In Defense and In Love

It was April 1992.  And I will NEVER forget these moments.  Mr. Lassen, my 10th grade English teacher and amazing human, gave us a task:  write a monologue.  I thought about it long and hard, trying not to be so “emo” as I was back then, but my heart kept on pulling me back to one story over and over again, a true story, tragic, but needing to be told. It was a story I had learned during a keynote address at the PA state Key Club Convention.

I wish that I still had my words, scribbled on college ruled paper, Mr. Lassen’s comments and words of encouragement scrawled in the margins.  They are gone, but their memory lives in me, and now I give to you these words to ponder.


***Warning: TRIGGERS****

The monologue was written from the perspective of an older teen girl, Sarah, a junior in high school.  She is talking to a group in therapy.  Her words were haunting, remorseful, grasping for reason, for redemption, for justice…. for her brother, Steve (names are not real).  She tells the story, the story of her brother who was a freshman, a band geek, smart beyond his years, different in more ways than one.  He was often picked on by classmates, and now, as a student in the high school, he took the brunt of upperclassman teasing an taunting.

They were relentless.

One day, a group of new recruit football players were given a task as a sort of rite of passage.  Humiliate, truly humiliate one person by the end of the day.  They took aim and landed on Sarah’s brother.  Brutal in their form of punishment, they took Steve on in the cafeteria.  Four of them approached as Steve was walking to his table.  They took his drink and poured in on his head.  They dumped his books on the floor and dumped a tray of food on them. They knocked his instrument to the floor.  Finally, they picked him up and put him head down into the trashcan.

They threw him out like garbage.

Sarah, called for them to stop, but her pleas only made the taunting worse, “Ohhh, how cute.  You need your big sister to save you…..”

Administration gave the boys a slap on the wrist.  They did nothing for Steve.

Sarah did not see Steve for the rest of the day.  When she got home, he had held himself up in his room, asking to be left alone.  Everyone in the family complied.

The next morning, Steve was gone before the family awoke.  Sarah felt something was wrong, really wrong.  The family called friends and began to walk around the neighborhood, thinking that he had gone for a walk ,but  due to the taunting he received the day before, he should not be alone.  They split up.  The longer Sarah walked, the more terrible she felt.  She spent much of the walk looking down, feeling  hopeless for her brother, feeling like she wished she had done more, things could be better. She got angry as she approached one of the offenders homes…. and then she noticed something strange.  A weird shadow cast upon the ground in the early morning light.  She looked up, fell to her knees and screamed.

There, in a large tree in the front yard of the offenders home. was Steve.  He had hung himself, and now was swinging  slowly in the wind.  On his chest he had penned the note,

I’m sorry.  It is too much to take.  I am alone.  It is better this way.


Mr. Lassen pulled me aside to talk to me at length about my monologue, asking me if I was ok, how I felt about it, what I faced personally, and what can be done in general.  I told him my own stories and asked if I could perform the monologue in class.  It was something I felt that needed to be told.  He agreed, after lining up a counselor to speak to the class if needed.

As I acted the monologue, hot tears streamed down my face.  And even though this particularly story was not my own, I became Sarah.  I felt just a small amount of what I am sure she felt,  and yet I felt like I was living it. To bear witness to her story was more important than anything else in that moment.

The monologue changed attitudes that day, and, for that reason alone, Steve did not die in vain.

Even though her particular story was not my story, the story belongs to all of us.  We all have a responsibility to bear witness to these stories, defend those that experience these things, offer them our love and support, and give them back their power.  This story came flooding back to me after the news that three students had taken their own lives this week as a result of bullying.  These students were bullied for their sexual orientation, for them simply being themselves, for no good reason at all.  They all felt like “it is better this way.” We all know a Steve or a Tyler Clementi.  Some of us may have been them growing up.  We all know those who use bullying as a way of making themselves feel better about themselves.  This is all of our story.

It must stop.  We must not tolerate the bullying behavior of those around us.  We must teach our children respect, and hold them accountable for their actions, not to just look the other way and say, “not my kid.”  We must lead by example, show that love, patience, and kindness are far better than a callous heart.  We must give our kids the tools to stand up for themselves, their friends, those in need.  We must listen, truly listen.  Finally, we must intervene and come to the defense of those in need.  We must not let those like Steve and Tyler Clementi needlessly die, and not learn the lesson here.

Raise your voice.  Make your self heard.  Serve as an example. We must not lose one more…. not one more….. to the weight that those who are bullied bear.

Raise your voice.

If you are in crisis, please know that there is help out there for you.  The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available around the clock when you need to reach out.  Call 1-800-273-TALK.

If you have the ability, support programs like local suicide prevention programs, mentorship programs, and other outreach programs for those in crisis and need.  The more positive faces our lives, the better our lives can be.  Be the positive change.

(PS.  Read A Lot of Nothing’s and Morningside Mom’s post on the loss of Tyler Clementi. Please. Lend your support.)

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9 Responses to “In Defense and In Love”

  1. Cecily 4 October 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    I believe we are equally responsible to teach our children that bullying others is simply not acceptable. If the school won’t help, parents must accept that fact that it’s not “all in fun” or part of “kids being kids” and when our children behave in this way, we must come down on them hard and be completely intolerant of that behavior — and intolerant of them supporting or condoning that behavior by other kids.


    Corina Reply:

    Agreed. If we are not the ones teaching our own children their actions have consequences, who will. We need to look to ourselves, our own actions, and our own children to make sure that they are both safe and not the perpetrators of such behavior…. and then do something about it.


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  3. DC Urban Dad 4 October 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Beautiful post and thanks for sharing. We all need to hear this. Even those with little ones need to be able to speak to their kids about bullying. We can help them change their world and create a world where bullying does not exist.
    DC Urban Dad´s last blog ..My ComLuv Profile


    Corina Reply:

    Thank you so much. And I agree, the earlier we begin to model this, the better.


  4. Lucretia Pruitt 4 October 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    It is beautiful post and a poignant subject.
    But as someone who was bullied relentlessly from day 1 of first grade through my teen years and even until I was in my early 20s, I’m afraid that awareness only partially works. Bullying is such a cycle. Not all parents are telling their kids not to be a bully – some are beating theirs, humiliating them, and giving them the tools to torment their peers.
    The “mean girl” cycle starts in preschool (at 3, the studies show) and really doesn’t EVER stop.
    Were I less immune to it, the attempted bullying from one of the other moms in my kidlet’s class would’ve really hit home. Instead, I had the tools to deal with it. But I haven’t always – and it’s disturbing how many *adults* are bullied daily. We never hear in the news about them.

    Bullying is often one person’s way of not being the most vulnerable person in the chain… and until we can stop ADULTS from doing it – we’re not likely to stop the children.

    Sorry to get up on a soap-box there – but even this past week I’ve been dealing with someone who has been bullied online – by a 30-something Mom. Her pain was just as devastating and she felt just as isolated and alone. I think we, as a society, must learn to disarm bullies of ALL ages.

    I love you for posting this. Thank you!!!
    Lucretia Pruitt´s last blog ..Packing- Insomnia- Clothes & a Quick Dye JobMy ComLuv Profile


    Corina Reply:

    I agree, Lucretia. I am AMAZED by the horrible, horrible things that adults say to or about each other in the guise of “trying to make a point” or “trying to get ahead.” It is pathetic, and then we wonder why our children act the way they do. Parents want not to face the fact that their children are bullies, or bully them right back, which, in turn causes the behavior further. It is a sad, sad commentary.

    My wish is that things begin to change. That through keeping it in the public eye and being vigilant, we begin to make small changes, making a real difference out there. I don’t stand for hate speech of any kind in my house (both literal and proverbial) and I hope that others end it as well.


  5. Grammy 4 October 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    It starts young. This is not a new problem, and I am very glad to see more conversation about it. I felt very helpless as a parent of a 1st grader coming home with personal belongings damaged and a spirit of fear growing….going to the teacher did not help, nor to the principle.
    We moved when an opportunity came – hoping to protect him. How many 3rd graders do you know who have peptic ulcers? It has been 30 years – I hope he has recovered – I am very proud of him for doing better than just suviving grade school.


    SilentBen Reply:

    Being confident in a leadership role earned based on merit rather than ambition, I’d say I’ve come around. It was a long road though and arguably the final destination in our chain of moves had been the hardest test (I was small and shy and it was redneck Pennsylvania). But while I spent a lot of my youth in solitude and some level of fear, I never felt a level of anguish that lead me to contemplate violence or suicide.

    Now having kids of my own, I try to be ever conscious of both how I behave with them (not wanting to set the stage to create either bullies or victims) and how they behave with each other and their friends. And I will not be blinded by bias in judging my children in these matters – we can change the world if only one child at a time.
    SilentBen´s last blog ..Ebony- Ivory- and Other Hard WoodsMy ComLuv Profile


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