Saturday, October 16, 2010


When you're a kid, you can't always foresee the consequences of your actions. This is why you're not allowed to do things like drink alcohol, or drive, or have sex, until a certain, older, age. Your brain needs time to mature, and no matter how mature you believe you are, your brain can still be in transition. When you're a teenager you may get the idea that you're somehow invincible, that you can ride a motorbike at full speed without a helmet, that you can do a wheelie with your bike in traffic, that you can jump off a flight of stairs with your skateboard without any protection, or that you can stand on the edge of a roof of a tall building without holding on to something. Some kids push other kids to do things, or just push, without thinking about the possible consequences.

After thirteen year old Seth Walsh from California committed suicide, his classmates reportedly said that they weren't aware that their actions could actually cause Seth to kill himself. And this is something that always comes up, that most bullies do not know how far their bullying can push their victims. But in the meantime the bullying goes on, and kids find themselves pushed into a deep dark corners of which they see no way out.

When I was a kid I was frequently bullied. It started in elementary school where I was harassed for reasons I still don't quite understand. I'm not gay, but you really don't have to be gay to be bullied. I do remember having been accused of being gay, probably just because it makes an easy target and an easy laugh. I was different though. I liked to read and had a bigger vocabulary than most, and probably already spoke my mind when I was young, which is one thing that may have attracted some attention. I lived in my own little world, sometimes setting myself apart from my classmates and friends whenever I would drift away in my thoughts. I don't remember all of it, it's been so long, but I do remember certain moments of being bullied. I remember sitting on the ground surrounded by a group of kids, kicking and screaming at me. Even kids I called friends. I remember many times being on the run, and hiding out in bushes or in trees to escape my tormentors. I remember one time when an older guy cornered me with his friends, and forced me to open my mouth so he could spit in it. The earliest memory I have of being bullied was when I was barely five years old, when I was pushed into a pond by some kids while I couldn't even swim yet, and having to explain my wet clothes at home. I was punished because my clothes had gotten wet, while I could have drowned that day. Somehow I made it out of the water, kicking my legs and arms like a dog. The other kids first laughed at me but ran away when they saw I couldn't swim, and I had to climb out of the pond alone. I remember how difficult it was, how high the edge seemed, and how terrified I was. But, if I was being bullied at 5 years old, there must have been something about me that made me stand out. I'll probably never know exactly what it was, but I was different somehow.

As I got older and went to middle school, the bullying continued, especially when I was placed in a class with mostly older kids who had been left back once or twice already. I was small for my age, so that made me an easy target for these boys, most of whom were already fully grown. I can remember all the times I didn't want to go to school. That I'd rather play sick, or just skip school and stay out in the streets for the day, just so I didn't have to face my tormentors. And I did, many times. There was a lot more going on in my life, and being bullied only added to my daily anguish. I had two ways of escape. The first was my fantasy world in which I wasn't afraid of anything or anyone, and could face any danger or anyone who had ever made my life miserable. The other was writing. I wrote a lot in my early teenage years, some of which I used in my novel 'Painting by numbers', which has its roots in my history as a victim of bullying. But writing also gave me a possibility to vent, because whom else could I talk to? Certainly not the school 'counselor' who, when I was fourteen, told me I should stand up for myself, and be more aggressive. He literally told me to 'fight back'. That's great thing to tell a kid with a death wish. In 'Painting by numbers' Seth Mason fights back. One day he walks into his high school and shoots everyone in sight. I could have been Seth Mason if I had access to guns, because that's how much hatred had built inside of me. I started carrying a knife to school with the thought that, if I was able to pull it out of my pocket when cornered again, I was going to use it.

Luckily, I never did. Shortly after my talk with the 'counselor', I was cornered again, right outside a classroom. Teachers were around, but none had ever even tried to stop anything, and I wasn't counting on them this time either. There were about 5 or 6 of my usual bullies, all older, bigger, and stronger. And they knew they had power over me, they already had it for over a year. It started out with words but quickly became physical, as it often did. I never fought back, afraid that if I did, I would get beaten harder. What made me fight back that day I still don't understand. But, once I had been pushed around for a while, which turned into punching and kicking, suddenly everything turned black. I focused on one guy, and with all that I had, I started punching him in the face. I remember seeing how surprised everyone was, that this smallish kid would just fight back. It didn't even take much, a few blows to the face and he went down. I remember the feeling I had, shaking, in tears, and scared shitless of what was going to happen to me next. I was expecting the guy to get up and beat me to pulp, and that everyone would join in, right there in front of the classroom. But he didn't. He stayed on the ground. I knew that if they would start beating me up, I would fight to the death. My knife was in my bag on the ground, and I was slowly going for it. Before I could reach it, and to my great surprise, everyone started to laugh. They laughed at the guy on the ground, not at me, and from one moment to the next it was all over. Still, I was afraid they would get me again another day, and better this time, so I kept walking around with my knife in my pocket for weeks. But that was the last time I was bullied. They never tried again. Apparently, my sudden aggression had either scared them off, or I had finally gained their respect.

I'm not saying that every bullied kid should fight back. You don't stop bullying with bullying. I'd much rather see adults react when confronted with bullying of kids. To be honest, I don't think bullying will ever stop, but we CAN stop bullying getting to a point where victims want to kill themselves. Many, if not most individual cases of bullying can be stopped. If parents, teachers, and all adults take notice when someone is being targeted for sexuality, for physical reasons, or any reason at all, and if those adults respond by either talking to the bullies, or reporting them to the school staff, in addition to talking to the victim, then maybe they can stop someone else from taking his or her life. Bullies should be taught the possible consequences of their actions, and the bullied must understand that it won't last forever. Life goes on, and really does get better. As soon as the bullying stopped and the pressure was off, going to school wasn't so bad anymore, and two years later I was in a  new class with the best group of friends I ever had in my teen years.

Personally I'm glad never having acted on my suicidal thoughts. But how close I have been, so many times. I lived on the 12th floor of an apartment building, and there was a gallery to get to the front door. The top bar of the railing was about 3 to 4 inches wide. How many times I have stood on top of that railing I can't recall. As young as nine years old I would walk the railing from one end to the other, not caring I could fall to the wrong side. I also had this game where I would climb over to the other side of the railing, and I would let myself fall backwards with my hands in the air, only to grab the railing at the last possible moment. One day when I was a little older I found out that the door to the roof was left unlocked, and for a while I went out there every day to sit on the edge of the roof, more than 100 feet above the ground. Death was so close, so easy. And I played with knives, sharp knives. I didn't know what cutting was, but I would cut myself sometimes, because that pain was such a relief and distraction of the world I was living in, and what I went through almost every day. I remember thinking about cutting my wrists but I was afraid it would take too long to die, so I didn't. I thought about swallowing chemicals but I was afraid it would be too painful. I didn't know how to make a noose, but I tried. It didn't work. There was no internet yet with instructional videos for ways of killing yourself. But also no internet to find someone to talk to or to vent, or to read stories of other people who found a way out. I fled to alcohol and weed by the time I was thirteen, but that was always only a temporary fix. I still got the biggest rush from standing on top of the railing and looking down at a quick death.

I don't know why I never jumped. I think the game of walking the railing, or letting myself fall backwards and grabbing the railing at the last moment, gave me such a rush that it made me feel alive. Maybe that rush was the drug I needed, but in those days I didn't realize how close I came to dying each time I got up on that railing. Only once the bullying stopped I was able to start looking at life as something that could possibly be something worth trying, and I stopped my dangerous games. No matter how troubled I still was, the bullying was the strongest factor that made me want to die.

I saw councilman Joel Burns' video on Youtube, and it's inspiring. It's sad to see how much haters are commenting on the video. Nothing is easier than to speak your prejudice from behind a keyboard in your own home. It's a form of bullying, but these bullies are true cowards. In any case, bullies get their satisfaction from lifting themselves up by bringing someone else down. Unfortunately, cyber bullying can also push someone to commit suicide. There are kids out there right now, who have to deal with bullying in school, and when they come home are not heard by their parents,  then go online for some distraction, only to get bullied there as well. I can understand why kid like that would see that life has no use. I understand each and every kid who killed himself that I heard of these past months. Even if I'm not gay, I understand how they felt worthless, that they had no place in this world, and that the only escape was death.

No one ever saw my own despair. No one ever called the cops when I was walking the railing of the12th floor of the building I lived in. Did no one notice at all, or did they just didn't care? No teacher ever came to my aid whenever I was cornered, and I was only called to the councilor's office after I had been accused of having started a fight. Yeah, right. Remember, all the other kids towered at least a foot above me. At home I wasn't noticed at all, and since there was no internet, all I had was myself. I had no one I felt comfortable talking to, and had to deal with everything alone for many years. I wish I had internet in those days. It is so easy today to find solace online, or to find help, or just someone who can listen. There were no helplines for me either, so things have improved for today's kids. But why are there still so many kids killing themselves?

Like I said earlier, you don't have to be gay to be bullied, but we hear too many stories of young gay kids being bullied to death lately. And these kids are so young. When you're thirteen years old and have the desire to kill yourself, you can't yet see what the consequences are. While you may escape your bullies that way, you leave a lot of people behind who do care about you. Your life does have value, now, and in the future. I learned that being different is what makes me more interesting to people, and why these people care about me. It really is like Joel Burns said; life does get better. You won't be in school forever, and you won't be living at home with your parents forever. One day you will get out. One day, you will escape. One day you find that life has plenty to offer and, because you never know when it's going to end, it should be lived to the fullest.

In 'Painting by numbers' bullying is only one of the factors leading Seth Mason to kill, not just himself, but teachers and fellow students in his high school. 'The book is by no means a guide for suicide, or massacre. But there is a warning in the story. There are too many kids around America, and around the world, who are on the verge of being pushed too far. I hope that people will start noticing these kids, and help. I hope that kids who feel like Seth Mason in Painting by numbers, or like Seth Walsh from California, or Asher Brown from Texas, or Billy Lucas from Indiana, or anyone else who has suicidal thoughts, will seek help, and speak up. The worst thing to do is keeping all the pressure and all these thoughts to yourself. The worst thing for a kid is having to live with the thought that death is the only answer. Many of the thoughts Seth Mason has were my own, but I never acted on them. Instead, I found a way out. I think I came out stronger, and my desire for happiness became my force. Today, I don't let anyone or anything bring me down anymore. I'm living out loud and to the fullest, and so should you.

Painting by numbers is available at Amazon, and at Smashwords.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, David. I feel that the more people who share these stories, the greater chance that our society will realize the size of this problem. You're absolutely right. Bullying may never end, but we can do something to keep it down to a level where kids don't want to kill themselves.