Grade six. A group of James Town girls ganged up on me and told me that I thought I was better than them and that I was a stuck up snob because I actually did my homework and because I spoke with an English accent. I was never invited to sit with them at lunch, got teased in the cafeteria and resorted to going to my only friend’s house for lunch. At her place we watched Young and the Restless, ate our lunch in silence and tried to not fantasize too much about what it would be like to actually be one of the pretty popular girls allowed to eat lunch in the school cafeteria.
Grade seven. My growing enormous breasts became the running joke for all the young boys. Boys would grope me without my consent, pull my bra strap and ask me if I got a black eye when I ran. I prayed daily for my breasts to just disappear.
Grade eight. I got nicknamed taco bell because I had a “big” ass and every time I walked by the boys would make the sound of a bell, and everyone would laugh. Ironically, I now do 100 squats per day trying to get this so called “big” ass back!
Grade nine. Five girls came to my school to kick my ass for dating the most popular girl’s “boyfriend”, a guy who never called me back and took me out on a “date” which I ended up paying for.
Grade ten. A popular boy stated to anyone that would listen that I would be pretty if my nose wasn’t so big! It didn’t help that every time I got a new zit it would appear at the end of my “big” nose. I promised myself I would get a nose job as soon as I turned eighteen. My Grandmother agreed. I still secretly worry about my “big” nose.
All of these things happened to me in school and I remained silent. I never told. Suffered in silence. Never once did I come home and share with my family what was going on. I never complained to any teachers. I had little faith that the adults around me would view me as worthy to protect. School for many years was not a safe place for me. And I’m sure many of you can relate to my stories and have even worst stories to tell. And now I’m in my thirties and can laugh at how ridiculous it all was, but back then there were moments that I felt my world was coming to an end. When you’re a teenager you can feel so alone, things can just seem so life shattering, just so hopeless. In high school, tired of the alienation, tired of not “fitting in”, and throw in some good family drama, I had had enough…suicide became a viable option.
She came home and hung herself.
I am in disbelief. Saddened as I read about the death of fifteen year old Phoebe Prince who hung herself because she was taunted daily. The headlines read she was bullied to death! What does her death mean? And why does it mean so much to me?
I think I relate to Phoebe even more because she was from Ireland and had recently moved to the U.S. She spoke in an Irish accent and I remember how embarrassed I was about my accent, how kids made fun of me. How I hated to sound “white.” And moving from England and coming to Rexdale was a culture shock that I was not prepared for.
I think about Phoebe, her face haunts me. I think about what she could have become. Maybe she would have found the cure for cancer, I think maybe she would have done something really great…maybe she would have had her own TV show.
I read every news item about her, research her on the internet. Feel a sad kinship with a girl I don’t even know. A girl I will never meet…
My sadness multiplies when I read about the death of Carl Walker Hoover, eleven years old who hung himself after daily taunts of being called a faggot, and a homosexual. And the facts are the facts. Gay teenagers are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterpart. I wonder about my own gayness…queerness. If I had “known” or even attempted to come out in high school I wonder what that experience would have looked like for me? And I shamefully think about my own silence when the obviously effeminate gay boy was teased in my high school.
So now in my role as the “confident” mature adult, I feel compelled to not be silent. I feel an urgency to really talk for those who are so often silenced. I go into schools to teach a lesson of compassion, respect. Letting the misfits, the nerds, the queers, the uncool and the unloved know that I was one of them. And now I’m here. This too shall pass? It passes, but you never really forget…
We need to be more vigilant about our children. Make schools safer. Parents, teachers, adults need to be more aware of what is going on in our schools. And yes I know it is easy for us to be dismissive and say kids will be kids. NO! School should not be a war zone for some and a safe haven for others.
So within the safety of my adulthood I think about Phoebe. Daily. She haunts me. I feel my anger rise as I think about little Carl. I feel helpless and it reminds me of how I often felt in school.