Is such a confinement similar to the psychic terrain of the bullied? Bullied by body, by rumor, by on-line attack: it must all seem without perimeter, without light, without end. I have been trying to imagine the thoughts of a thousand girls and boys under such duress, but it's akin to holding a crashing wave with fisher's net. Still, I need to hear such thoughts -- the thoughts of teens who dread waking each day for fear of what might happen in class, or traveling a long-leg of hallway, or surveying an unwelcoming lunchroom, or merely booting up and logging onto their computers. I worry such darkness turns to self-torment, and these kids, bullied as they may be, become masters of avoidance, of hesitation, of the suppressed voice. They become a sketch of what they might be, a slighter version of their true-self. And I worry that they may feel that it would mean nothing to leave, to exit.
Kids like Amanda Cummings, a Staten Island teenager who was bullied for her dark-dyed hair, her nose-piercing, her differences from the norm, who had hinted at suicide on-line, and who one day threw herself into the path of an NYC bus. Or 12-year old Joel Morales from East Harlem, who hanged himself after being physically bullied for months. Two kids who had been perceived, by friends and family, as lively and happy. Did the perimeters of their lives become so dark as to be unbearable? Did they view their actions as the solution to unsolvable problems? Or did they see it merely an escape from unrelenting pain?
One rider on the trip, a kind-hearted man, told me this high school bully-story; Over 40 years ago, he had been transferred into a new school and, at just over 5 feet, was one of the shortest, if not the shortest, boy in his class. He was also slightly built -- an easy target for bullies. He recalled how one boy repeatedly made his life hell:
He wouldn't stop and I knew it would continue unless I did something. But the only thing I could do was swim, and the one thing I did better than anyone else was hold my breath underwater. So one day in swim class, I dragged that boy down and held him on the pool's floor. I held him there a long time, long enough to see him struggle. Beyond the surface of the water, I saw the gym teacher, his hands folded across his chest, doing nothing. Watching. I eventually let that bully go, but not before I told him that if he or anyone else ever bothers me again, I would drag him under again and not let go.
No one bothered him again.Part of me cheers the underdog victorious; part of me feels that turnabout is fair play.