She brushes away a nonexistent tear. It’s after midnight and I figure she’ll be up again in less than six hours, but strength ripples from her.
It’s a strength I couldn’t find back then, back when I was fifteen and stayed up until two a.m. Back when I backed out of my driveway before seven the next morning. No matter how many boxes of ripped jeans and cheap flip-flops I overturned, bravery was just not seeping from underneath them.
Composition was not dotting the lines of my marbled notebooks. No, more like pure misunderstanding at a world that preferred petty jabs on public message boards. More like the false compliments that accompanied them.
It was as if someone had handed me bottled water. When I opened it and took a sip, it tasted, instead, like the ocean. Not clean and clear and pure but tainted and bitter and salty.
I imagine she has notebooks like that lining her bedroom bookcase shelves. Some beneath her bed under a pile of worksheets she already conquered. Or stuffed into the sleeve of her backpack so she is ready, when doubt creeps up on her, to smash it back down with a pen and paper.
Or, in her case, a video.
“Bullying affects people so deeply,” she says. “No matter how many great things people say about you and how much you are built up, all it takes is one bad comment to stick and everything just comes crashing down.”
And I am so struck, some five years later, by the maturity of these words. I have more than half a decade on her and yet she knows more than I did then. More than I comprehend now. More than most of us realize when we jump on someone else—out loud or behind a computer screen.
There are plenty of trends I’d like to jump all over. Slouched leather boots and skinny jeans. Fair isle sweaters and pixie cuts. Sugared up lattes and peppermint mocha frapuccinos.
But the cowardly sort of jabs and stabs that use keyboard keys as weapons and computer screens as mouths are not my cup of Joe. You can keep your creamer, your sugar, your spice. I don’t need anything nice if its not genuine. And I certainly don’t need anything mean.
What kills me about bullying someone who’s doing good, so much good, for the people who feel victimized by those words is that she should be last on that strike list. She shouldn’t even be on it at all. It should not exist.
She is right. Oh, how right she is. There are plenty of ways to build someone up and how easy it is now with the words on a screen right in front of you. But it is easier, still to cut them into small pieces, to take a knife and slide it into their unassuming guts. And that is a sad, sad world we live in.