Years ago, horrified by the stories of teens bullied to death and hoping to make a difference, two young adult authors, Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones invited other authors to contribute to a volume which came to be called DEAR BULLY: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of.
My new novel FAULTLINES came out a week ago. It’s quite a departure for me. Those who’ve followed my Vamped and Latter-Day Olympians series might know me for more for snark than serious fiction. But FAULTLINES is about as real as it gets. I’ve been asked several times whether the story was inspired by real life events, and the brief answer is yes. Several of the characters…well, I’ve felt their pain, and I’ve wanted to address it for quite some time, maybe ever since I wrote my essay “Abuse” for the DEAR BULLY anthology, reproduced below. Please, if you think there’s anyone who needs to hear it, I hope that you’ll share.
I write humor because I’m not comfortable with emotion. When this anthology was proposed, I was sure I wouldn’t have anything to contribute. But as my stomach proceeded to eat itself alive and my heart to break for those kids who were bullied to the point where they felt the only way out was death, I realized I was wrong. I did have a story to tell. Sadly, there’s nothing at all funny about it.
I was molested as a child. Wait for it, I promise there’s relevance or there’s no way I would put this out there to the world. The man was a neighbor and someone who worked with my father. I was about seven. I was/still am asthmatic. The first time it happened, I was out for a bike ride through the woods with friends and had to stop because my asthma had kicked up, and they left me behind. Prey.
I don’t like to talk about what happened then. I don’t know if that neighbor had just happened to be out for a ride when we were or if he’d been watching us, waiting for a straggler, but he took advantage of the privacy of the setting and the fact that we were alone to take advantage of me. It happened a few times after that, when my parents allowed him to take me “fishing” because I hadn’t told them what had happened. I hadn’t told anyone and wouldn’t for years.
Molesters are master manipulators. They try to make their victims complicit with their silence, telling them their parents will be angry or won’t believe them. Or they give their victims terrible options of “I could do this or this” and make it seem like a choice. For years, I felt terrible guilt. For years, I prayed to God every night to forgive me, because I was sure it was all my fault in some way. He never answered.
It wasn’t until I was around twelve that my mother had “the talk” with my sister and me, about dangers, how we could tell her anything…. I was so upset that I excused myself, went off to my room and wrote her a note (I’ve always escaped through writing). I’d transferred my anger. I still hadn’t forgiven myself, but now I was angry at her, at my father, at everyone for not telling me sooner how to protect myself and that I COULD HAVE TOLD, which is something I want EVERYONE to know. So, I’m saying it in case your parents don’t.
To say that she was upset would be an understatement. How she handled it…I can’t say that I blame her or that she did anything wrong, but it made things very difficult for me. My mother called all the mothers on the block and told them so that they could watch out for the man. Unfortunately, she also told them what had happened to me, and they told their kids. I don’t blame them either, they were trying to protect their children, but the result was that everyone in the neighborhood knew. They knew what had happened, they knew the button to push to get a rise out of me.
In case you’re wondering, my father, with whom I’d always had a tumultuous relationship, called the man and threatened that if he ever came near me again, my father would make sure that he lost everything. It was the day I started loving my father.
Now, I’d always been a geek, a brain, asthmatic, rail-thin, always snuffling from allergies and out of school for my health issues as much as I was in. In short, there was no dearth of material to tease me about, but I’d always escaped into books, sometimes three a day. I wasn’t terribly concerned about playing outside anymore (wonder why) or what people thought of me there. But now the kids had a surefire taunt, something I couldn’t ignore, couldn’t not react to.
Kids can be cruel and, for some reason, the cruelest often fall below people’s radar, either because they’re very good at being two-faced or because their parents don’t pay enough attention to note and correct the bad behaviors. Some even enable the bullies through denial or what they perceive as standing up for their kids, not realizing that it only allows the child to keep behaving horribly without fear of repercussions. We had more than one such kid in our neighborhood, but the bully who inspired this piece, who later evolved into our local drug dealer, happened to taunt me while I held an aluminum bat in my hand. All the neighborhood kids were gathered for a game of softball at the end of our cul-de-sac. I don’t even remember what started our debate now, but given the bat, I assume it was whether the ball I’d just hit had been in or out of bounds. Whatever started the fight, the boy thought he had a perfect way to finish it. So easy to shut someone up when you knock all the wind out of them by bringing their deepest, soul-shriveling moments into the light.
My vision flared red. The bat was already in hand, and suddenly it was in motion. His head was the ball and I was prepared to hit a home run. If my vision hadn’t cleared and I hadn’t seen his face at that very last second, stricken with absolute terror, there’s no telling what would have happened. I could have done irreparable harm to another human being. I could have killed. I managed to pull the blow at the last second, and he lived to tell about the experience…and get me into all the trouble I deserved. But I was a hairs-breath away from murder.
I’m not pulling the punch now, here. Sometimes, it’s better to tell.
I wish it went without saying that bullying is horrible and dangerous, for the victim as well as the perpetrator. The target can just as easily turn his or her rage outward as inward. If bullies won’t stop for the sheer humanity of it, I hope they’ll stop for the simple drive for self-preservation. To this day, I’m horrified by what I almost did. If I hadn’t pulled my swing, I’d have had to live with what I did forever. The bully would have had to live…or die…with the consequences.
I didn’t grow up in a family comfortable with emotion. I’ll never forget getting into trouble when I cried or having my father send me to my room once with a book called, I believe, “The Erroneous Zones” that postulated that emotions were societal constructs and that the reason we felt sorrow, for example, when our grandmothers died was that it was expected of us. I think that day with the bat, I started to accept, not that emotions didn’t exist, but that they were dangerous things. That was the day I started to shut down.
It hampered my relationships and my writing for many years. Maybe still. It’s hard to emotionally invest your reader when you refuse to open yourself to emotion to begin with. But maybe, just maybe I’m getting better. Maybe opening the floodgates with this will even help me on the road to recovery. I love my humor, but I hope that with the healing, I’ll be comfortable adding in a little more heart.
Where you can go to find help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889 Español: 1-888-628-9454
Crisis Text Line TEXT “SEMI” to 741-741
National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4.A.CHILD (422-4453)
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Alliance of Hope – for suicide loss survivors
The Trevor Project – crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ Youth – 1-866-488-7386