Something came across my Twitter feed the other day that hit me in a raw spot.
@RochelleVeturis Tweeted this:
“The suicide rates for boys in America, are higher than any other country in the industrialized world.”
Granted I haven’t had time to verify the claim, nor am I going to. Because the veracity of the tweet is not what I’m on about. It’s the subject of the tweet. Therein lies something near and dear to me, that I’ve had a hard time reconciling in my life. It started a few years ago, when I happened across one of my junior high pictures. And I thought, “Wow…I was a pretty good looking kid.” Which was followed by, I wish I could go back in time and tell younger me that. Not that I would have believed older me. I was already brainwashed by that point. But, I digress. Onto the reason for this post.
Warning! About To Get Personal
I am known by many to march to the beat of my own drum. I don’t tend to stick with the status quo very much. It’s just too boring. So, you can imagine how hard it was for me growing up in a small ranch and oil community. Most everyone wore cowboy boots and we only had one foreign car in the entire town. (It belonged to a pediatrician who was at that point, new to the town.) So, here I show up sporting a mullet and parachute pants (Cut me some slack, yo. It was the 80’s.) Regardless, it went over like a fart in a diving bell. I was singled out almost immediately. There was not a single day for the first year I was there, that I was not bullied, picked on, or harassed for being different. Hell, I even got if from home sometimes.
The point being, I put up with it. I had no choice. I endured. And over time, I gained a small level of acceptance. The daily tormenting had largely stopped. What took its place was an almost constant barrage of “Dork!”. I remember thinking that I was ugly, stupid, idiotic and largely unlikable. One day, I snapped. It started after lunch. I was sitting alone and watching everyone laughing and talking and I thought to myself, “They wouldn’t miss me if I weren’t here. They wouldn’t even care.” The passing thought grew to epic proportions and within a couple of class periods, I was absolutely certain that no one would give shit one if I were to just disappear. By the time I got into my second to last class of the day, I was going to do it.
I remember typing away and feeling that it was so futile to try to learn to type if I was going to just kill myself. The tears spattered on the keyboard as I looked down silently sobbing. My nose began to bleed and I watched as tears and blood intermingled and slowly dripped down the keys. I got up and went to the restroom. I turned on the cold water and washed my face. It just diluted the blood all the more and soon the sink and my hands were covered. I looked into the mirror and wanted to die. So, I began trying to wrench the sink from the wall so I could shatter it on the floor. Surely, a piece of porcelain would work. As I worked on the sink, one of the varsity football players came into the restroom. He walked up and started in with the usual bullshit.
Rage…unbridled rage. I turned on him and told him to shut the fuck up or he’d be sorry. (You have to imagine, I was all of 5’11 and 140 lbs. This dude was packing enough muscle to tip in close to 200 lbs.) I remember his eyes got really wide and he apologized and slowly backed out of the restroom. Firing off a “fucking psycho” as his parting words. I punched the wall a few times and went back to the sink. My nosebleed was a full on two-nostril affair and it had started to soak my shirt collar by that point. I don’t remember when it happened, but a guy from my typing class, a guy I had only a few words with over my entire time there, walked in and pulled me from the sink.
He looked at me square in the eye, “Scotty, you don’t want to do this.” But I did. I had never wanted to die more than I did at that moment. All he asked was that I not do it at school. He asked if I would let him take me home first. I agreed. He got me some papertowels and I cleaned up. Once my nose stopped bleeding, we went for a ride. It was the first time I had ever skipped a class. He told me he had to run a couple of errands first and would take me home after that. I said, “Sure. Okay.”
We drove around for a couple of hours and talked. It was the first time that I was able to talk to anyone about how horrible things were. How bad my homelife had gotten, and how I had no way of making any of it better. He told me about some of the problems he was going through at his house. I was shocked. This guy was always a pretty easy-going guy. He had a pretty girlfriend, a car, nice clothes. No one knew that his dad had been an abusive alcoholic. No one knew that he had run out on his family and they were living off of food stamps just barely getting by. No one knew that he had tried to kill himself the year previous. By the time we got back to my house, I knew that someone would miss me if I were to kill myself. So I decided to hold off for a little bit. I’d give this whole ‘not killing myself’ thing a week. If I still hated life, then I’d do it.
As You Know, I Didn’t Do It.
The next day, word had been spreading about my meltdown and everyone tread lightly around me. Even the bullies. In my English class, I didn’t have my homework ready and the teacher asked jokingly if there’d been a death in the family. I told her, “about as close to one as possible.” Coupled with the rumors, several people figured out what I meant. Suddenly, people converged on me saying that they were sorry for being so mean to me for so long. And that they weren’t really trying to hurt me. The real bullies didn’t. They sat back and watched, though. What I couldn’t wrap my mind around was that people would willingly and knowingly pick on someone and yet not mean to hurt them. That didn’t make any sense to me. Little did I know…what was to come.
I Became What I Hated Most.
Sometime about a year later, I began the daily and systematic torture of other people. The locker room was alive with testosterone-fueled hazing. It was not uncommon to let gas rip on someone’s head, rub your jockstrap on someone’s face or administer painful wedgies. But it became focused on one person in particular. I made his life a living hell. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d been one of my tormentors from earlier in the year. No, he was one of the few people who DIDN’T. Why did I do it? What had possessed me to become that monster that I loathed?
Safety. As long as I was part of the attacking horde, I wasn’t the one being attacked. Because no one stood up to the bullies, they just spread their poison and made bullies of us all.
I Just Wanted To Apologize
For several years (twenty to be exact) I tried to track down the guy I had tormented. I just wanted to apologize for everything I did, and to try to explain my actions. About a year ago, I finally found him. I sent him a long rambling email about being sorry. Suddenly, the words from so many years before made more sense. I knowingly picked on this kid, and yet, I really didn’t want to hurt him. What I ultimately apologized for, was being too weak to stand up for him. Too big of a chicken shit to do what I knew to be right. Instead, I sold my soul for a bit of safety. The guilt haunted me for two decades. He was gracious, way more than I would have been I’m sure. And I was able to free an albatross that had been hanging around my neck for such a long time. Freedom, at last.
Okay, Now That’s Over Let’s Get To Some Meat Here.
There is a book called Influencer: The Power to Change Anything . In this book, they discuss all manner of ways to effect change. One thing that jumped out at me was the way that several small African villages dealt with spousal abuse. In their society, it wasn’t a cool thing to just call out your neighbor. “Hey, Mbala! I heard you wailing on the old lady last night. Stop being a douche.”
So, they started a television show and created a female character that everyone loved and they had her tv husband beat the snot out of her. There was actual public outrage about it. It started a conversation about it. Then, the characters in the show did something. They heard this woman’s husband laying it on heavy one night, so they all stood in the dude’s front yard banging on pans and raising a ruckus. Why? It was a very ingenious way of saying, “We know what you’re doing in there. And we don’t approve.”
Spousal abuse cases plummeted.
So, when we see bullies, why don’t we all gather our pans and let them know that what they are doing isn’t cool? And maybe they’ll stop spreading the poison that breeds future bullies. Hey, the French Revolution started with a handful of pissed off peasants willing to swing a shovel to make the abuse stop.
If there’s anyone out there reading this, that I bullied in that horrible time of my life, I’m so sorry. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I was too weak to stand up by myself and didn’t think anyone would join me.