I'm writing this story for everyone eventually. But first it goes out to some of my very best friends. Those I've known a lifetime. These are the people who knew me personally in 6th thru 8th grade. But we've all suffered through these grades. Each and every one of us. Maybe the only difference between us might be whether we were the tormented, the tormenters or the mostly untouched.
I was sitting around the living room of a friend's house and everybody was going through our old yearbooks. As the pictures were being looked at certain names came up. It went like "Oh look! Here's a picture of Sam the Man! I remember him!" The funny thing about it was the totally different memories each of us had shared with the individual being mentioned. My response to that name went, "Oh yeah, I hear he got a job on Wall Street. Do you think he worked at the World Trade Center? Can't you just see him on the 110th floor as it went down?" And then I made a whistling noise and crashed him in a pile at the bottom. When I said this, my one friend became very upset with me and snapped, "That's not funny!" Now the thing is, I wasn't even trying to be funny. Maybe it would have been easier to talk about if I had changed Sam the Man's local to, 'standing on the beach when the big Tsunami hits'. I don't know.
All I know is that when you're the tortured one in school, this kind of death to the tormenter scenario is not only not shocking, it holds a degree of comfort. I think what would have been shocking would be if I had said, "I'm getting a gun so I can go shoot this guy down". But I didn't say that. So some good has obviously come from my experience. What I remember most about junior high was Sam the Man leading the boys on raids against my right-to-be-left-alone-and-respected as a human being. My chair was endlessly pulled out from under me. I endured assaults using chalk and chalkboard erasers as ammo, which hit me in the head and stung me on the face. Most days were also filled with an endless barrage of verbal bullets, many of which were meant as hits to kill. No teacher ever came to my rescue.
I remember being stalked and abused by an army of girls whose leader had decided to publicly beat me up for no reason that I ever knew, other than the boys were doing it so what the heck. It was a girl who punched me hard in the face and kicked me in the crotch. I was pushed down the stairs, tripped, had books knocked out of my arms and my work stepped on. This activity caused me so much anguish that as an adult, when I heard this girl had given birth to a baby with a crippling disease, I was sure I saw divine justice.
Now maybe, just maybe I might have stood up under all this and endured. Unfortunately for me I had to go home to a house where much of the same was also happening. So how did I escape this? My liberator came in the form of a medical emergency. I don't know if you've ever heard of these but some people get cold sores. For most people these are more annoying than anything else. You just have to wait for them to go away. Well I got cold sores too. But my daily life at school helped damage my immune system to the point of no return. So my cold sores never went away. They appeared all over the inside of my mouth and tongue. The damage was so severe I couldn't talk and I stopped eating.
Things got so bad for me that I had to be put in a children's hospital for 48 days straight. For 48 days I hung around with children aged 14 and younger. Some of these kids had holes placed in their throats so they could breath. In order to talk they had to cover the hole with their finger. Even then their voice would sound funny. I played with babies who were normal babies; except they had heads so big they looked like they came over from an alien planet. I met kids who pushed themselves around the halls in wheelchairs all day. Some of them got around on wheeled beds or walked with braces or crutches. There were kids in body casts, and kids who couldn't even tell you what home looked like, since they hadn't been there in so long. I observed kids endure with great dignity, that which looked like the unendurable. I became friends with kids who would never go home. These were the ones you knew who were going to die. If ever there were hurdles to cross, these are the ones most difficult.
Now with all this suffering around me you'd think my deepest impression would be one of great tragedy and sorrow. Instead I'd have to say the days spent living as a kid in this environment, were some of the happiest days of my life. Here I was, getting off the boat from the land of the Hated and Tormented. And I had just now walked down the gangplank, arriving on the shores of The Beloved. The New World offered me surroundings of unquestioned total acceptance. Since I was a junior high student, five days a week I would walk down the children's wing hallway and go to the hospital school. One room, but many different ages and grade levels. Here in this room, whatever subject, students gave each other a hand, spoke kindly and had a good word to say. Everyone was valued. This then,..is how things could be.
Nobody looked at you funny because you couldn't talk and you couldn't eat. It was the kids who gave comfort and strength to one another with a touch of the hand and heartfelt words of encouragement. All this, these kids gladly shared with me. At such a young age I was awarded an ultimate gift. And this, is how I collected back my own strength. One kid at a time gave me a part of their strength to take away with me. It took a child, to give a child what she'd need, to survive the next onslaught of reality when she finally went home.
I think, it still takes a child. It sure doesn't seem like it takes an adult sometimes, especially since I went to my high school reunion and confronted one of my tormentors. I went up and stood right in front of Sam The Man and said, "What a bastard you were to me!" For some reason I figured Sam would have overcome this part of his personality and owned up to his own behavior. I mean, we're all adults now right? Isn't that supposed to mean something? I actually thought Sam would say something like, "I'm really sorry. I was an idiot!" Maybe then I could have forgiven. Instead when I called him a bastard, Sam got defensive and declared, "No I wasn't!" I stood my ground though and wouldn't let him by. I unyieldingly asserted, "Yes you were!" Although, what I should have said was, "Thank you. Your lousy behavior made me a better person than you will ever be."
But I don't think that's the answer either. I think this story has to be heard by the people who are right now going through or witnessing some of these same things the way I did. For me that's the answer. To those of you who are mostly untouched by student abuse, stand up and be brave. If you have to, stand up as a group, but please, say something when you see something. Can you not now understand? Try and make it stop. For those of you who torture. Knock it off. You might read this story and for the moment pretend you're innocent of this behavior. But deep down, you know. You know who you are. What you're doing is very damaging and hurtful. Bad things come from this kind of stuff. Think about Columbine High and the kids who got shot. And think about my story. It doesn't have to be this way. Life can be fair. Even if you're 10 years old, you know what's fair. I say, let's respect each other dammit.
Even if you think the person is Ugly. Or Fat. Or stupid. You don't have to like the world. I don't like the world myself, in many many ways. But you do have to give each other their space. I say, that's a rule we could live by. Try it. Take it one day at a time. And if you think this story sounds like the truth, then pass it on. If you're an adult, pass this story to a kid. If you're a kid, pass it to a kid, and then pass it to an adult. However you do it, I humbly ask you to honor this request. Look at it this way. Why not be decent to someone today and see if they notice.