Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tunnels of Darkness and Gasping for Breath

Weeks ago, we rode through Monroe County, Wisconsin's bike path -- the Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail, which was the first "rails-to-trails" conversion in the United States.  A railway becomes a bike trail: technological-regression and eco-progress.  3 tunnels mark this trail, the last of which is a long, dark rock-tunnel of nearly a mile.  We were advised to walk our bikes through, turn on our "head-lights," and walk along an uncertain path.  Some riders did not heed this warning and charged through.  It might have been thrilling for them to ride blind, but I could do no such thing.  I carried no lamp or light and the ground fell quickly off a central, narrow corridor.   Cautiously, I walked my bike along, though every step seemed unsupported, and there was little means to discern the walls, floor, ceiling, or end to that dark.

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. 

But the teacher intervenes.  And I want to figure out some non-violent means to a peaceable end.  And I know that there are a thousand girls and boys who can't fight back and who can't hold their breath 'til they breathe again once more safe and sound and whole. 


  1. Linda, the catsitter in SeattleAugust 16, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    Of all the blogs I save yours til last. You always leave much to ponder. I hope you feel you have accomplished what you set out to do. Will really miss your essays. All the best in your career.

  2. I was the short kid. In junior high my bully locked me in my locker. I dreaded running into him in the hall. Fortunately my older sister came to my rescue. Spike didn't bother me after she laid down the law. How do we get everyone to stand up and lay down the law? Noone should live with that fear. Write on, Christian. -- spencer