Category Archives: bullying

Those kids don’t get to step outside their own lives.

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The blue lights are on when I park. That’s how I know it’s bad this time.

I yank up the break and turn off the ignition. I’m squinting through the windshield, trying to see how flustered the women in the Aztec print sweater looks as she holds her elbow and chews her nails and tells the police what happened.

That’s never a good sign – when you come home to blue cop car lights & a young man standing on the steps with a nervous shake in his walk. He’s waiting for his turn to share a story.

I take my time checking the mailbox, turning the key, quietly tearing open my electric bill. I’m guilty of that – listening when I shouldn’t, waiting a beat longer to walk on my toes down the steps and to my own front door. I want to know it all, see it all, hear it all, because I am a writer. Because I want to document humanity as it unravels next to me. Because I have been waiting for weeks for something to open itself up and unleash itself.

Our apartment sits in the back of the hallway, hidden by stairs that go up, level off, and then back down again. So I can stand there for a while, grab my breath, and wait for a few key phrases to spit out of this man’s nervous mouth.

He says something about child protective services, and I confirm my fears: that children will be subjected to so many things, and in my head I’ll downplay them over and over — even the cursing, the F word, at three in the afternoon on a sunny Saturday in autumn. I know in my head I’ll ignore the slammed doors. I’ll ignore the screams and threats. I’ll pause when I’m straining pasta at the kitchen sink and feel the tension escalate on the other side of my front door, but I won’t say anything.

This spring, I’ll move. This spring, I’ll move far away. That’s all I say.

But those kids, those kids don’t get to step outside their own lives. The slurs spit at them will always, always stir them. Watching their parents slam each other into doors and break glass and crack skulls? That image won’t fade. They’ll always hear threats that sound like ellipses entering gunfights. They’ll always wake up with a heart beating too fast and chilled bed and tense air.

I want more for them. I want them to stop sitting inside an apartment with blue lights outside, with uniformed strangers ready to take them away. I want them to find a home that feels good inside, treats them right.

These days, the kids stand outside my apartment and ask inappropriate questions about intimate acts. I never see their parents. I only hear their screams.

And that trend, or path, or moment, that beginning of a nasty forever, has got to stop.

All I want for you is karaoke.

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I.

Mine was MORE LIKE HER by Miranda Lambert.

That was my go-to karaoke song the summer after I turned 21. And it was so wrong.

I was a walking apology then. When that happens, when we forget that we don’t have to change to make someone want to be with us, we think the only way to ever have someone in our lives is to be different. Because I didn’t want to change, I was sad. I was reserved to the truth that clearly, the person I decided to be didn’t get to be good enough.

II.

Months later, in the university health center, the receptionist leaned in and said a thing that I will never forget, that all the Good Little Kid parts of me will always wonder about:

“What did your mother say when you cut your hair like that?”

She didn’t know me. But again, she’d made me want to apologize for cutting my hair shorter than the boys. For wearing burnt red skinny cords and knee high boots.

I walked home and called my mother and asked her why short hair had to make me into the kind of girl people whisper about. I thought about telling her lies, all the things I would’ve said to that strange woman with a child of her own. It wouldn’t have solved anything.

III.

When we’re young, we’re fearless. At seven years old, microphone in hand, I manned the left corner of the bar on a cold December Saturday. On either side, people two, three decades older than me nursed bottles of Budweiser and Heineken. It never occurred to me to be nervous.

Back then, my go-to karaoke song was much different: SILVER BELLS. It’s a song that, for so many years, brought me back to my grandmother. Before she was sick. Before she was gone. Before we stopped spending weekends in that red carpeted lodge with stone walls and a white piano.

It’s a song that falls somewhere between happy and nostalgic. It makes you think that you can only ever be happy in the midst of Manhattan on a snow-covered sidewalk with your red Starbucks cup in hand. Then, though, Starbucks was just a toddler in that town.

IV.

Some years later, I lost my bravery. My biggest fear as a college freshman was accidentally singing out loud in the community shower. Some girl down the hall walking in mid-chorus and shaking her head, whispering to the rest of the dorm.

V.

We all lose our bravery.

We forget karaoke is the thing we do every day. We go to work singing our song, whatever it may be. We go to work happy, and excited, and energized, and overjoyed to do what it is we’re doing. And no one else is standing there pointing and laughing because we’re happy.

We think they are. We think they’re scanning our Facebook feed and making silent judgments. Or wondering how many hits our LinkedIn profile gets each month.

We wonder whether we’re doing the right thing, or whether we should be doing the thing that makes us want to wake up in the morning.

Let me tell ya: I have always believed it better to do the thing that makes us want to wake up in the morning.

But not everyone has had that.

All I want for you is karaoke. I want you to stand and sing your song. Wake up in the morning and do what makes you happy.

Dear Bug, let ’em talk.

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Dear Bug, let ‘em talk.

Let ‘em talk till their lips are chapped and their throats are burning. Let ‘em talk well into the morning, till they’re drunk on cheap beer and dry wine. Let ‘em talk about what they think they know, what they want to believe.

Let ‘em talk, but don’t listen.

Don’t listen when they ask for stories, pulling emotions out of you like multicolored string from a magician’s hat: anger, bitterness, frustration, confusion, upset.

They’re just looking for the pieces that align with their ideas about who you are and who you love.

You are so much more than their misperceptions.

You are so much brighter than that.

You be deaf + I’ll be blind. And we’ll disregard everything they ever said to make you stumble over tears that don’t deserve the light of day.

I know, Bug. It’s hard. It’s hard to tune them out.

They’ll sit across from you in tableclothed confines and whisper questions laced with stereotypes, and you’ll have to laugh along and say they’re mistaken.

They’ll make you wonder if they’re right.

Don’t you dare wonder if they’re right.

You stay you.

Keep your voice loud and your smile big. Keep your hair long and your wine glass full. Keep your bracelets jangling and your lipgloss shining.

Keep your joy in your pocket and your boy in your heart. Keep your heart in your hands and your hands on your hips and your hips ready to bump someone out of your life if they start trash talking the people you love.

Let ‘em talk.

You know your people. You know who you love. You know who you are.

And you have always made me feel like there is something right in this world. Even when I am crazy. Even when I am completely off the mark.

You have always found something right in the people you care about.

Hold onto that.

It’s so easy to pin people down because we’re scared: “For better or for worse, this is who you are.”

Remember that usually, it’s for worse. Usually, it’s incorrect.

Remember that there will be days for crying, days for black lace dresses and patent leather heels, but nobody deserves your tears when all they have to hand over are lies they constructed with piecemeal information and a high blood alcohol level.

You let ‘em talk, Bug.

But don’t you dare listen. Don’t you dare listen.

Question Mark Kids

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In the center of the coffee table sat a board with a circled path and six plastic game pieces. That night, we learned to toss our inhibitions by the wayside by downing glasses of Coke spiced nice and good with pineapple rum.

“Why are you sober?”

I don’t remember how many times I’ve heard it, but the line always starts a little indignant, a little concerned, a little confused.

The answer, the truth, has always been hard to swallow. Nobody asks because they want to know the trajectory of your life, why you choose Starbucks Peppermint Mocha Frappuchinos over Peppermint Schnapps.

In fact, I don’t know what they want you to say. They just want you to be drunk, slurring, stumbling. They just want you to get on their level – or the bathroom floor, really.

In that room, with those strangers and lost friends, like so many nights before and since, I let her words shrink me.

I was a failure because, at 23, I could count my most intoxicated moments (never bathroom floor worthy) on one hand. That wasn’t cool. Or normal. Or what the world wanted for me.

It’s easy for us to tick off memories where we feel a pit in our stomach, the unsure nausea rising up in us, the unnecessary apologies because we did something we wanted, even if it wasn’t what someone else had in mind for us.

At least, for me it has been.

Barnes & Noble could hold my name on a shelf with all the ways in which I’ve felt bad about things that don’t deserve apologies. And there could be a sequel. A boxed set, maybe.

In my memories, as a young girl, I am uncontrollably alive: bouncing and skipping and running and giggling and singing to the tune of my racing heartbeat. Skip-it and pogo sticks and skateboards and street hockey and manhunt and tag and forever laughing, like a soundtrack on repeat.

But we grow up, and we become question marks at the end of someone else’s thickly scripted sentences. We become the commas that beg the Knowers and Truth Speakers to keep going, just trust us, just a little farther into the possibility that what I am is good and right and more than okay.

In your lifetime, you’ll make sense to a handful of people. You’ll fit neatly into their idea of happy and adjusted, and that will make them sigh with relief. For you, they won’t have to unearth your complexities or quiet their fears.

For others, you will be a science experiment. They’ll pull apart your decisions about what to wear and eat and sing and study and buy. They’ll comment on your job and your house and your outdated china set and eggplant-colored sofa. They’ll ask inappropriate questions about how much money you make and whether you can afford to buy that car or house or plane ticket. They’ll make you forget, for a second or a day, that you know yourself better than anyone.

You’ll never pin someone down and demand they fit your standards. Or if you do, you won’t feel good about it.

You’ll get questioned for the rest of your numbered days. Someone will find a reason to lean over at the grocery store and tell their kids not to wear sweatpants when they leave the house and eye you disapprovingly.

Meanwhile, you will wonder why slumming it in Wegmans is any of their business, why you can’t pick green peppers and red onions in yoga pants and your favorite sweatshirt if it smells like your grandma’s old house and you are making her favorite omelets and you’re just trying not to cry because you just buried her last weekend and it’s still so fresh, so messy, don’t they know?

I just want you to know this:

Nobody said you had to wear makeup or straighten your hair or iron your jeans or double knot your sneakers. If you fall in front of the banana display, don’t you dare let those stares mold you into somebody else’s Not Good Enough.

Don’t let anyone staple you to a corkboard with categories for cool kids and crazies. You’re more than a corkboard category or a clumsy shopper or a sweatpants lover.

You’ve got so much more to fight for in this world. And their approval is not one of those things.

You are you. You are a Question Mark Kid. And it is a beautiful thing to be unapologetically alive.