In my debut novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight, sixteen-year-old Lisa-Marie has been bullied. As her character wove its way into my writing, I discovered that I was exploring two predominant themes – how a small incident could grow exponentially to become a degrading, daily reality and how the experience of ongoing bullying could lead a young person to desperate measures.
Lisa-Marie’s first day in a new high school became the setting event for years of bullying.
The first day of classes she was hopelessly lost in every way that a kid could possibly be lost. She was in the crowded, second-floor hallway trying to juggle books, binders, a time table and map. The bell rang and the hallway emptied rapidly with her no closer to finding her way.
She was standing in a small alcove by the water fountain when she heard voices just across the hall. It quickly became obvious to her that a girl, who looked about her age, was in the process of being dumped by an older guy and she was taking it hard – crying and clutching onto his sleeve. Lisa-Marie saw the guy jerk his arm away. As he walked down the hall she heard him tell the girl in a cold tone to grow up.
Lisa-Marie stood staring like she was watching a train wreck; she couldn’t drag her eyes away from the carnage.
She goes on to explain that this girl turned out to be one of the popular girls and that from that day forward her and her friends made Lisa-Marie’s life miserable.
The idea that ongoing bullying could be the result of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time came from a conversation I had with my daughter, years after she had graduated from high school. I asked her if she could explain to me why a certain girl had always been so unpopular. From my own memories of being in and out of my daughter’s classrooms, there didn’t seem to have been all that much to distinguish this girl from any of the others kids in the class. My daughter told me that all she could recall was that the girl had been a new kid from another province. When the teacher had told everyone where she was from, someone whispered a sly, little, sniggering joke that associated that city name with a sexual body part. And that was it. This girl struggled to fit in from that day forward and the joke followed her right through her school years.
In this Week of Anti-Bullying, I have been thinking back to that girl in my daughter’s class and what it would have taken for the other kids to just let her move beyond such a chance event.
I think we need to help young people develop the tools whereby they can step-out of group think, give their peers second and third chances, and move beyond personal comfort zones and small cliques to include others. Young people would need high levels of self confidence to do any of the above and that’s a tall order.
In Disappearing in Plain Sight, Lisa-Marie explains that she tried to get help but no one saw her, no one wanted to listen – no one wanted to be the one who tried to help the kid everyone hated.
For Anti-Bullying Week and beyond, let us strive to be the kind of parents who build confidence in our children, let us be adults who model inclusion, the type of people who take responsibility for the power of our words, let us be the teachers who don’t turn a blind eye to a student’s suffering.
(The photos in this post were taken at Taliesin West – architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, outside of Scottsdale, Arizona.)