Normal Is The Watch Word

Cyberbullying is a hot topic lately.  ABC Family showed a movie tonight called…you guessed it, Cyberbully.  I’d been looking forward to watching it after seeing numerous previews.  I spent the whole movie thinking Taylor was the younger sister of Erika Christensen.  And that Samantha was the younger sister of Amber Tamblyn.  Wrong on both counts.  Both actresses did a fantastic job but the script just wasn’t there.  I think 45% of the movie was Taylor crying.  Since it’s a very big issue in today’s world, I’d opened ABC would really hit it and go there and show what bullying really is like and what people really go through.  Instead, we got a very white washed version with a happy ending.

The cases that started getting cyberbullying to be a household term are incredibly sad.  My heart breaks for them and their families.

Jessie Logan was a beautiful young girl.  Like many teenagers, Jessie had a boyfriend.  She did what a lot of girls are doing these days, she texted pictures of herself naked to him.  When I was growing up, the worst a person could do was snag letters from you to your beau or steal your journal and show it to people.  Today, with technology and hormones, it takes one picture to ruin your life.  When Jessie and this boy broke up, instead of bad mouthing her to his friends, he did the most horrible thing and forwarded the pictures to people.  As you can imagine, it probably wasn’t long before everyone saw them.  As if that wasn’t mortifying enough, some really mean girls teased her, threw things at her.  Like many parents, Jessie’s mom only knew a picture had gone around and her daughter was being bullied and was skipping school.  Teenagers are secretive creatures.  She went on the news, trying to warn other girls not to make her same mistakes.  She talked about going to college.  But when a friend committed suicide, she came home from the funeral and hanged herself.  I wish she’d known she could have gone away to college and started her life.  High school is not the be all, end all of the world.

Megan Meier was just shy of fourteen when she hanged herself after a neighbor made a fake Myspace account, pretending to be a cute boy.  The neighbor’s daughter and Megan had a falling out and instead of letting the girls deal with it on her own, this mother was absolutely nutters and gained Megan’s trust and then turned against her.  Lori Drew will never pay for her actions.  But because of Megan’s death, there’s at least laws now against harassing people online.

Ryan Halligan was bullied both in school and online.  There was truly no safe haven for him.  His father taught him to box but you cannot box online bullies.  And you cannot box toxic people. Ryan, like a lot of boys, had a crush on a popular girl.  Pretty on the outside but mean on the inside.  She pretended to like him and then declared him a loser.  She forwarded their messages to people.   Ryan didn’t just have to deal with bullies.  He had a so-called “friend” that encouraged him towards suicide.  What kind of friend replies “Phew, about fucking time” when someone says they are going to kill themselves?  The girl blamed herself.  The bully made fun of Ryan even after he died.  And the friend?  Well, he seems to still maintain a dark online presence and his parents don’t seem to care.

This isn’t contained just to America.  Dawn-Marie Wesley.  Kelly Yeomans. It’s all over the world.

My own high school bragged about their “zero tolerance” policy.  It was a big fat lie.  If anyone went to the administration with bullying issues, we were told to suck it up and work it out.  At my senior luncheon, I was pelted hard with Hersey kisses right in front of the Vice Principle.  I complained and she told me to get over it because we were graduating and what did I expect her to do.  A good friend was bullied because people thought he was gay.  I’d go head to head with boys to defend him while teachers stood by and did nothing.

It’s hard to condemn a teenager who bullied others though.  Not all of those kids grow up to be complete assholes.  A lot feel pressure and are bullied themselves.   Some of them change after being bullied and seeing how it feels.  Some of them grow up and realize how pointless all the drama was.

When I was in high school, we were at the height of the bullied student- school shooting craze.  There was a boy that was made fun of relentlessly.  And if you’d asked me then, I would have bet a billion jelly beans that he would be a school shooter.  He always smelled faintly of poop.  Poor hygiene skills.  He wore a trench coat.  He talked about hurting people.  I made a point to be nice to him, simply because I was scared of what he would do.  I don’t love my motives but you could tell that he was happy that someone said a kind word to him.  Or at least said hello.  Gave him a kind smile.  I regret not standing up for him.  I stood up for many friends and the special ed kids but I don’t know why I never stood up for him.  He never did anything.  I don’t know what happened to him.  I haven’t seen him on Facebook or heard about him in years and years.

There was a girl that I was not nice to.  She was the ex of a boyfriend and I didn’t trust her.  Because, you know at the age, I thought I was so wise.  Boy, if I only knew.  I’m not saying she was a nice girl.  Her actions in the past few years have shown what kind of person she is but that didn’t give me the right to say the things I did.  I contacted her a few years ago and apologized for being such a bitch.  She forgave me and we became friends.  Well, as much as people online can be friends.

My life was touched by suicide a few years after graduation.  Melissa and I became friends our freshman year.  We had gym and English together.  It wasn’t secret that she was troubled.  She bounced between her mother and her father.  Neither imposed strict rules and she’d experienced boys at a young age.  I liked her because she was tough.  I was shy back then.  I admired her take no shit attitude towards the world.  She made me laugh.  She’d become close to my best friend that I’d known since we were born.  That friend and I had always gone through periods of love and fighting.  I remember one day when she kicked me in the neck.  I really wanted to be on the flagline with her and I felt like she didn’t want me to be and I called her a name.  Not uncommon for us.  There was usually the name calling and then the hugs and then the skittle eating.  When she got braces, I ate the crunchy parts off the popcorn so she wouldn’t miss out.  We acted more like sisters.  But Melissa was really angry that I called this friend a name and even though the friend and I made up, long ago, Melissa held a grudge.

She could do that.  Very easy.  There was a rumor that a girl named Wendy had talked to Melissa’s boyfriend.  I didn’t like her boyfriend.  He was way too old, out of high school and creepy.  I didn’t doubt that he’d talked to Wendy in the parking lot but I doubted that Wendy even cared.  Melissa jumped Wendy with a group of friends.  That scared the pants off me.  It wasn’t a fair fight and Wendy came to school with the whole counter of Mary Kay on her face and Melissa showed off her rings with flecks of Wendy’s blood in them.

I was starting to learn the grim reality that was being tough.  I’d been sheltered for my whole life and I was seeing the rough side of the world that I only thought existed in bad after school specials.  Melissa held that grudge for four years.  She and her friends stole my notebooks, filled with personal notes and threatened to send them to my parents.  They pulled my hair.  They spread rumors.  Her new best friend came to me one day and asked why I told people she was pregnant.  Melissa had started a rumor that I was telling people that the new best friend was in Walmart and took a pregnancy test right there in the aisle.  I had no idea what to even say since it was just beyond reasoning and surely, no Walmart employee would be thrilled about a teenager peeing in the middle of the store.  Melissa’s friend seemed to listen to that but it didn’t stop her from harassing me. She came to the flagline tryouts and yelled mean things.  She was almost ready to burst pregnant at the time.  It was 95 degrees outside and there she was, hating me.

At school, I put on a brave face but at home, I cried a lot in my room.  Years went by.  I couldn’t understand why this kept going.  My best friend and I had been in drama and flags together.  We’d had a million fights and a million makeups by then.  But Melissa stayed angry. I saw her and her daughter once in the cell phone store.  I couldn’t help but stare because her daughter looked just like her.  She got angry and asked why I was staring and I stammered, “she’s just so beautiful.”  She scowled but I could tell she looked a little confused.

As we lined up for graduation, me trying my hardest to hide my pink streaks because our school had a completely stupid policy about students having colored hair and another girl, trying her hardest not to give birth before she walked across the stage and the valedictorian, trying her hardest not to laugh because I’d made her swear she’d thank her air conditioners instead of her fans (get it…haha), Melissa walked up to me.  Perhaps it was the sentimental nature of graduation.  People who’d hated each other were rushing to sign yearbooks promising to keep in touch.  But there she was.  She hugged me and said she was sorry.  That was it.  Just “I’m so sorry.”  I hugged her back, hard.  I hugged her for all the sleepovers we’d missed, all the gossip and all the laughs.  I didn’t hate her for the misery I’d gone through at her own hands.  In a way, Melissa taught me to stand up for myself and not to let what others say bother me.

It was the last time I saw her.

I heard of her death a few years later.  I was in college, living in my first apartment and an old friend messaged me online, asking if I’d heard the news.  It was disturbing that her death was being gossiped about.  The best friend we’d argued over lost her father soon before and now Melissa.  And her beautiful daughter was without her mother.   Melissa killed herself.  And the rumors were insane.  People swore up and down that her husband was coming home from war and she was pregnant by another man and couldn’t deal with it.  I have a hard time believing that.  Melissa was the toughest person I’d ever met.  But I couldn’t wrap my mind around how this strong woman could leave her daughter alone in the world.  The Melissa I knew would never do that.  I wish I’d kept in touch.  I don’t know if that would have changed the outcome of the end of her life.  The best friend and I talked about her death and she has no idea why Melissa did it either.  There was no news story.  Just a blurb.  20 years of life reduced to a few short sentences.

The thing is…parents really have no idea what their teens are doing or thinking.  You can monitor their internet but there’s so much that happens in the few minutes between class, the words in secretly passed notes and nighttime phone calls that you can’t even imagine.  It’s like raising little spies.  The drama that changes daily.  The hate.  The love.  So much goes on during those years that parents probably never even know about.  With new technology happening all the time, that gap widens.  The consequences more serious.  And I have no idea how to solve that.  I don’t even know where to start.  That’s incredibly scary.

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