Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why

Unless you live under a rock, you've probably heard of the new Netflix series 'Thirteen Reasons Why.'  If you haven't heard of it, I'll sum it up for you.  It's a fictional account of a true event where a young girl committed suicide and left tapes that laid out the thirteen reasons (people) she felt she had to end her life.  It has created a lot of controversy lately.  Some say it glorifies suicide, while others say it's a good way to start a dialogue.  Some say it lays blame on external sources, while others point out how much the world around us can affect us.  I'll say now that I know nothing about the true life subject of this series (other than what Netflix has told me), nor do I live in this modern age of technology as our current teens do.  I can, however, talk about bullying, and I do have strong opinions about suicide in relation to such.

I've mentioned to a few people in the past that I just don't understand why kids are committing suicide due to bullying.  Kids are mean, it's true, but that's no reason to kill yourself.  The response I've gotten is pretty much, "You just don't get it."  So, let me tell you a bit about me.

First of all, I'm now a self-professed nerd.  I love geeky things, and I get really hyped up over school-related things.  I love homework assignments and reading, and I get really excited over spelling bees.  That's who I am now, though.  When I was an adolescent, however, I hadn't quite embraced myself yet, and things were a lot harder.

Like most people, middle school was the hardest for me.  I know a lot of people say that, but few had it to the extent I did.  Even my best friend, whom I met during my middle school years, didn't understand how hard I had it.  She was a grade below me, and she couldn't figure out why I got so upset when she hung out with some of my class mates.  It wasn't until the past few years when I told her just how cruel they were that she understood.

Back in middle school, not only was I a nerd, but I was also kind of a know-it-all.  I loved the phrase, "Well, actually..."  I was competitive, but not great at sports, I was easily frustrated, and I was incredibly awkward.  Puberty also hit me extremely hard, my bathing habits could have been better, and I was definitely NOT a great dresser.  Add to all that, I was the new student in a school where the majority of my classmates had known each other since kindergarten and you have the recipe for disaster.

I started school off hopeful.  I did, in fact, already know a couple of students, so I figured I'd have friends.  I was also open to make plenty of new friends, and I'd like to think I wasn't one of those kids who would only seek out the "cool" kids.  I'm not quite sure where / how, but something went wrong at some point.

First, the kids picked on my style.  We all wore uniforms, so you'd think this would be difficult, but no.  My shoes were too clunky, I wore my skirt too high, AND my skirt was too long.  I wore the wrong bracelets, my socks were rolled wrong.  Anything they could pick out they would.

Next came my grooming.  Puberty hit and so did acne.  Names such as Volcano-face and pizza-face were just a few.  My hair turned both greasy and curly, and I had dandruff.  Kids took to standing next to me and declaring it was snowing. "Hey look guys!  Val shook her head!  Maybe we'll have a snow day."  As I attempted to tame my newly curly hair with every form of hair cut, styling product, and lots of brushes (I knew nothing about curly hair), I got a whole new litany of insults thrown at me.  After one particularly bad hair cut a certain girl decided to give me the nickname of Bush (I'm assuming / hoping this was a very PG nickname).  That name stuck with me for a good 3 years...even after I started straightening my hair and pulling it back into a pony tail.

And then came the attacks on my love life.  These were some of the worst.  One girl asked me if I liked anyone in the class above ours.  We'd been having a laugh a few minutes earlier so I jokingly said, "Oh sure.  The [really jerky, pain in the ass guy].  She laughed along with me over that one ,but then decided to tell everyone I was madly in love with that guy.

Luckily, there wasn't the modern technology back then that there was today, so I was left along when I was at home, right?  WRONG.  The first phone call came when someone decided it would be funny to pretend to be my actual crush and ask me out.  I was so happy to get that call.  I couldn't believe that someone I liked might actually like me back.  When I went to school the next day I was greeted with snickering and jeering.  It had all been a hoax to make me look like a fool.  The next time they called I was wiser.  I demanded to know who it actually was, and they hung up.  When I went to school the next day, however, they'd simply told the story how they'd wanted it to go.  Since I'd fallen for it the first time, I must have been gullible enough to fall for it again, right?  I tried approaching the person they'd pretended to be, but he just yelled at me that he didn't like me and to stay away from him.

Oh, and it didn't end there.  When my dad subbed for the gym teacher they said cruel things about him too.  Those things aren't even worth repeating.

They started doing things just to get a reaction out of me; placing things on my back, calling me names, passing notes to and about me, stealing homework.  It didn't end.  Life was hell from 8:05 am until 2:45 pm, and even if I was left alone when I went home, I was just that.  Alone.  I cried so many times.  All I wanted was one good friend.  Someone I could have lunch with and talk to without worrying that they'd turn on me.  I might have been OK, if I'd been allowed to read during free time and lunch, but the teachers declared that was for "social" time.  Stupid teachers.

For three years I went through life without a friend.  Yes, I mentioned I met my best friend back during middle school, but back then our friendship was new and budding.  We didn't share any classes nor did we have any time during school together (lunch was separate).  And yet, through it all, suicide never even struck me as an option.  I never thought about it.  I'll admit I'm still dealing with a lot of the damage they caused, and making friends is and EXTREMELY difficult thing for me to do, but suicide was never an option.  They never had that kind of power over me.

So, what's the difference between me and these other kids?  Are kids now a days really so much meaner?  I was the least-liked kid in my class for 3 years, and I can't say I was that popular in high school (although high school was a significant improvement), yet suicide wasn't an option.  Are young people being desensitized to the idea of suicide?  Is it something in the diet?  What exactly am I missing.  Kids suck, it's true.  I still don't quite know how to handle teenagers, and I'm pretty sure they still think I'm a major geek, but when did that start being motivation for suicide?

  Can someone please help me out here?  I just don't get it.

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