A Very Important Lesson

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Sometimes the scariest things in this world are actually the people around us. People we don’t bother to get to know, or people who seem relatively normal or harmless. Before I begin, I just want to say that this story takes place somewhere in Canada. I won’t be specific with locations, and I will be not be using any real names of the people involved. I also will apologise for the length of this story, but all the information I have written below really happened, and there’s a lot of backstory that leads up to the event in question, so please bear with me.

Let me start by saying that I was /not/ a popular kid in Elementary School. I was the only person of my race, and I had sort of a weird, quirky kid personality. I believe it was a mix of those two factors that caused people to see me as an “other.” Someone different from them… and let me tell you: these kids did not like different. I’m not the main character in this story, but I suppose I’m explaining all this to you because I know what it’s like to be severely bullied by being physically/mentally harassed by other children. This is important to know later on. Where I lived at the time in Canada, middle schools weren’t really a thing. Meaning you went to the same Elementary School in the same building, from your Kindergarten years (age 3) to your last year of eighth grade (age 13). This means that unfortunately, I was bullied by the same people year after year, for nearly a decade. I wasn’t the only one…

There were these four boys who always hung out together.

They were decent fellows really, but, were picked on just as much as I was for whatever reason, and we were more acquaintances or classmates than friends. There was this one kid in the group, we’ll call him Ro, who seemed to get picked on more than his three other friends. He was a short boy, a little weedy or skinny, with big hazel doe-eyes, wavy brown hair, and always wore grey jogging pants and printed t-shirts.

I didn’t get to know Ro quite well, but to me, he was always more or less a quiet kid, who liked video games and cartoons.

He was never rude or mean to anybody, and mostly kept to himself and his few other friends. I remember how the other boys in the class, however, went out of their way to pick at every single flaw he had, or made up flaws if they couldn’t find any.

I often sympathised from afar, but being a victim of the same type of abuse, I didn’t want to get involved. I know it wasn’t very brave of me, but I was scared that if I said something, those truly evil boys would turn around and start harassing /me/, and I just wasn’t strong enough to put up with that. The teachers never got involved when certain students who were disliked by everybody were picked on. If I could meet them today, I would not hesitate to look them in the eye, and tell them what shitty people they were to allow the things that happened to go on, and how much better they’d have done the world if they had chosen to flip burgers instead. It was a hideously toxic environment. And sometimes, when you’re in a position like that, you teeter upon a line where you can fall on either the side of forgiveness and overcome your traumas, or you can plunge deep into chaos and disaster. By the end of Elementary School, Ro always had this miserable look on his face, like he was just trudging along the path of life from one second to another as if every moment of being alive caused him anguish. Even the way he carried himself was different. His posture gradually morphed into a hunch. To give you an idea, it looked as if his shoulders were always tensed up against his ears, and he would face the ground instead of looking straight ahead, carefully and deliberately avoiding criticizing eyes.

Then, it might have taken ten years, but the unpleasantness had passed, and it was finally time for me to leave that godforsaken Elementary School and begin Junior High! I was excited! High school, for me, was like a breath of fresh air, a steady dose of sanity I never had before. The students were far nicer at my high school. Other than the occasional sneer from a rare encounter with my dear old elementary school classmates, I was well liked, and even when people didn’t know me, we treated each other with mutual respect.

As for Ro, because of the sheer volume of students in the building, I barely ever saw him, but when I did, I noticed he had changed. His big hazel doe-eyes were dulled to a half-deadened, heavy-lidded look, and he had developed a taste for lots of black Gothic clothing, makeup, and accessories. His fashion choice was fine with me– I learned early on that people who judge others based on the things like clothes are ignorant, and that no matter how a person chooses to present themselves, they are a human being who deserves the same kindness as anyone else. Sounds pretty obvious, right? Well, not for everybody…

Ro was somehow still being badly bullied. Perhaps his decision to wear the things he wore made him stand out to bad kids, or maybe it’s just the idea that not all of your fellow high school students are going to be saints, but all this negativity was still happening to Ro, and I did not like it at all. I just felt that there was enough injustice that had already taken place. This new high school, where I was being empowered, appreciated, and supported by many different kinds of people and teachers, was still a hell hole for Ro. So this time, I decided to use my new social strata for his advantage, because no matter how old I grow, I will never forget the things we faced as children, and since I did not fear any sort of retaliation anymore, I decided that it was about time… Again, nobody deserves that, and to make up for not standing up for him in the past, I always intervened whenever anyone made fun of him, because when I was getting harassed, I always wished that somebody, anybody, would help me.

He also started isolating himself from other people during our freshman year. I began to see him without friends, always walking alone, and getting the usual weird and judging looks in the corridors from people who were still too shallow to be mature. Me, well, during this first wonderful year of high school, I made sure that every time I saw him, I’d greet him in passing with a gentle, ‘Hi Ro, how are ya?’, a small smile, and a nod. A minuscule gesture, nothing over the top, but it means a lot to see a genuine smile when everybody hates you, trust me. The first time I greeted him in high school, he flinched slightly, and his eyebrows shot up, a look of surprise on his face as he replied the pleasantries back, like he was expecting something… different, but after the first few times, he actually began to smile and nod back in the same fashion. I knew he was really different, and probably really hurt and disturbed, but come on, I felt awful for the guy and could really place myself in his shoes.

One day in tenth grade (junior year of high school), a group of seven guys, my new friend, Sonny, being one of them, was following Ro across the back field at lunch, shouting and calling him all sorts of humiliating names. I ran over to them, and stopped them, while Ro continued to walk away. I felt my throat tear that day from the way I was shouting at Sonny and his boys, telling them they should be ashamed of themselves and to think about the look on Ro’s face. What did they think they were playing at? Sonny had never acted that way before, and reminded him about how earlier in the month he had stuck up for me when someone made a joke about me being too fat to be on my soccer team, and told him that was the person I admired and wished he would be. Sonny was one of the smooth guys in our high school, popular, and on the basketball team, so he never really had the same issues as me or Ro. I was fully expecting him and his friends to turn on me as soon as I spoke, as people tend to get defensive when they do something wrong. But no such reaction came. To my surprise, all seven boys hung their heads in shame at what they had done. That earned my respect. Sonny and I continued to be friends until we lost touch when he moved to Arizona a few months later. I’m not saying what Sonny and the six other boys did was okay in the end– I’m not saying that at all, but at least they understood that they really hurt Ro, and they actually never did this or spoke another word about it again. The only people who seemed to bully Ro after that were indeed the cruel, ruthless boys and girls from our old Elementary School, who still somehow found a way to make Ro feel even worse than he was feeling already. I could tell, but I persevered with my resolution: that no matter how badly anyone treated Ro, I would treat him like I’d want to be treated.

That year, I had a lot to focus on in regards to my school work, along with my new friends, my newly discovered talents, and catching up on all the socialising I had missed out on when I was a kid. Ro was never a big part of my life, and we never interacted socially more than what I’ve just described, so I just went with the flow, trying to adjust to yet another year of high school. I guess that’s why I felt like everything went by so fast.

I had taken on an English class meant for the year above because I had a beautiful soul of a teacher who believed in and encouraged me, which allowed me to meet more fun and hilarious people, while submerging myself in different creative writing exercises.

I felt as though I had adjusted well, and now that I knew people in the year above me, things never got boring in that class. It was always such a positive place, and I liked it specifically because every single person in that class was new to me– not a single person from elementary school present to make me feel bad about who I was.

One day, our teacher had taught us a lesson and we had to reproduce a writing style, so it was a work period, where she let us talk, write, and edit each others’ work.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened except that over the loudspeaker, the entire school heard the monotonous drone of the secretary listing the names of about fifteen students in my year (Ro being one of them) who went to my Elementary School, telling them to go down to the office immediately. “Typical.” I thought, rolling my eyes and shaking my head with an irritated sort of disdain.

They always, with a shameless venom, left me out of everything, and now they were being called down to probably be involved in hosting an event involving the elementary school or one of its old retiring teachers, and, of course, I was not a part of it. Some of that old hurt came back, and I’m not going to lie, Darkness, a bit of the old bitterness and spite came back to me: There they go, leaving me out of everything again, acting like I’m not good enough to exist…

But one look around the English classroom at all the dear faces of the new friends I made made all that anger dissipate, and I easily shrugged it off a minute later, and carried on doing what I normally did at school until it was home time.

The next morning, things were weird. I came into the school seeing slips of yellow paper in the hands of nearly all the students in the school. Through out all the corridors and more notably, in my home room class, there were many looks of confusion, sidelong glances, and hushed heavy murmuring.

It wasn’t long before my teacher, pushing a yellow slip towards me with one hand, and giving me her usual smile and pat on the shoulder, as she shushed the class and the tone got even more conspiratorial.

Usually, our teachers will stand at the front when they are ready to begin and wait for us to get the hint to stop talking and listen, but instead of the familiar fading sound of giggles and speech into silence, the class went dead quiet.

The teacher went on to explain that there was a threat towards the school the day before, our school, and that we would only be spending half the day today. The yellow slip was a similar explanation to our parents. She did not go into more detail, and promptly ushered our attention into one of her fun and enjoyable activities, and sent us off to write, but the whispers, the looks, the mutterings continued.

Then, the boys I was sitting between turned to me seriously, as one of them asked, “Hey FearBunny, you went to (X)Elementary, didn’t you? Did you hear what happened?” A shadow of fear and apprehension cast itself over my face because they looked shaken.

The boys took turns, speaking rapidly, nearly cutting one another off, telling me how this kid by the name of Ro (and his last name) from my Elementary school had brought a gun yesterday, and somehow, the principal had been tipped off. Once staff got to his locker, cut the lock, and opened the slim, peeling blue door, there it was: the gun, but that’s not all.

It turns out that the list of boys and girls from my Elementary school that had been read over the loudspeaker were all the names that were found Ro’s hit list, a piece of paper folded in half neatly, and carefully placed under that large black pistol.

I didn’t speak a single world for a few minutes. Ro was a loner, and he was certainly unique, but I never thought he was capable of killing, or even holding a gun, let alone bringing one to our high school.

I actually felt bad for him in the weeks that followed.

I could not help but think that there was also something going on with his home life too. Those suspicions were never confirmed, but it is something to think twice about next time you feel like taunting someone. You don’t know how people are already feeling, their experiences, and what’s in their heads.

I’ve got a dark sense of humour, I know, but I also have to laugh when I think of how upset I was to be excluded from that which I didn’t know at the time to be a hit list. Fucking hell.

This time around, I’m glad I was left out. And I never saw Ro again. He was expelled from the school, but that doesn’t change the fact that something horrendous could have happened to a bunch of teenagers who were too vicious and arrogant to know any better.

I was the only person from our Elementary School who wasn’t on that piece of paper. Had I avoided his gaze like the others, and pretended I didn’t know who he was instead of giving him a smile, had I not stopped Sonny and his friends from torturing him, would my name have been on that list too?

Would Sonny’s? His boys’? I don’t know what it was that caused Ro to snap, but he was moments away from his plan, and would have put it into action, had the school staff not caught him… Friedrich Nietzsche (Knee-chuh) is notorious for his saying, “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks back into you.” Don’t harrass or bully people, because the darkness you create in the minds of others can come back and get you or the people you love at the least expected times, in the least expected ways.

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