Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Bullies, My Defenders

The following entry deals frankly with bullying, and in order to adequately depict the torment, it contains language that is not suitable for all. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

I'm having flashbacks while I read stories about the charging of 9 teenagers after the suicide of Phoebe Prince. She was a 15-year-old girl from Ireland, trying to adjust to a new life in America. To her bullies, we are told, she was a derogatory term for a loose woman, a target for hateful text messages, and the subject of physical torment. Phoebe hanged herself in January after a particularly bad day of intimidation. It all started when she started dating a popular senior.

I endured bullying in middle school. I was the nerd when nerds weren't cool. I lacked a girlfriend, I didn't dress cool or use foul language or play team sports. I earned good grades. Teachers liked me. I liked programming computers. The other kids liked rock 'n' roll. I didn't know what I liked.

Nobody beat me up, but my aggressors found a way to torment me psychologically: by intimating I was gay. They used to blow kisses to me, and some would mock me by rubbing softly on my arm during gym class. Of course, teachers didn't see this. Bullies know how not to get caught. This was the 1980's, long before people would start calling this sexual harassment.

I didn't tell any faculty; I was tougher than that. My parents knew about some of it. "You know you're not gay, don't you?" my mother asked. Of course I knew, but that wasn't the problem.

Several antagonists let their taunts extend all the way into the autographs they wrote in my 7th grade yearbook:
"I love you, Chris" -- Greg

"To my lover. I love you." -- [name scratched out]

"To a real gay guy." -- [unknown]

"fag" -- [unknown]

"To a real cute guy. I love you always." -- Mike

"Have a nice summer fag." -- [unknown]

"To a nice little boy!" -- Jason
I wonder what these people would say if they saw the recent pictures of me dancing in white stockings, knee breeches, long coat and tricorn hat. It's a good thing I didn't develop a taste for colonial dance until my later years. I'm also glad Facebook and texting hadn't been invented yet.

I have long remembered those disparaging words. However, when I dug out the yearbook to survey them again, I found I had forgotten other words scratched on the same pages:
"To a neat kid." -- Chris

"To a real rad guy. Stay that way. See you next year." -- Norman

"To a cool guy, Chris." -- Bill

"To Chris, a nice friend." -- Socheat

"To Chris, a real smart and neat guy. Hope to see you next year and maybe sometime this summer." -- David

"Have a nice summer and take care of your bike." -- Jesse

"To a real sweetie. See ya next year." -- Amber

"To a smart, but weird dude. See ya next year." -- Marquetta

"To a smart, sexy, cute and weird guy. You're also rad and cool. Stay that way!" -- Patricia

"You are real. Nice people don't realize it." -- Michele
I guess they didn't, Michele. Looking at my other middle school yearbooks, I see the words "smart," "sweet," and "nice" repeatedly. One kid wrote: "You need to talk out more." I forgot about the blue skies above with all the baggage I was hauling around below.

Phoebe had many friends. They attended a vigil for her. They were there for her in death, but I wonder where they were in life. I hope they were reminding her of the promise she held and defending her name. The district attorney handling Phoebe's case say some school staffers knew about the bullying but didn't stop it.

Edmund Burke once said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Long ago, when a man insulted a lady's honor, honorable men settled the score with swords or pistols at ten paces. It's easy to point fingers in such a shocking case of misconduct, but I'm not sure absolutely nothing was done. More likely, I believe people didn't realize how much Phoebe was hurting. She may have held her head high until the breaking point. I am sure we'll learn more as this story unfolds.

All the same, I wish somebody would've had the guts to take up the sword or pistol -- in a figurative sense, of course -- for Phoebe. A friend of mine tells me young ladies lament the lack of young gentlemen in this world. Chivalry isn't dead, but it's clearly on life support.

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