Insinuation 2.4: An Unfriendly Roast

Source material: Worm, Insinuation 2.4

Originally blogged: February 23, 2017


Asks answered? Check. Insinuation 2.4 open on the other half of my screen? Check. LumiRadio pumping sweet Homestuck music into my ears? Check.

Let’s see what fresh hell Taylor is in for this time!


“Nobody likes her. Nobody wants her here,” Julia said.

“Such a loser. She didn’t even turn in the major project for art, last Friday,” Sophia responded.

“If she’s not going to try, then why is she even coming to school?”

Diving right into the verbal abuse, are we?

This is a pretty standard tactic, in fiction at least, where the bullies talk to each other as if the victim isn’t there, but clearly mean for the victim to hear it. This way, it creates the impression of “this is what people in general think of you and say behind your back”, mixed with “you’re insignificant and it doesn’t matter that you can hear us”.

If these things worm their way into the victim’s brain and they start believing it, the bullies have won.

Despite the way the conversation sounded, they were talking to me. They were just pretending to talk to one another.

Yeah, exactly. I actually considered saying it approximately this way.

It was both calculating in how they were managing plausible deniability while at the same time they were acting totally juvenile by pretending I wasn’t there. A blend of immaturity mixed with craftiness in a way only high schoolers could manage. I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of it, if it hadn’t been at my expense.

“immaturity mixed with craftiness”

If there’s a better concise description of the way bullying in fiction works, I don’t think I’ve heard it.


I specify “bullying in fiction” because I’ve been lucky enough to never be a victim of bullying, and therefore don’t feel like I have the right/perspective to confidently pronounce something a really good description of how it works.


The moment I had left the classroom, Emma, Madison and Sophia had crowded me into a corner, with another six girls backing them up.

So that makes five Harpies we don’t know, I guess. Or maybe the Harpies only cover the trio… nah.

That does remind me, though. In 1.1, we briefly learned about the Triumvirate, the three top members and leaders of the Protectorate, and then pretty much immediately after, we met the three leaders of another group that appears to be quite a bit larger.

I don’t know if that’s intentional or relevant. Probably isn’t, really, but that’s the kind of parallel Homestuck has taught me to recognize.

…the Harpiate?

I was unable to squeeze past them without getting pushed or elbowed back, so I couldn’t do much more than lean against the window, listening while eight of the girls were rattling off an endless series of taunts and jibes.

Who’s not talking? Emma, maybe?

Before one girl was even finished, another started up. All the while, Emma stayed back and stayed quiet, the slightest of smiles on her face.

Yep. She’s probably waiting to come in down the middle as the chatter dies down, with an especially devastating line and a heavily choreographed dance number.

I couldn’t meet the eyes of any of the other girls without them barking a fresh torrent of insults directly to my face, so I just glared at Emma.

You’re showing a reaction, Taylor!

“Ugliest girl in our grade.”

They were barely thinking about what they were saying and a lot of the insults were wildly off the mark or contradictory. One would say I was a slut, for example, then another might say a guy would puke before he touched me.

I mean that’s not entirely contradictory.

But yeah, this is one of the differences between a skilled troll and an amateur. A skilled troll knows exactly where to prod.

The point wasn’t being witty, being smart or being on target. It was more about delivering the feeling behind the words over and over, hammering it in.

But in some cases, it really is quantity over quality.

If I’d had just a moment to butt in, maybe I could have come up with retorts. If I could just kill their momentum, they probably wouldn’t get back into the easy rhythm again.

In the words of GLaDOS: Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing is ugly.

I might be paraphrasing.


That said, I couldn’t find the words, and there weren’t any openings in the conversation where I wouldn’t just be talked over.

Here’s what you should–

While this particular tactic was new to me, I’d been putting up with stuff like this for a year and a half, now.


At a certain point, I’d come to the conclusion that it was easier to sit back and take it, when it came to most things. They wanted me to fight back, because everything was stacked in their favor. If I stood up for myself and they still ‘won’, then it only served to feed their egos.

Which is why you should try not to dignify it with a reaction. They thrive on reactions; if you don’t give them that, they might get bored.

It’s not a flawless tactic, though.

If I came out ahead in some way, then they got more persistent and mean for the next time.

The exact motivations for this whole thing are still unclear. Why does Emma suddenly seem to hate Taylor so much after they spent that summer apart?

Hmm.

So for much the same reason I hadn’t fought Madison for the homework she had taken from me, I just leaned against the wall next to the window and waited for them to get bored with their game or get hungry enough to leave and go have their lunches.

It sounds so wrong to tell a bully victim not to fight it but it really does seem to make for a viable tactic.


Nobody really asked for this, but here’s a little behind the scenes look at what I see when I liveblog from a computer!

I alternate between liveblogging from a computer and from my phone a bit, but there’s not as much to see on the phone side of things. I prefer the computer version, because formatting is easier and I can’t do the split screen on my phone (and thus have to alternate between the browser and Tumblr apps). Though at least the typing doesn’t lag behind by entire words in the Tumblr app, like it does on desktop.

[These days, almost two years later, I don’t liveblog from my phone anymore. Though that’s in part because a baffling Tumblr app update made it impossible by removing blockquotes from both the editor and rendering. Now that I’m on WordPress, it’s not entirely out of the question anymore.

Oh, and speaking of updates: The Maxthon browser has changed its UI a bit since this image was made. I miss having John smiling at me from the corner.]


“What does she use to wash her face? A Brillo pad?”

“She should! She’d look better!”

What’s a Brillo pad? Sounds like something to clean glasses with… *googles*


Okay yeah, don’t use those on your glasses or your faces.

“Never talks to anybody. Maybe she knows she sounds like a r(…) and keeps her mouth shut.”

“No, she’s not that smart.”

You’d be surprised how smart this girl is.

[I believe this is the only time I actually censored the R slur. Later on I’d just tag the posts including them with “#r slur”.]

No more than three feet behind Emma, I could see Mr. Gladly leaving his classroom. The tirade didn’t stop as I watched him tuck a stack of folders under one arm, find his keys and lock the door.

I briefly misread that as “fuck”. More at 11.

This could be interesting – Mr. Gladly already knows somepeople’s bullying Taylor, and this gathering around the normally asocial Taylor is gonna look mighty suspicious. Are the Harpies going to try to act innocent?

“If I were her, I’d kill myself,” one of the girls announced.

Mr. Gladly turned to look me in the eyes.

Yeah, no, of course they aren’t. They know they can still get away with it.

“So glad we don’t have gym with her. Can you imagine seeing her in the locker room? Gag me with a spoon.”

Huh, separate gym classes for students who seem to be in the same group. I guess that makes sense; it’s just not a concept I’m used to.


I don’t know what expression I had on my face, but I know I didn’t look happy.

I get the sense that happy isn’t a common expression on Taylor these days.

No less than five minutes ago, Mr. Gladly had been trying to convince me to go with him to the office and tell the principal about the bullying. I watched him as he gave me a sad look, shifted the file folders to his free hand and then walked away.

Helplessness. It seems to be a running theme. Taylor is helpless to stop the bullies herself (without breaking her moral code and probably landing herself in jail). She was helpless to finish off Lung on the rooftop last night, until the Mozarts saved her. Danny and Gladly are helpless to do anything about the bullies because Taylor doesn’t let them.

I was stunned. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how he could just ignore this.

You’re not letting him help you, so he’s stepping back.

When he had been trying to help me, had he just been covering his own ass, doing what was required of him in the face of a situation he couldn’t ignore?

I mean, that situation was way easier to ignore than this one. Even though they’re technically the same situation.

Had he just given up on me? After trying to help, in his own completely ineffective way, after I turned his offer for help down twice, he just decided I just wasn’t worth the effort?

I’ve stated what I think is the case here, but it’s kind of sad to see Taylor come to this conclusion.

And I have to admit, with how cynical this story has shown itself to be from time to time, she might be right.


“You should have seen her group fail in class just now. It was painful to watch.”

Yeah, as if you didn’t cause that.

I clenched my fist, then forced myself to relax it. If we were all guys, this scenario would be totally different. I was in the best shape of my life. I could have swung a few punches from the very start, caused a bloody nose or two, maybe.

Why exactly is it that “boys fight, girls bully” is a thing? Oh right, gender roles.

It’s no wonder people are salty over those.

I know I would have lost the fight in the end, getting shoved to the ground by force of numbers and kicked while I was down, but things would have ended there, instead of dragging on like they were here.

Fights have an ending.

Bullying campaigns, however? Not if the bullies can help it.

I’d hurt physically for days afterwards, but I’d at least have had the satisfaction of knowing some of the others were hurting too, and I wouldn’t have to sit through this barrage of insults. If there was enough damage done, the school would have to take notice, and they wouldn’t be able to ignore the circumstances of a one-against-nine fight. Violence gets attention.

And that’s one of the reasons for the endless nature of bullying. It’s not noticed.

Except of course in this case the bullying has been noticed, and Taylor is refusing to give anyone enough information to help her.

But things didn’t work that way here. Girls played dirty. If I decked Emma, she would run to the office with some fabricated story, her friends backing up her version of events.

It’s one against nine.

And the one would be the aggressor.

For most, ratting to the faculty was social suicide, but Emma was more or less top dog. If she went to the principal, people would only take things more seriously.

Funny how that works, isn’t it.

Isn’t it.

By the time I got back to school, they would have spread the story through the grapevine in a way that made me look like a total psycho. Things would get worse. Emma would be seen as the victim and girls who had previously ignored the bullying would join in on Emma’s behalf.

And the odds worsen from 1:9 to 1:15, or something. I don’t know how many girls there are in total.


“And she smells,” one girl said, lamely.

“Like expired grape and orange juice,” Madison cut in with a little laugh. Again, bringing up the juice? I suspected that one had been her idea.

A collective groan is heard from all the other girls. “Yes, Madison, we know you had a good idea with the juice, now shut the hell up.”

(#stop telling people to go into the qup hole)


It seemed like they were running out of steam. I figured it was just a minute or two before they got bored and walked away.

It seemed Emma got the same impression, because she stepped forward. The group parted to give her room.

I called it! Now where’s the dance number?

“What’s the matter, Taylor?” Emma said, “You look upset.”

Her words didn’t seem to fit the situation. I had maintained my composure for however long they had been at it. What I’d been feeling was more a mixture of frustration and boredom than anything else. I opened my mouth to say something. A graceless “Fuck you” would have sufficed.

Honestly, I think a short laugh would’ve gotten her good.

“So upset you’re going to cry yourself to sleep for a straight week?” she asked.

It’s also an appropriate response to the immaturity on display.

My words died in my throat as I processed her words.

Almost a year before we had started high school,

Oh boy, story time!


Almost a year before we had started high school, I had been at her house, the both of us eating breakfast and playing music way too loud. Emma’s older sister had come downstairs with the phone. We’d turned down the music, and my dad had been on the other end, waiting to tell me in a broken voice that my mom had died in a car accident.

Oh.

Well then.

I guess that prompted a week of crying herself to sleep.

See, with that context, the line gets a lot less stupidly immature and more like what I discussed regarding skilled trolls. As a former best friend, Emma knows exactly where to prod.

Emma’s sister had given me a ride to my place, and I bawled the entire way there. I remember Emma crying too, out of sympathy, maybe. It could have been the fact that she thought my mom was the coolest adult in the world. Or perhaps it was because we really were best friends and she had no idea how to help me.

Once upon a time, when Emma was still a decent human bean…

I didn’t want to think about the month that had followed, but fragments came to mind without my asking. I could remember overhearing my dad berating my mother’s body, because she’d been texting while driving, and she was the only one to blame.

…is this the incident Danny was narrating about? He got angry at her and since then he hadn’t seen her because she was already dead.

Damn.

At one point, I barely ate for five straight days, because my dad was such a wreck that I wasn’t on his radar. I’d eventually turned to Emma for help, asking to eat at her place for a few days. I think Emma’s mom figured things out, and gave my dad a talking to, because he started pulling things together. We’d established our routine, so we wouldn’t fall apart as a family again.

It all ties together!

It was a month after my mom had died that Emma and I had found ourselves sitting on the bridge of a kid’s play structure in the park, our rear ends cold from the damp wood, sipping coffee we’d bought from the Donut Hole.

ADD tangent of the day: In the Steven Universe episode Shirt Club, Buck Dewey attempts to order off-menu at the Big Donut, only to be told (by employees and several signs) that they only sell donuts. But in other season 1 episodes, like Gem Glow, Lion 3: Straight to Video, Joking Victim and Future Vision, we’ve seen that they do sell other wares, such as ice cream, lunches packed by Sadie’s mom, and yes, coffee.

Krixwell Liveblogs, for all your “Steven Universe plot hole talk in the middle of a grieving process flashback” needs!


We didn’t have anything to do, so we had just been walking around and talking about whatever. Our wandering had taken us to the playground, and we were resting our heels.

“You know, I admire you,” she had said, abruptly.

Certainly doesn’t look that way nowadays.

“Why?” I had responded, completely mystified about the fact that someone gorgeous and amazing and popular like her could find something to admire in me.

There’s been a lot of narration from Taylor about how gorgeous Emma is.

‘Course, there’s been a bit of that for the other Harpies too, so I’ll be careful about reading too much into it for now, but I’ll say this:

I don’t think Taylor is straight.


“You’re so resilient. After your mom died, you were totally in pieces, but you’re so together after a month. I couldn’t do that.”

Emma does seem like an actual human here.

I hope what’s left of this conversation can help establish her personality a bit more. While you guys were right to call me out on demanding “more personality” in 1.1, I do still feel like it hasn’t been properly established for any of the Harpies yet, and as the so far most important one, Emma’s first in line for it.

I could remember my admission, “I’m not resilient. I can hold it together during the day, but I’ve cried myself to sleep for a straight week.”

And there it is.

That had been enough to open the floodgates, right there. She gave me her shoulder to cry on, and our coffee was cold before I was done.

Taylor is good at maintaining a facade, but remove a chunk of an unstable facade and it might come crumbling down.

Now, as I gaped at Emma, wordless, her smile widened. She remembered what I had said, then. She knew the memories it would evoke. At some point, that recollection had crossed her mind, and she had decided to weaponize it. She’d been waiting to drop it on me.

And we’re out of the flashback.

Remember what I said about Emma coming down the middle with a particularly devastating line? That was it, even if only the two of them know how.


Fuck me, it worked. I felt the trail of a tear on my cheek. My power roared at the edges of my consciousness, buzzing, pressuring me. I suppressed it.

“She is! She’s crying!” Madison laughed.

Third strike! I guess it’s not the rule of three in this case, but at this point it’s becoming very clear that suppressing this won’t be possible forever.

Angry at myself, I rubbed my hand over my cheek to brush the tear away. More were already welling up, ready to take its place.

“It’s like you have a superpower, Emma!” one of the girls tittered.

Heh.

I had taken off my backpack so I could lean against the wall. I reached to pick it up, but before I could, a foot hooked through the strap and dragged it away from me. I looked up and saw the owner of the foot – dark skinned, willowy Sophia – smirking at me.

Quick! Someone slam their face into a bowl of cereal!


“Oh em gee! What’s she doing?” one of the girls said.

Sophia was leaning against the wall, one foot casually resting on top of my backpack. I didn’t think it was worth fighting her over, if it gave her an opportunity to continue her game of keep-away. I left the bag where it was

I mean, now they can do whatever they want to your newbackpack too, and its contents. Which I’d imagine include that new World Issues book, so not only will you have to buy another backpack, but you’ll probably have to fork over $70 to Mr. Gladly.

Getting bullied gets expensive, I guess.

and shoved my way through the gathered girls, bumping an onlooker with my shoulder hard enough to make him stumble. I ran into the stairwell and out the doors on the ground floor.

How many onlookers are there? They’ve gone unmentioned so far, so I kind of assumed the hallway was empty other than the Harpies.

I fled. I didn’t check, but chances were they were watching from the window at the end of the hallway. It didn’t really matter. The fact that I had just promised to pay thirty five bucks of my own money for a World Issues textbook to replace the one that had been soaked with grape juice wasn’t my top concern.

Again, better be prepared to fork up another thirty-five.

Even if it was pretty much all the money I had left after buying the pieces for my costume. My art midterm was in my bag as well, newly repaired. I knew I wouldn’t get any of it back in one piece, if at all.

Oh cod dammit, that poor mystery art project has it rough these days.

No, my primary concern was getting out of there. I wasn’t going to break the promise I had made to myself. No using powers on them. That was the line I wasn’t crossing.

Ahhh, right. She’s recognizing that the power pressuring her can’t be suppressed indefinitely under these circumstances, and getting away to prevent it from overflowing where people can get hurt.

Even if I did something utterly innocuous, like give them all lice, I didn’t trust myself to stop there.

Her power is rather versatile on the cruelty meter.

I didn’t trust myself to keep from offering blatant hints that I had powers or spoiling my secret identity just to see the looks on their faces when they realized the girl they had been tormenting was a bona-fide superhero.

There’d be the looks on their faces to enjoy, but then they’d have blackmail material, or they could just skip to outing her immediately. That would ruin Taylor’s dreams at best or get her killed by Oni or Bakuda at worst.

It was something I couldn’t help but daydream about, but I knew the long term ramifications would spoil that.

Exactly.


Perhaps most important, I rationalized, was keeping the two worlds separate. What use was escapism, if the world I was escaping to was muddled with the people and things I was trying to avoid?

That’s a good point.

Before the thought of going back to school had even crossed my mind, I found myself wondering what I was going to do to fill my afternoon.

Hm… perhaps seek out Tattletale? Nah, that’s probably more of a nighttime thing.

Some costume tinkering or training might be nice, I guess.


End of Insinuation 2.4

I wasn’t ready for the chapter to end here, to be honest, though I’m kind of glad it did since it’s getting late.

Insinuation 2.4 treated us to a lot of internal reflection on the bullying and how Taylor deals with it, but the most important bit seems to be the reveal/confirmation that Taylor’s mom is straight up dead, and the look at how she, Emma and Danny dealt with that loss. The external events, the actual bullying itself, mostly just set the stage.

I guess this chapter has a lot of comments – the scroll bar is about half as far down as it usually is at the end of a chapter. And honestly, I can imagine the flashback generating a lot of discussion.

The end of the chapter reinforces the idea that Taylor getting too upset and losing control of her powers is a thing that can happen and should be avoided. I’m about 96.7% sure that it will happen, but the question is when, why, how and with what consequences.

Actually, that’s four questions. Whoops.

I expect the answers will all be very unfortunate.

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