On Tuesday morning, on his way to school, a 16-year old boy jumped in front of a southbound A-train here in NYC at 42nd Street, killing himself. When I saw the article and it stated the time of death, I realized that the train I was on is the one that took his life. I'd gotten off at 59th Street as usual, the stop before 42nd, and had a downright crappy morning. Or so I thought. Obviously it was not a bad morning...I couldn't say that anymore. Perspective is powerful.
But now I'm mad. I want to go back and stop him. I want to hand him these posts I've been reading on #HoldOntoTheLight so he'd know he wasn't alone...that there's hope. I wish he knew the things I know now that I didn't know when I was 16. I wish he knew that it gets better. He never will. So I feel the need to modify my original plan for this post and share with you all about that change.
No, it's not as drastic as some. I've been blessed in that I don't battle depression or anxiety and my demons were more external than internal...but the external ones say things that play on repeat internally and if I'd not had supportive family and a will to tell those bullies to f*ck off (pardon me, but I can't put that nicer right now), then who knows where that would've lead me. Anyway...in case there's another 16 year old out there who sees no change coming...it will.
For those who know me, it will be hard for you to fathom that I was ever the quiet girl who hardly spoke a word in public and shied away from conflict. I distinctly remember family gatherings (on my father’s side) where I sat with the adults quietly listening to them talk…as even my cousins on that side sort of shunned me by the time we hit puberty. At that point in life, my father was a very evangelical, born-again Christian, and his large family pulled back from that (he’s one of 7 children). It also didn’t help that I was the one kid of 9 grandchildren who didn’t live in the same school district and was the only non-sports kid of the group. I love to look at grand-kid pics through the years, especially as I got into high school and college…if I wasn’t the spitting image of my father, you’d have thought I was adopted…we’ll put it that way. Oh, and my hair color changing often is fun too.
That all said, after the past two days you’ve spent learning about me, maybe you can see why I was quiet and reserved for so long. I was talkative with friends in the neighborhood and at church, but after that, I always felt like there was this bright light on me and anything I said or did would be up for judgment. I’ve always been a klutz, so that didn’t help either. Honestly, I just didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere…except in my own imagination…or with my friends at church. That’s why I begged my parents to let me attend a different school district for my last two years of high school. They said no. Reasons: money, car, money, etc. etc. etc. Interestingly enough, years later my mother said to me that they were wrong and should’ve let me attend Douglass MacArthur High with my friends (80% of my church friends went there). Now that I’m and adult, I’m extremely glad they did NOT let me go. There are many reasons why...two stand out more than others.
#1. Because I had to stay, I had to find a way to make things better. I started writing, for one, and secondly, I fought to spend the 2nd half of my day senior year, at a school for the arts. I'd auditioned and been accepted into the drama program, but my principal said no, even though I'd taken all the drama classes (passing with an A in each) the school offered. So I sat down and wrote a letter to the Superintendent of Schools. I knew him. He'd been over for dinner often since my dad taught for the system (which, by the way, is the other reason I was bullied...if he'd disciplined a kid in 6th grade, that kid made it their mission to make me pay for it). So I typed up a letter and mailed it...without telling anyone (because I didn't want to be told not to).
Long story short, a meeting was called (my dad got a copy of my letter and asked to attend, along with other teachers) to discuss my letter. We won't talk about my dad standing in my bedroom doorway with that letter in hand and looking at me with the, "care to explain yourself, young lady?" look on his face. But it passed, and became "law," so to speak, and I got to go (along with 3 other kids). Now a lot of kids have this open to them and many go to the art school. I did that for them. How wonderful to see that ripple effect. That wouldn't have happened if I'd changed schools.
#2. Most kids with my school history would rather shoot themselves in the foot and pour salt in the wound than go to their high school reunion. I'm possibly a bit of a masochist in that I wanted to go. I'd changed a lot and I wanted to put the hate, fear, anger, and embarrassment that still plagued me 10 years later, behind me. Only way to do that was to go. Interestingly enough, there was no one at my 1st reunion I wanted to see except maybe Paul Butterfield, a boy I’d grown up with and admired greatly. I took my boyfriend at the time with me. We were both club kids (that’s how I met him) in Charlotte, NC, while I was teaching high school drama in SC. Thing is, Paul wasn’t there, he was in Hawaii packing to move back to the states. So I stood there, drink in hand, cigarette in the other (I’ve quit since then, by the by), my colorful tongue loud and proud...and the rest is history (and a waaay longer story than I have time for at the moment).
To get to the point, the members of my graduating class are some of the best people I have the honor to know and call friends, now. I didn’t seriously know more than 1 or 2 out of 300 when I graduated and held a lot of resentment, but that night, we all really met each other for the first time. What is even funnier is that we all found we liked each other too. My boyfriend at the time called me a liar (laughingly, of course) for I’d told him no one knew me and we’d likely be in and out of there quickly. But that’s not what happened and my graduating class from Bridgeport High School are some of the most supportive and wonderful people I know today. They were my rock when our classmate, State Trooper Paul Butterfield, was killed in the line of duty on 9/9/13. I adore these people. They are family in a way that no one else is. In fact, a teacher at our 20th reunion said that he'd only seen two classes that truly liked one another, who were tight knit in a way he'd rarely seen. It was our class and the class 3 years behind us...the class of my best friend growing up. I love that.
So why talk about this? What is my point here?
Because I wish that 16 year old boy could've read it. When I was 16, two years felt like such a long time and I was so miserable at my school that I fought for a simpler existence. If I’d gotten that, I’d not have the same support network I have today back home. Sure, I’d probably have turned out just fine and I very likely would’ve made great friends at the other school…but what I wasn’t taking account for was time. Time to forgive and forget. Time spent with people. Time and change.
One of the things that strikes me heavy in the chest each time I go to a reunion or meet up with some of my class members when home or if they come to NYC, is that I’ve known most of these people since I was 6 years old. There’s something to be said for history, even when some of it is painful. So even though this year or this week or this moment feels so heavy that it will last forever, eating you whole…or you feel so alone that the chasm of which you reside feels it will echo for all eternity… IT. WILL. NOT.
It will pass and you will change. You’ll forgive and forget OR you’ll move on and those people will either be in your life or wont, and that will be YOUR choice. For YOU will have the power to surround yourself with whoever you want. You’ll be FREE to go wherever you want and leave it all behind or stay in touch (I hear there’s this thing called the internet and social media…lol).
And here’s a secret no one tells you…you never have to see these people again if you don't want to. They will have no say or affect on your life when you leave high school. You could go away to college and never see a one of them again if you don’t want to. Same with those you meet in college. Life changes…time flies…don’t rob yourself of seeing what great things show up 20 years down the line because that year, that week, that moment is so hard that you can’t see past it. It’ll be hard, it’ll hurt like hell has taken up residence in your gut, and you’ll have to work your ass off to get past it…but you are strong enough! Fight like hell for tomorrow! Don’t let anyone, including that voice in the back or your mind, tell you otherwise and then believe them. You have the power to do anything!
If the severe grief I went through over Paul’s murder taught me anything, besides proving how amazing my classmates are, is that that you can come out on the other side stronger. You can escape that tunnel that smothers you. You can see the light and breathe easy again…it just takes self-care, determination, support, and time.
Give yourself that time. Give others that time too. For it changes the game.
With much love, light, adoration, and respect…
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
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