She placed the delicately written note into her back pocket and made sure its folds touched the inner lip of the pocket seam so as to not have it dislodge. She looked to her left as she waited patiently for the bus to arrive. It was an unusually warm winter and she thought about the fresh air that caresses her lungs with each breath. She thought about her family, her brother, her boyfriend who just broke up with her and the mean things people have been posting on her Facebook page and Tweeting about her.
As the bus appeared down the block it was not scheduled to stop on her corner but she knew this corner would be her last stop and she stepped out into the street, released the air that danced in lungs and allowed the bus to relieve her pain, worries and fear and she was no more.
Her name was Amanda Cummings. She was 15 and a victim of cyberbullying. She was just the latest poster child for an all too familiar story going on in our society today. The neighborhood or school bully has gone viral and into the realm of the most cowardly stealth manner of attacking others. The days of the bully liberating us of our milk money and leaving us mildly bruised mentally and physically are gone.
When I hear stories like Amanda’s it sickens and saddens me to the point where I take it very personally. I curse “God” and ask where he was when these young hurt children made the final choice to be no more. I want to go to that child’s school and reprimand every child that took their cowardice fingers to a keyboard and tortured their victims. I want to step back into time and grab that child and hold them and tell them that that their survival is the deadliest blow to their tormentors because their strength and armor couldn’t be penetrated. They were better than “them”.
I think I take it to heart all too much because I was the victim of bullying. I was bullied at school for being absent a great deal due to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and being far behind the other kids. I was bullied on the street by a thug named Fat Ally, who tortured neighborhood kids and held a reign of terror over anyone under 15 years old. I was bullied verbally by my father who constantly put me down by calling me stupid and dumb. I still carry with me the scars of all these attacks and they play out in therapy and they still haunt my dreams. But they are my scars and like any other warrior that survived a battle, I wear them proudly and a as a symbol of survival.
I fought back with everything in my arsenal. I learned how to use humor to deflect the attacks of the children at school and win them over with my jokes and imitations of them. But the sweetest revenge was when I wound up in remedial classes and wound up sharing them with my tormentors. They were just like me. But rather than embarrass them, I embraced them and offered help where I could with their troubled studies.
I fought back physically when Fat Ally was leading me to and a friend to an inevitable smack down and when my friend ran off I turned and laid into Fat Ally’s stomach and realized he was just a boy like myself. He could hurt others but be hurt too. From that day forward he always nodded as he saw me and moved along.
My Father. That is more complicated. He was a funny, clever and nice man. He was also terrified of the deep emotional commitment to being a father. He didn’t know how to be a “dad” because his was absent. I grew older and fired back verbal assaults on him as fast as he could dish them. Eventually that was a battle I won. Only because he had said he was sorry for his actions in his elderly years. I forgave him and I had won.
As I watch my only daughter grow from a toddler into a little girl, I now start to think about her arsenal. Her tools for combating the inevitable teasing that all children will do and help her to deal with them. My wife and I must begin to plan the lessons of not being the bully, which judging by her character; I doubt she would ever play that part. I get physically ill thinking about the pain of ever losing her to her own demons and insecurities due to a cyberbully.
Please. If you have children who are victims of bullying embrace them and hear them. If you know of children bullying, take a stand. Stop them by any means necessary short of violence.
There is a very darkside to social media. Let us bring our children into the light from this and their personal dark place.
I survived. I made it through the rain.
Please watch the video I made. It’s the faces of some beautiful children…
For information on coping with cyber bullying contact The Megan Meier Foundation. Meghan was 14 when she killed herself and lead to the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act
Ty Sullivan is the Director of Marketing and Social Media for one of New York City's top restaurant management groups. He also speaks, teaches and designs Customer Service seminars as well as blogs on the subject.