Sunday, April 15, 2012

They Wore Blue: Grace McComas, 15-years-old, Death by Suicide

Last week, while we here in Maryland, and around the world, were mourning the suicide of Kenny Wolf, there was yet another event here.  Fifteen-year-old Grace McComas, of Glenelg High School, ended her young life because of cyberbullying two days following Kenny.  Both were laid to rest within moments of each other Saturday, April 14th.

Specific details of the cyberbullying were not reported by The Baltimore Sun because of an ongoing police investigation.

What is apparent was that blue was Grace's favorite color.  Her friends started a cyber campaign, #blue4grace, which quickly went viral and attracted the attention of such notables as Lauren Alaina, the 2011 "American Idol" runner-up and Baltimore Ravens' running back, Ray Rice.  Mourners were asked to wear blue for the visitation, but it didn't stop there.  People as far away as Ireland and the Czech Republican were participating in the event.  The message is getting out:  this has to end.  And, to be sure, there ARE many people doing a lot of great things in an effort to end the bullying that's claiming far too many teens' lives.  One teen suicide because of bullying is one too many.  I've had 2 here in my own backyard within the past 10 days.  Enough.

Footballer Ray Rice has become proactive in the campaign against bullying.  He's hosting an anti-bullying event in Howard County, where Grace was from.  I'm in the process of getting more information about that right now.  I've messaged Ray via his personally-run facebook page.  And, as the information becomes available to me, it will be passed along via the blog and on the facebook blog page.

It's been said in conversations I've had with some people that today's young people should have thicker skin and just understand that bullying is a part of growing up.  When I hear that, I seeth as I listen to their opinion.  But, listen, I do.  See, on the one hand, I do understand where they think they're coming from with this logic.  Bullying has been around for as long as I can remember and, I'm sure, well before that.  My own dealings with the bullying and violence is well-documented here.  And, speaking from a personal standpoint, suicide wasn't even a word in my vocabulary when I was a teen.  I coped.  I moved on.  But, as I've been figuring out over the past 10 years or so, I didn't really "cope".  The subconscious scars were very slow to heal.  And, that's because I didn't even realize they were there until, well, 10 years ago or so.  So, that said, it isn't just a matter of today's young people "getting over it".  It just needs to end.  Period.  Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer who advises Facebook and MTV on online safety, had this to say about it:
"I don't want the kids to be more resilient". "I want the kids who are doing it to stop. I want friends of the kids being bullied to stand up and say, 'I am with you.' The popular kids, the smart kids, the big kids need to stand up and say, 'Stop.'"
That's the correct answer.  Damned needing tougher skin!!  They shouldn't have to be dealing with it at all.

And, of course, there have been naysayers who believe this is all much ado about nothing.  To them, I say "think again".  This is a real-life, real-time problem, and it's costing lives.
In the most recent report, released March 31, the Maryland State Department of Education cited nearly 4,700 incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation in the 2010-2011 school year, up from about 3,800 in 2009-2010 and 2,100 in 2008-2009.(The Baltimore Sun)
What that statistic clearly shows that bullying has increased in each of the past three school years in Maryland, alone!  Understanding that that's only from the cases that are reported really puts it all in perspective.  We're in the midst of a crisis that's causing teens to end their own lives.  And, even in the cases where they aren't committing suicide, sometimes the psychological scars they're left with can last a lifetime.

A lot is being done, now, and by many people, to address the issue.  However, a lot more needs to be done, and by many more people.  And, we start by a.) re-educating the adults; and, b.) making sure our lawmakers and school officials understand that this issue needs to be taken with the same gravity of, say, an outbreak of a deadly viral infection that's hitting teens around the country and around the world.  How quickly would "they" find a cure if that were the issue instead of bullying?  That same intensity needs to be focused on the issue with bullying.

To the family and friends of Grace McComas, I'm so sorry that you're having to go through this.  My heart and condolences go out to you.  And, to you, Grace, the world will now never know what gifts you had to offer.  Rest in peace.

Time Traveling

I was presented recently with a very interesting question:  "If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?"  Damn.  That's deep.  So, I've spent the better part of several days pondering this question.  Here's what I came up with.  Bear with me, here.

Third grade, I had a crush on everyone in my class, boys and girls alike.  I had my first boyfriend when I was in the 5th grade: 10-years-old.  That lasted the entire school year.  At age 12, I was viciously beaten for daring to sneak a kiss from a boy I had a crush on.  And, it was downhill from there.  

Perhaps as a result of the beating I endured, I didn't dare chase after anyone when I returned to school.  That was my 7th grade.  Same held true for the 8th grade.  Ninth grade, well, that was a different story.  Going into 9th grade, I met a new neighborhood boy who was cute and rather fun to be around.  In retrospect, he was what we call today "flamboyant", although I didn't really consciously pick up on it at the time. (although I'd bet that, on a subconscious level, it was exactly what drew me to him: the unspoken knowledge that he was also gay.)  And, he was aggressive.  We had quite an enjoyable time together that lasted until his family moved clear to the other side of town. 

Then, I met the guy who, to this very day, I consider THE love of my life.  He was one year and one day younger than myself.  We were compatible in every way imaginable.  Except sexually.  But, I'll come back to that.  We were literally inseparable for almost 2 years.  We'd have sleepovers every day.  His place or didn't matter.  What mattered was being together.  Only during the school day would we be separated.  When his family moved across town, it didn't deter me.  I'd find a way to see and spend time with him.  I've never loved on that level before or since.  Why weren't we sexually compatible?  Truthfully, I don't know that we weren't. 

The truth of the matter is that the beating I absorbed for daring to love that other boy, when I was 12, got in the way of my showing my Mr. Right my true feelings.  I mean, he knew I loved him, for sure.  And, I had know doubt that he loved me equally.  He even let me know, on several occasions, that the physical attraction was mutual.  He never verbalized it, mind you.  It was more the look in his eyes, the smile on his face.  More than anything, it was the...well...let's just say it was his own physical, and quite noticeable, arousal that told me more loudly and more clearly than any words could've.  And, it wasn't once.  It wasn't even twice.  This happened quite a few times.  Eventually, I guess he lost patience, or figured that I wasn't interested in him "in that way".  By the time we were 18 and 17, we'd drifted completely away from each other.  I've never loved as intensely or completely since.

If I could give my younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?  Easy.  I'd tell that badly battered 12-year-old boy to:
"...never, ever be afraid to love because of who you are.  Never, ever be afraid to show your love.  Don't let what just happened to you control the rest of your life.  Yes, what happened to you was traumatic.  And, no, you didn't deserve what happened.  However, if you don't get back on your feet as fast as possible and continue to be who you are and love who you love, then that boy and his group of bullies will have totally won.  They will control the rest of your life even though you'll probably never, ever see them again.  For as wrong as it was, what happened, happened.  It's over.  You heal, you grow, and you win by getting back on your feet as fast as possible and continuing to be that same 'you' you were before the attack.  Being bullied, even as brutally as you were, isn't the end of the world.  Now, it's up to you to pick yourself up, move on with your life, and continue to grow into that awesome person you already know is there inside of you.  Anything short of that, and you've completely allowed the bullies to win.  And, in the grand scheme of things, that would be much worse that what they did to you physically."
If only.  Since I can't time travel, I pass my knowledge on to today's struggling youth.  Who knows?  Maybe it can help somewhere along the way.  Knowing what I know now, it's the emotional scars of being bullied that last the longest, that potentially cause the most damage.  And, knowing what I know now, keeping your head held high and moving forward with your life is a great way of starting the process of healing those emotional scars.  Bullies win only if you let them.