This is in response to the string of recent suicides by teenagers (gay and straight) being terrorized in school. This is for Asher, and Billy, and Justin, and Seth, and Tyler… And for anyone, anywhere who feels like they’re not fitting in. If you’re feeling like the hell you’re going through is NEVER going to end. If you’re feeling like a freak, or a loser, or that NO one understands you, or ever will. If you’re feeling like your family will not accept you, or that no one in this world cares about you or loves you for the amazing person you are. This is for you.
I’m not going to tell you to turn the other cheek. I’m not going to tell you to “just ignore it”… I’m not going to tell you to suck it up.
This sucks. It’s something that no one should have to endure.
I can promise you this. It…will…get…better.
I went to a small Catholic school for grade school… Just 200 kids from Kindergarten to 8th grade. My Mom received no help whatsoever financially from my father and had to work three jobs at times just to pay our tuition. In her eyes, keeping my Brother and I in this school was important. She wanted us to get the best education possible. She wanted us in a “safer” environment than the local public school (which to her credit, was a pretty rough grade school).
For five years I very much enjoyed school. I was an above average student, and found so many opportunities to do creative things there. I really did love it. I had a lot of friends, and not a care in the world. And you shouldn’t, at that age.
When I started 5th grade, it was like a switch flipped. We had a group of girls in class who decided that they didn’t like me (I’ll call them the Brat Pack). Apparently the green gray and white plaid pants that my Mom had to spend entirely too much money on were “not cool”. This group of girls convinced my friends that they shouldn’t talk to me either. Before I knew it, I was completely alone. No one in class would speak to me. During recess I’d be standing by myself on the playground. When I’d raise my hand to ask or answer a question, the Brat Pack would snicker and make jokes about me. It got to the point where I wouldn’t raise my hand anymore. I wouldn’t look anyone in the eye. I cried, constantly.
My teachers saw all of this going on, and chose to do nothing. I tried to talk to my Mom about it, but more often than not she was working. If she wasn’t working, she was exhausted. She tried to console me. She’d hug me, kiss me on the head, and tell me to “ignore them.”
Ignore them. Heh. Doesn’t really work with 11 and 12-year-old kids.
In sixth grade, the Brat Pack went on a mini vandalism spree with some spray paint. They tagged the first newish car that my Mother had ever been able to buy. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she saw the paint. The only reason we knew who did it was because the leader of the Brat Pack wrote her name on the neighbors garage. The girls were caught, admitted what they had done, and in the end were forced to pay to have the car taken care of (as well as the three other garages they tagged). Two weeks later, one of those same girls picked up a broken pool cue from behind the bar across the street from my house and hit me over the back with it. All because I wasn’t walking far enough ahead of them on my way to school. I wish I could say that things improved later on that year, or even the year after that, but in all honesty it took moving on to high school for things to get better.
But things did… get better.
When I became a Mom to my first child, Nicholas, from the first second I laid eyes on him I swore to God that I would walk through fire for this boy. I would do anything and everything to protect him. The love that you have for your babies, and your instinct to protect them at all costs doesn’t change as they grow from infants to little people.
I’ve written about Nick’s (and yes, I realize I’m calling him by his actual name) voracious appetite for knowledge. That’s where his blog persona (Future Cardiologist) came from. He was five-years-old and flipping through one of my text books on EKG’s from class. He wanted to know what each rhythm meant. He ended up recreating them in a notebook, in crayon.
That’s my boy, ya’ll.
Nick is the male version of myself at his age. He’s tall, thin, and has to wear glasses. He’s a little clumsy. He’s unbelievably smart. He has a small group of friends that he eats lunch with, talks to on the phone, and plays video games with. He loves school.
That’s him now.
That was him two years ago.
That was not him last year.
It started the same way for him that it did for me. A group of kids decided that because he was a little different, he wasn’t worthy of their friendship. Because he was a little different, he was less than. Because he was a little different, he didn’t deserve to be spoken to. Because he was a little different from them, he didn’t deserve to be treated like a human being.
These… children… They tortured my little boy. It started with them making fun of him, which turned in to things like taking things off of his lunch tray, and eventually escalated to physical violence. He was exactly where I was, and while I knew something was going on, I wasn’t getting the full story from him.
The very second I realized that we had a problem at his school, I went to his teacher. I put faith in that woman that she’d actually follow up with the promises she made. I did what I could do to build Nick up outside of school by getting him involved in soccer and art lessons (both of which he had expressed an interest in). I prayed that things would improve.
Nick was always one who would give me every detail about his school day… That was changing. Where before he’d give me details about his friends Pokemon cards, now I had to beg him to tell me if he had even ate his lunch or if he had enjoyed art that day. He was slowly shutting down. I went above his teacher’s head to the Assistant Principal when it was clear that nothing was being done. I agreed when she asked me to give her a week to try to figure out what could be done.
I remember looking in my rear view mirror as I was getting ready to drop him off one morning and seeing a child I didn’t recognize. Instead of his crooked smile and beautiful bright eyes, he was pale. He looked ill. When I asked him if he was feeling okay, he just started sobbing. I turned the car around and kept him home that day. While he watched reruns of Spongebob and played on his DS, I marched into the Principal’s office and threatened to come back with a news crew “who would LOVE to do a story about bullying in school”. She promised that she would take care of the problem that day, that she was completely unaware of “the situation” and “just horrified”.
I begged Nick to give me two days to make things right. I promised him that if I couldn’t, I would pull him out of that school. He put on his brave face and agreed.
The following day while in Medic class, I received a phone call from his principal. She said that Nick was in her office, and that he was in trouble, and that she wanted him to tell me why. When she put him on the phone he was hysterical. Through sobs he explained that one of the kids who had been picking on him had taken the cookies from his lunch two days before. He had decided to get back at him by taking the kids chocolate milk. A teacher saw him do it and dragged him to the principals office where he sat for an hour before she called me. Kids had been doing this to HIM off and on for two months straight. He stood up for himself for once, and they pulled him in the office for it. This is a child who had never been in trouble a day in his entire life. This was a child who I had just explained to the same Principal was sweet, and tenderhearted, and hurting so badly because of the way he was being treated by his classmates. I went from being angry, to being in a blind rage. I assured Nick that I wasn’t upset with him, I told him to try to calm down, and that I’d be right there. When I got to his school, I signed him out, I walked him out to the car, gave him a hug, and told him I’d be right back.
I marched back into that Principals office and unleashed on her to the point where I’m lucky I wasn’t arrested.
The following day he was enrolled at another school where he still attends today. He is back to his old self again, thank God. He’s got a great group of friends, he’s happy, and he looks forward to class. His new school has a very good anti-bullying program, but honestly, he doesn’t have problems with that there. He’s just one of the kids.
I thank God every day that things turned out the way they did.
My story, and Nick’s story it’s no more or less important than yours. They might be mild compared to what you’re going through. I understand that.
My God, just… I want you to realize how amazing you truly are. I want you to realize how much you have ahead of you. The best parts of your life haven’t even happened yet! Had I taken my own life, and I did think about it… more than once… I wouldn’t be around to be a Mom to my amazing Son, Nick, or his beautiful and equally as fantastic Sister, Abby.
Let me tell you about another person I couldn’t live without. I want to tell you about one of my best friends in this world. His name is Matthew.
I’ve only known him for a few years, but he’s grown into a person who I know that I can call at any hour of the day for any reason. He’s someone who I’ve cried to, who I’ve laughed with, and I know we have each others back. No matter what. He’s an amazing Paramedic who helped drag my sorry butt through Medic school. He’s one of a select few who I’d ever let take care of my kids. He’s one of my best friends in the world. I am in awe of this man and everything that he is. I don’t know what I’d do without him. I can honestly say that. The thought of not having him in my life, even through he’s 15 hours away… It’s inconceivable.
And you know what? He’s gay. And he’s been where you are.
And I thank God that he was strong enough to get through what he has and turn out to the the unbelievable person he is.
You know what the crazy thing is? I’ve never met Matthew. I only know him through numerous phone conversations and chat conversations online.
Know that there are people out there who you don’t even know who love you unconditionally and would do anything for you. Taking your own life is never the answer. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Please, we need you here. You truly are destined for fantastic things.
Matthew got through his personal hell. Nick and I got through our own hells.
You can do it too. I promise you that. You can. You really can!
IT WILL GET BETTER.
It really will.
The Trevor Project has a Lifeline for LGBTQ youth that you can call 24 hours a day. The phone number is 1-866-488-7386.
The Kristin Brooks Hope Center has a hotline as well. For anyone who’s hurting out there. The number is 1-800-442-HOPE
In honor of:
Asher Brown. He was tortured by kids at his school who called him “queer” and “faggot”. They pushed him around literally and figuratively for over a year. His parents did everything that they could to help him by going to school officials and counselors, but nothing was done to help this boy. In late September, reaching his breaking point, he found his Father’s gun and shot himself in the head. He was just 13-years-old.
Billy Lucas. Billy loved animals, he bred horses and lambs for show. Because he was perceived as being gay, some kids decided that he wasn’t worthy of being treated like a human being. They picked on him relentlessly. One of them told him to “Go kill yourself.” The following day he hung himself with one of the leads from his prized show horse from the rafters in his Grandparents barn. He was only 15.
Justin Aaberg. He loved to play the cello. From what I’ve read, he was shy, but had always had a huge smile on his face. He came out to his friends when he was 13, after which he was harassed by kids at school to the point where he felt his only option was to hang himself this past July. His Mother found him. He was 15-years-old.
Seth Walsh. Seth had been teased since the 4th grade just because he was gay. For years he was tortured by these kids, being told that “the world doesn’t need another queer.” After some bullying from older teenagers, he felt his only way out would be to hang himself from a tree in his back yard. His Mother found him and pulled him down. He was on life support for nine days before dying in September. He was 13.
Tyler Clementi. Tyler was a freshman at Rutgers University with a bright future and a talent for the violin. His roommate, Dharun Ravi and Dharun’s friend Molly Wei set up a webcam and LIVE STREAMED Tyler having an intimate encounter with another man in their dorm room. When Tyler realized what had happened, he jumped off of the George Washington bridge. Tyler was 18.