I haven’t written anything in over 3 years. I made the mistake of watching this Netflix original series. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Maybe I chose to watch this because I was curious. Whatever the reason I haven’t been able to shake the content or unsee or feel what I saw and what I now feel.
So what is the connection? I think on some level the angst of a preteen/tween/teen is something that is inexplicably perplexing, uncomfortable and volatile. For me Middle School was a mixture of happiness, loneliness, sadness, joy and a great deal of confusion. This was the time I was beginning to learn to be become a chameleon. In Sunday school I was taught that I needed to be all things to all men. I’m a pretty literal person and I took this to heart. I also learned in Elementary School that being an individual was only important as long as it was mainstream and understandable.
I was a happy kid. I loved riding my bike. My sister and the other neighborhood kids would ride for miles and miles until the street lights came on and then we booked it back home. I loved musicals; Singing in the Rain, The Sound of Music etc. Saturday morning cartoon, bowling, Monopoly, Risk and my Sega Genesis. Music was already beginning to shape the canvas of my life.
I was a lonely kid. Not because there weren’t plenty of people around but because there was something different about me. There were things happening in my home that no one could know. There were things happening to me that no one would know about until I would get to High School.
I was sad because I wanted to protect my mom and couldn’t. I wanted to win the respect of my dad but I wasn’t the “typical boy.” I struggled in school and I always felt like I was in competition academically with my sister. In 1993 two of my friends, one of whom was a girl I dated committed suicide. Our cat Mel died of feline leukemia. My Great Granny Mattie died and my Uncle Jerry died after not surviving his wounds from a fire.
I was a joyful kid. There was one time in Middle School I attempted to set a Guinness Book of World Records for the most hugs given. Yes, I tried to do that before any YouTube hotty. I knew that sometimes the only thing people wanted was a hug because most of the time that’s all I really wanted but never knew how to say that. So making a game out of it was my way of getting and giving what I needed. I loved being in band. Concert, Jazz and Marching.
The confusion, well that would take until almost 1997 before I would be able to admit or even acknowledge the most confusing thing. I loved going to church and I loved the people I went with. I had girlfriends who I had “real feelings” for. If you had asked me then I loved them and every single one of them I would have married. When we broke up we remained friends.
In 13 Reasons Why, the dynamic of all of the relationships on some level I could relate to. I couldn’t stop watching. I waited until June to see this because I knew from what I had heard on the radio and what people were talking about that this was something I didn’t need to see. At best I didn’t need to see it alone and yet I did.
The definition of bullying has transformed in today’s standard. Cyber bullying didn’t even exist. What they called it was teasing. What they said was it was boys being boys. You didn’t tell the teacher because the only thing that was said was that you needed tougher skin or if they didn’t hit you there wasn’t anything they could do. Just stay away from them. We all sung “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me. Even today we say what people think of me is none of my concern. While the last statement may be 90% true, what people say to others about someone else and they say to someone else is exactly the premise of 13 Reasons Why.
Rumors, gossip and half-truths cause people, who at one point were beginning to form relationships, to back away. The person gets excluded from things. The phone calls stop. The half-hearted smiles, the surface, “how are ya doing.” I see the way people look, I feel their withdrawal. I hear the comments that people who have no connection to me make based on what they have been told by others. I know what paranoia is and this isn’t that. It’s exactly the type treatment Hannah Baker went through. So sure I’m not in school anymore. We’re all adults right and yet the same type of behavior exists.
At some point the person being treated this way withdraws. Maybe they get a glimpse of hope again and find new friends and they start over. A renewed hope given. After all it is the nature of all living things to exists despite all odds it chooses to live against all odds. They continue to fight because they’ve been through so much worse that “this” isn’t any where near as bad. But what happens when even the strongest runs out of strength. What happens when the loneliness becomes great enough.
Recently, I had the idea that I wanted to go camping…alone for a weekend. To get away from all of civilization. My therapist says it’s my body’s call to get back to nature. Unplug and regroup. That may be true but I have also wanted to just pack up and go.
I have had thoughts that I didn’t want to exist anymore, or that people would be better off if I wasn’t here. The world was dark, sometimes it still is. Even today I wonder how many more times will I stand up after being brought to my knees. Even more so if I were to just disappear how long before anyone would notice.
Here’s what I find perplexing and sick about 13 Reasons Why. I’m perplexed as to why people need to know why someone would commit suicide. We always want to know, “did they leave a note, did they say why.” Why does knowing why mean so much. For whatever reason that person was in enough pain that not only did it overcome them but they also didn’t feel like there was anyone in their handful of friends that if you have you should be lucky for. Those closest didn’t see through the smiles, the going through life as if and then when it was all over everyone wonders why.
The sick thing about this show was the making of the tape and having them pass it around. Sure she told her story of being bullied, stalked, neglected, shamed, teased and party to things that a kid shouldn’t have to be a part of. To inflict the same level of pain if not worse on 13 other people is just as cruel and sadistic as what was originally done. In theory does it bring to light that we all play a part in each others lives and we could all do something like give an unsolicited hug, listen when no one else will listen, hear the cry for help that is deafened by judgement?
Ultimately all that Hannah did was cause more discord, distrust, retribution, another suicide and from what I will infer from the ending the beginnings of what will be the story of Columbine.
Be careful when you engage in gossip, think about how someone else may feel when you shun them. I heard a woman once say, ” Just because I love you doesn’t mean I have to invite you over for tea.” The problem with that line of thinking is that until you get to know someone that type of judgement can’t be made. Especially when it’s made based on the opinions of someone else. Yes, not everyone is safe and yes not everyone deserves to be allowed into your inner circle.
But an inauthentic, disingenuous, “I love you. It’s so good to see you! How are you doing? We missed you.” Is just as hurtful as having not said anything at all. The person hearing these things won’t be tricked for long when your words don’t match the action that typically comes with them. The people who say those things reach out. The people who say those things are apart of the person’s life to whom they are saying to.
Sticks and Stone will break your bones and words can break soul and a heart.