Another school shooting. Another candlelight vigil. On Monday, October 21st, a Nevada teacher was murdered and two 12-year-old boys were wounded. The shooter, described as a “nice kid”, killed himself at the scene.
Student Amaya Newton said, “I believe it was because I saw him getting bullied a couple of times and I think he took out his bullying.”
Another student reported that the shooter said, “You ruined my life and now I’m going to ruin yours.”
Just a few days before, Erma, Laura, and I sat in my living room, talking about 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick who jumped to her death last month after she was bullied. Guadalupe Shaw, 14, and Katelyn Roman, 12, have been charged with felony aggravated stalking.
On Shaw’s Facebook page was a post her parents and her attorneys insist is evidence of a hacked account. The Shaws maintain that their daughter would never have written, “Yes, IK (I know) I bullied REBECCA nd (and) she killed her self but IDGAF (I don’t give a fuck).”
Erma said, “I am Rebecca Sedwick.” And she cried.
Erma’s book, I’m Nobody, began in longhand, sentences in a spiral notebook, a healing. It is her story of sexual child abuse and neglect. Laura persuaded her to self-publish. Now, when Erma has a signing at some Barnes and Noble or independent bookstore, her memoir sells out. Award-winning author Bobbie Ann Mason is a fan. Mason’s sister attended one of Erma’s book signings, bought a copy, and gave it to Mason who called Erma. It was Mason who suggested an agent.
Strong, wise, intuitive, witty, and my confidante, Erma is a member of The Sisterhood. Years ago, she met my sister Laura, trusted her, and joined our family. When my parents no longer could stay in their home, they moved in with Laura and Erma.
I asked Erma to tell me more about being bullied, to convey her feelings. This is what she said:
It was many years ago, my first day of school, yet I remember it as if it were this morning. I felt shame and humiliation. I was terrified. I was scarred by violence at home and I was defenseless. I walked into the school building and wandered the halls. I didn’t know where to go, what to do. When the bell rang, a woman pointed to a door. I opened it and entered another dimension of pain.
The other students were seated. A teacher stared at me over her glasses and said, ‘What’s your name?’
I said, ‘Erma.’
She asked, ‘What’s your last name?’
I said, ‘I don’t know.’ The children laughed.
She said, ‘How old are you?’
I said, ‘I don’t know.’ The children laughed.
She said, ‘Where do you live?’
‘I didn’t answer. I wanted to die.’
The rest of the day was more anguish and insults.
‘What garbage can did you crawl out of?’
‘Do you live with pigs?’
‘Don’t stand by me or touch me. You have cooties.’
The boy who sat behind me pushed his feet so hard against the bottom of my chair that my stomach was pressed into the edge of my desk. He poked me with his pencil.
Anyone who’s been bullied understands the anxiety, waiting for the next crushing blow. The demeaning words and looks go on and on and on, marking and mutilating.
Later, when I worked in the school system, I observed three different categories of children. The first includes those in their own world. They’re popular and fun loving, really unaware of anything but themselves and their friends. The second group consists of students who stand back. They don’t participate in the taunting but neither do they intervene, because they’re afraid they’ll be victimized. Bullies are the third group. They’re brutal and unaccountable.
So many teachers and other adults are complicit. They look away. Maybe they don’t want to complicate their jobs. But the silence emboldens the bully.
I was sexually and physically abused as a child, and I can say unequivocally that this was shattering, but bullying is more devastating.
Really, I am Rebecca Sedwick. Because I know how she felt. I know why she jumped. There was no one there to catch her. Had I jumped, there would have been no one to catch me.
I wrote it. I wrote it as she talked, and I’ve thought about it. I think of Erma as a sad, helpless child, yet I see her now, a survivor, and I’m in awe of her amazing grace.
Afterward, we made that logical link to what our country’s government chooses with its customary IDGAF on the planet’s playground. Because it can. It is at the top of the command chain, bullying—bullying with war, with threats of war, with drones, with the NSA’s vast surveillance network. This is the role model for our children. For adults, as well.
Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.