At a lanky eight years old, my tomboy phase peaked. Between my sisters, mom, and I, there was plenty of girliness to be spared. Daddy worked too much, so someone had to be the man of the family, the Leader of the Sisterhood — I nobly fulfilled my obligation to protect my sisters from the evils of the playground monsters, unfriendly terrorists, Russia, and seven-eyed aliens.
Perky pigtails tied up under the supervision of Mom were so first grade, and the Hairstyle Of The Year evolved to resemble less of Bubbles the Powerpuff Girl, and more of a damp, abandoned bird’s nest wrapped by unpolished fingers in a mess of rubber bands. I attended to more important appointments, like practicing my rollerblading tricks with the big kids at the skate park, or peeking on suspicious neighbors with binoculars from the hollow, rotting trees in their backyards.
The round, clear glasses with blue swirls printed on them marked my uniform, and spies wear bulky knit sweaters with bold rugby stripes, so I did too: burnt orange, hunter green, brown, brick red, and straight from the little boys section of GapKids. From the rusty monkey bars onto which I wrote my spy codes in gel pen at recess, to the slick, wooden church pew we knelt on every Sunday as a family, I was in uniform. My two sisters did ballet, and I wore skater shoes in the Christmas card — much to my Southern parents’ chagrin.
I’m not sure what compelled my little brain bursting with paranoia and global schemes to buy a little purple journal so I could write about boys. My first crush was on Lee Kosman in third grade, and to much dismay, he wasn’t particularly attracted to tall, skinny girls with big glasses who owned all the same sweaters he did. He liked the girls who wore pink leggings and sparkly sweaters from the girls section of GapKids, and I stared adoringly in the corner through my thick plastic glasses, twiddling my unpolished thumbs, crossing my timid, lean legs all the way down to my dirt-clodded Sketchers. His tan skin, flashy braces-less smile, third grade P.E. sit-up record, and impeccable handwriting were all good qualities for a spy’s partner, and every time he stared at Mary Spurlock’s sparkly sweaters or leggings outfit, I died a little inside. I guess I just wasn’t his type.
Out of desperation, I caved and saved allowance money and lucky pennies to buy a journal from the Scholastic book order form. Mommy didn’t know. Bothered by my wardrobe but unwilling to compromise my pride, I spilled my frustrations with Lee by means of a blue ballpoint pen. For someone to find my diary — a girly purple journal with rhinestones — would have killed me. Revealing the unspeakable girliness inside my journal would stab me with stiletto heels, burn me — sear me — with scars of humiliation and nail polish, send me into the fiery depths of sequin-laden, vanilla-scented hell, force me into company with pink tutu-wearing dragons and sparkly brimstone, torture me with threats of frilly headbands and pink cupcakes and ballet. Someone finding the journal would have destroyed me.
Thus, the security mechanisms were enacted, one by one, to ensure my purple journal was never, ever found.
Advice to a third grade CIA agent: How to shield your journal from intruders
1. Erase any suspicion said journal exists.
When you order the journal from the Scholastic book order, don’t tell Mom. Do it independently and quietly. Don’t leave a trail. Pay in cash. (or, in my case, dollar bills and pennies.) Also: When you write in the journal, always take your clothes off first. That way, if someone barges into your room when you’re anxiously scribbling, you can run up to the door “Leave! I’M NAKED!” and slam it shut. They won’t know what hit them, besides a panicking-third-grader powered door. The journal aspect will be forgotten. The naked trick works.
2. Hide it.
I don’t mean hide under your bed, or in your panty drawer, or in your bookshelf. Hide it good—be creative! You’re only in third grade once. I didn’t hide mine under my bed; I hid mine under my house. If you pull your bottom drawers completely off their sliding hinges, with just enough room in the dusty ditch below to place a small purple, velour journal, that should be satisfactory.
3. Lock it.
The key, unlike the journal, is fairly safe in your panty drawer. Disregard the fact that the silver lock is probably faulty, and the buckle is on there for show. Silver locks scare away strangers. Strangers, nosy moms, and older sisters. Lock it.
4. Outsmart the intruder.
Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t yet invented invisible ink — that was on the to-do list for fourth grade, along with learning pre-pre-algebra and all the state capitals. Settling with codes solved the intruder problem as far as I was concerned: Start on the last page, last line. Write right to left, moving up each line. Don’tusespaces. Any intruder, if they even get to the last page, will see letter clutter. Cluttered letters. Srettelderettulc. Nothing more. Also: write with messy handwriting. Theworstthingintheworldistotryanddecodebackwards,upside-downstories writteninathirdgrader’smessyhandwriting…withnospaces.
5. Stay anonymous.
Refer to certain people in terms of their initials, or be more creative if your memory allows you to keep them all straight. My first crush Lee was aptly referred to as eeL in journal entries. I thought it was brilliant. Lee = eeL. HA! No one will catch that one. No one. Alphabet soup is what we aim for. (Just don’t forget the code.)