Every time my heart shatters, I pick it up again and put it back together. Not well, and pieces are generally missing, but I do it and I do it by myself because no one else will. No one else can.
That’s what being bullied taught me.
The people who would try to help—the one girl who ran after me, brought me back to Boalsburg-Panorama Elementary School sobbing and hysterical, after I had walked right out of it and was heading towards the highway, the only way I knew to get home… she would get in trouble for “leaving school grounds”.
The guidance counselor who sat in her quiet room and gave me Play-doh would suggest I stop crying so very much.
And the teachers who ignored my sobbing in the playground and the hallway would keep ignoring the sobbing wherever it came from.
I am not stronger than that girl from Illinois. I was two years older, though. It didn't occur to me to ask permission from anyone: I left school—I trembled, but I could not stay in that place a moment longer—I fled.
And I wasn’t planning on committing suicide, but walking home along a busy road with no sidewalks in a semi-rural area isn’t exactly the safest choice. I knew it was dangerous. Especially since, having moved houses and schools just a month or two ago, I wasn’t exactly sure I knew the way home. (I moved a lot as a kid, living in 13 houses by the time I was 13—though I think that number included the couches we surfed while we were homeless.)
Anyway, I knew there were lots of horrible places to be. But in that eternal spring of bullying and tears of pain and rage and the endless stream of powerless adults inflicted on me, anywhere else was better.
So my heart breaks for that girl in Illinois, because I know what it feels like to need escape that badly. Sometimes, it feels like the only happy ending is an ending.
…But I can’t end this story there, because my story didn’t end there…
I did have one almost-stranger who cared. What tugged me back up the long hill to school was one child—one person in that dark rabbit warren of a school, who gave a fuck.
She didn’t—couldn’t—stop the bullying.
That’s the thing I learned about bullies, no one can change them but themselves.
But I learned I could endure until I had a chance to run away. And I did escape—junior high was a nightmare for many people, but for me it was heaven because everyone started off new and lonely and terrified. That was my native state, and I mostly excelled in it.
Later, as an adult, when I was so trapped I called a suicide prevention hotline—someone answered the phone. One person reassured me that I was allowed to escape, that leaving was a good idea, and I did.
I went to England, and when people asked me why, I said, “I want to see what happens next.” … I wasn’t running away from my expensive degree or the terrible domestic situation I was in, oh no, I was a hero on a quest. And I found so much joy in that search: a new home, a new life, and a new love that has become my happily ever after.
I want to tell people… oh, all sorts of things. Be kind, be helpful, be whatever.
But when someone is in pain, telling them to stand up and take it is not, actually, helpful.
If there is a reason—space, time, they are such frustrating constraints—that you can’t stand up with the bullied person and her pain, then if you want to help—help her escape.
Tell her she is strong.
Tell her leaving isn’t cowardice.
Tell her she isn’t alone, and then prove it.
Pain can teach you all sorts of things. If you have a reason to resist, a hope to hold onto, it can teach you to endure and withstand so that you can be the hero in someone else’s story. It can teach you that other people have stories, and you can learn something from listening to the wise old crone with a pair of magic running shoes.
But if you are at the breaking point, you have nothing left to hold yourself together with… There is nothing else within you left to endure. There is no strength and there is no power within you to call on or to protect.
So I tell you: when someone tells you they are breaking, help them break-- away.
Now, how do I justify this post on my Occupied Life blog?
I keep thinking about http://occupywallstreetstories.com/occupy-has-saved-my-life.html
And I keep thinking how nobody grabbed Calvin H (or one of my other less violent but no less consistent tormenters) and said, “Dude, what is the matter with *you*? Why are you hitting her so very much? How can you ignore your own conscience?”
I had that one person. She was my sign that not everyone on that playground agreed with or tacitly supported the bullies’ right to bully. One person supported my right to not get hit. She gave me the strength to walk back into the short sharp shit-storm I left behind and endure a little longer.
I think society has created these entertainment complexes and cultural trappings so that we don’t have to stand up to the bullies and the sick systems that perpetuate them. It’s easier to escape together than stand up together.
Occupy is my one person, right now-- my one glorious sign that not everyone supports my government's right to bully everyone who isn't a generous campaign donor.
More than that, though, I think (I hope) that Occupy and the basic practices it is trying to foster are not just about enduring in a space, though that is a powerful statement. Ultimately, it is modeling how to stand up to the bullies—through humor and non violence and most of all, together.
So I tell you, person who is at the breaking point, country that is crying in pain and rage:
We are strong.
We are brave.
We are not—and never have been—alone.
Now… let’s see what happens next!