any trace of the boyfriend she had thought she had. Finally, in her “Notifications,” she noticed a long list of comments. Kate frantically clicked the oldest and finally the words she had wanted to see appeared on the screen…followed by some not-so-desirable words.

“Kate? Really?”

“Isn’t she the one who doesn’t talk?”

“I think she killed a man once.”

Horrified, Kate shut the laptop and looked around as if making sure she was alone. “Killed a man?” Is that really what people thought of her?! She could feel the warm, wet tears beginning to form in the corners of her eyes. Suddenly, the light brush of footsteps could be heard over the music she had been playing and Kate tried to snatch the Kleenex box off of the top shelf of her bookcase, knocking down several binders in the process.

“Katherine?” she heard her mother’s voice. “Dinner’s about ready. You ok in there?”

“I’ll – uh – I’ll be out in a minute,” she attempted weakly.

“You don’t sound so good, honey.” Kate’s mom opened the door. Why did she have to open the door?! “What’s wrong?” she asked, clearly upset.

“Oh, mom – it’s – it’s nothing.” Kate opened her laptop in an effort to prove that she was busy. “Just having trouble with a paper.”

“Well, let me see that.” Of course her mother would try and help. Kate scolded herself for the bad cover. Kate’s mom took the laptop, but it was only seconds before her face registered the damage. “Killed a – Kate?! This is serious. Why didn’t you tell me this was going on?!” Her face held equal parts concern and anger and Kate wasn’t sure what to tell her – it had barely had time to register in her own mind.

“I – uh – It only just happened.”

“Um – ok.” Kate’s mom seemed just as at a loss for what to do. “First of all, you come here.” Kate nervously got off of her seat and several crumpled tissues fell to the floor beneath her. Her mother took her in her arms and embraced her so tightly she thought she couldn’t breathe. Then again, that may have been the side effects of what had just happened.

Kate’s mom pulled away. “Now, what we’re gonna do is sit down. You’re gonna tell me everything. And then we’ll call your principal-”

“Tomorrow?” Kate asked.

“Right now,” her mom answered quickly. “I don’t care what time it is,” she added at the look on her daughter’s face. “And then we’ll take a look at this online stuff you’re doing. I’m not sure how much of this I’m comfortable with.”

The arguments lasted seemingly forever. Kate wanted her own life, even if that meant exposing herself online. Kate’s mother wanted what was best for her. In the end, Kate’s social media profiles weren’t deleted, but they were put under lock and key and it was decided that Kate wasn’t to go to school the next day.

“People can be cruel,” her mother had said in a hushed tone while stroking her daughter’s hair the next morning. Kate had just purged her files of the boy who had so unreasonably broken up with her. And it had felt good to get rid of him, but the wounds were still fresh. “That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look for the good ones. We exist – there are more of us – I promise.”

“I know,” Kate had stated simply.

The following semester, she found herself at another new school in the same city. At least she had not had to put her things in boxes this time. Her mom gave her the same pep talk, only this time, Kate was ready. No more naive relationship statuses…but also no more eating lunch alone…She got out of the car and smiled confidently at the first person she saw.

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