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Hodge: Suicide loss of childhood friend painful lesson of life
The, tragic suicide saga of Amanda Todd reminds us of the sorrow and senseless stupidity attached with bullying.
The incident understandably inspires renewed call outs to ‘end’ bullying; it also motivates finger-pointing, demands for more funding, policies, and laws to eliminate bullying and suicides.
Natural, genuine, and somewhat predictable responses.
Ironically, it’s also emblematic of some of the reasons bullying and suicide (like homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual abuse, child abuse, elder abuse, etc.), will never be completely eliminated.
We forget too quickly.
Our strength as Canadians is also our weakness. We are often too complacent a society, convinced too many social issues are ‘not our business, not our right to interfere with.’
After an initial emotional awakening, filled with good intentions, and outcry for change, the majority of us soon forget, and fade back into complacency.
Amanda’s heartbreaking suicide was not new. Sadly, such loss happens regularly, much more than most realize.
What caused the attention and outcry over Amanda’s suicide was the very public and scary social medium from which some of her troubles began, and where she made her final pleas for help.
Despite the cyclical reality of never ‘eliminating’ bullying and suicide, there is the very real ability for us to gigantically reduce them.
We have the choice and power to help others, and ourselves, but only if we keep that realization foremost in our minds.
We need to be advocates in the game of life—not complacent spectators.
So with that in mind, I share this memory…
We never missed ‘Mike’ the first day.
Actually, Mike was not missed for the better part of the school week except by those who enjoyed picking on him.
Exactly why Mike was the Central Elementary School punching bag was never apparent. He was not ugly, so it was not his looks.
Richard had big ears, and Gerry was from a foreign country so that justified kids picking on them.
Raymond had two traits that justified his being bullied; he cried a lot, and occasionally still peed his pants. In Grade 6, such activity was simply not acceptable.
Mike did not do any of those things.
He was the quietest kid in class and always seemed about 10 miles away from what was happening.
He never talked to kids during recess, always trundling his own way alone, around the edge of the schoolyard.
His eyes had a frequent nervous twitch, which was hard to see because he usually kept his head tilted towards the ground.
Outside of those little quirks, Mike was ‘normal.’
Whatever it was about Mike that made him draw away from other kids, it worked against him, drawing some kids towards him in a negative way.
Perhaps they perceived his feeling of rejection as a slight and reacted how humans often do —by striking out. Mike averaged about two nosebleeds a month from such strange communication.
As a youngster, I was different from many boys; never punched people unless I was punched first.
At the same time, I never did much to stop such scenarios.
One spring afternoon during Grade 6, that all changed when for some unknown reason I stepped in and defended tall Richard from a gang of playground bullies. When someone stepped in, the bullies scattered.
A few days later Richard and I aided Gerry in a similar plight. I learned that standing up for others made me feel good; stirred a feeling of doing something right. It was my first stand against the crowd.
However, for some reason I cannot explain, I never ‘saved’ Mike.
I remember sitting on the bike-stand railing and watching Mike receive his daily beating—not feeling any desire to help.
I did not dislike Mike. I had even tried to talk to him a couple of times, but I never stepped in for him.
It was a warm spring evening and my family was gathered around the kitchen table finishing dinner while Dad read the local newspaper.
I was in a rush to return to my road hockey game, but had to struggle through the brussel sprouts first, when Dad suddenly smashed the silence.
“Did you know this little boy from your school that hung himself,” he asked, turning the newspaper towards me. I stared into the black and white mug shot of Mike.
“N-n-no,” I blurted, immediately asked permission to leave the table. I grabbed my hockey stick and raced out the door.
I never got past the front lawn before the tears spewed out of me.
“I didn’t lie because I didn’t know Mike,” I confessed to the dandelions as the tears flowed freely.
It had not really fizzled on me the talk at school earlier that day about Mike not coming back to school. No one knew why, so it did not seem to matter.
The guilt moved in then. If I had been a friend then maybe he would be alive still.
Suicide is never easy to understand, but at 12, it was beyond my comprehension. I was sitting on the fence at the edge of my yard bawling when Richard arrived.
For 10 minutes we just sat and stared at one another and cried.
“I hit Mike once and I don’t know why,” Richard finally broke the silence.
“So did I,” I lied for the second time, somehow wanting to burden more guilt.
A long walk and talk only made matters worse. I greeted the next morning with a squeamish stomach.
I set a record for the longest time a child has ever taken to walk three blocks to school.
I wanted to punch every bully in the school, but that seemed all wrong too.
Instead, I shuffled my way into the gymnasium for the special school assembly.
The principal talked about Mike, of youth, the joy of living and other things.
He wanted to assure that no one else did as Mike, yet he wanted us to all learn from the loss and to feel some guilt. He did a good job.
Half the school was at the funeral a few days later. It struck me as so sad that Mike, who never had anyone show they cared, would never know.
For a whole week after the funeral, no one chased or punched anyone. For a whole week, everyone missed Mike.