Sometimes I wonder about why writing young adult fiction has so much appeal to me. Is it setting stories in high school? Is it the scars? The exuberance and idealism? Here’s one reason:
In my first year of high school, I was bullied. I wasn’t taken out behind the dumpsters and beaten up or had an embarrassing video of me leaked on YouTube. Thankfully YouTube wasn’t around yet.
No, a guy I will name Grant gave me my woes.
A bully only has to push in one way to hurt anyone. It can be saying something about you that isn’t true or cutting you down in an area you have strength. For me, it was stealing half of my lunch. Not the sandwich, just the good parts and whatever I had to drink that day. And no, it didn’t matter if I bagged it or not.
I did what any kid does in that situation. First: avoided Grant. I moved to the other side of the cafeteria. He found me.
I asked him to leave me alone. He laughed. Which, strangely, is every parent’s first and worst suggestion. “Just tell him to leave you alone, it’s that simple Keith!” (HA!)
I even asked him once why he was treating me the way he did.
“Because I can,” he said. I felt so much better knowing that.
One day I had enough and stood up and took back whatever he stole that day. An apple, I think. It was then that Grant’s teammates on the football team, four linemen, stood up around me. I handed the apple back, defeated. I couldn’t take Grant, but I was willing to make a stand for my dignity. There’s no dignity in being pummeled 5 vs 1.
And people wonder why the bullied use bullets sometimes. I’m not saying that’s okay. What I am saying is that I understand the attraction a bullied kid has to a gun. Why give your tormentor a chance to fight back when you feel like you never had one?
Obviously, I never went the Columbine route. I did start thinking about using a gun. Not to use on someone else, but myself. I even went downstairs, to the place where dad kept his shotguns and looked at them. I started planning, how I would do it, would I leave a note?
Then I started to wonder who would find me first. My mom? That’s what made me stop, I think. I still wanted it all to be over, but I didn’t want her to find me after work as a mess on the floor.
Things got worse. But I was too chicken to just end my own life, and I couldn’t get away in the cafeteria. So I took my lunch into the halls, found a dark spot in a stairwell, or an unlocked classroom that was empty and ate by myself. Sometimes a hall monitor would catch me and send me back into the arena. Largely, I was left to myself.
I ate alone for a few weeks when I ran into Paul. A junior. I was around 5’4″ and he stood at least 6’2″. He was eating pizza and going into a computer lab that taught networking.
“Wanna play some Quake 2 and have a slice?” he asked. (Quake 2 shows my age, doesn’t it?)
I didn’t say much that first week. Or month. Paul and I started hanging out after school. My parents kept pushing me out the door to do more with him at church and around town. I argued with them about it. When you’ve been pushed around like I had been, you don’t want to be pushed into any direction. Good or bad. Why give Paul a chance to turn on me? I thought.
Paul never asked me about the bullying. I never told him about it or the suicidal thoughts. I didn’t need to worry about those things with him. So it didn’t matter. We just had good clean fun together. Going to movies, playing ultimate Frisbee, and just hanging out. Paul’s friends were equally warm and friendly. And not long after, his friends were my friends.
As for the Bully. Well, after being around Paul, I felt better about myself. Maybe Grant saw that in me as well. All I know is that when I finally did return to the cafeteria, Grant didn’t bother me.
I don’t think the answer isn’t always a therapist, anti-bullying seminars, better parents, or more money in prevention measures. Paul never fought my bullies or stood up to them for me, but I didn’t need that. I just needed someone to give a crap about me.
Paul and I didn’t stay connected after high school. Some people are only with you for the season we need them. Paul was in my life for such a season. I survived that season because of him.
Paul, if you ever read this: thank you.
I write about these kinds of things, because people who experience bullying have difficulty remembering they are not alone. I felt alone. If I write a few books about it, the next person who experiences it will feel less lonely.
Note: If you don’t have a Paul, lifting you out of the darkness of depression and suicide, here are some resources.
covenant house for homeless youth