Tuesday, July 19, 2011

DEAR BULLY: The story behind my story in this remarkable anthology

Last year on vacation, my boyfriend and I were driving down the open highway, en route to Holland, Michigan, when we got into a long conversation about bullying. I’m not quite sure how it started, but I think it’s safe to guess that one of the countless horrific cases that had been covered in the media—Phoebe Prince, Megan Meier, and Brandon Myers, to name just a mere few—got us on the subject.

My boyfriend admitted to being picked-on as a child, and so did I. My younger brother and I were the only kids in our neighborhood who went to a Catholic grammar school, so rumors were spread about us, like we wouldn’t take a bath in anything except for holy water. Thankfully, that was the worst I'd seen at 10 years old. (God bless the 80s.)

In high school, there'd been a girl who spread some lies about me because a boy she'd liked had shown interest in me instead. We had one small confrontation in the school locker room, where I told her to knock it off, and she apologized to me and backed down. Of course, I consider myself really lucky to have avoided the more serious abuse that come at the hands and from the mouths of people who are supposed to be your friends.

But other people weren’t lucky at all. Some classmates of mine suffered brutal verbal taunting on a daily basis, and nothing was ever done about it really. Or if there was, it wasn’t evident from what I witnessed in the hallways.

It was much harder for me to talk about this stuff with my boyfriend. In fact, I actually started tearing up with I told him about this particular girl who was bullied by a group of boys in our class because they suspected she was gay. I’d watch as they crowded around her and said really mean things that I refuse to repeat here.

Let me say that again, and with feeling: I’d watch.

Back then, I was a bystander, plain and simple. Thinking about it made me wish my boyfriend’s blue pick-up truck would turn into a silver DeLorean so I could go back in time and change things.

Sad to say, that wish didn’t come true. As our conversation winded down, I made another wish—that I’d find the courage to write about this someday.

I kid you not, a week later I found out that two teen authors/activists were compiling a collection of short stories, essays, etc. for an anthology devoted to combating the bullying epidemic. I took it as a sign, and immediately sat down in front of my computer and started typing. I didn’t know if I’d be able to aptly express the guilt I’d felt for not standing up for the kids that needed it, but I hoped that my story would be of help or comfort to today’s young readers who are finding themselves in similar situations, and scared to speak up or act.

The story turned out to be only a few pages, but as I typed the last line, it felt as though I’d written a thousand. Now all I had to do was put it out there.

I was surprised that when I forwarded the story to the editors, a peacefulness began to wash over me the moment I hit the Send button. When I found out that my story was going to be included in the anthology, the peacefulness turned into pride. When I got my hands on a copy of the galley and read all the moving, unforgettable stories from this awesome group of teen authors (seriously, the list of talent here is staggering), the pride turned into hope—the hope that we can fight this crisis and win.

With that said, I hope that you’ll pick up a copy of DEAR BULLY when it hits stores next month, or that you’ll pre-order it soon. The amazing Carrie Jones and incredible Megan Kelley Hall did a fantastic job pulling this memorable collection of writing together. They run a wonderful group on Facebook, too, called Young Adult Authors Against Bullying, which you can join by clicking here. You can also visit the blog here.