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Thursday, January 24, 2013

2000 Tears - Closing the Yearbook

If there is one goal that I have for this upcoming Thursday Diary entry, it’s that I want to have some closure by the end of this piece...even if the end result means that I am blubbering like someone who just watched Old Yeller on a twenty-four hour continuous loop.

Well, let’s see how this goes.

January 24, 2013

Out of all the blog entries that I have written so far, I think this one is probably going to be the hardest one that I have ever penned.  Because unlike other entries where I’ve basically talked about myself and my own experiences, this one is going to be written in the form of an open letter to a group of individuals that I used to know at one time.

You know, I thought long and hard over whether or not writing this down in a public blog would be such a good idea.  I weighed all the pros and cons of it.  Yes, there is a risk that by doing this, I could scare some people away.  I was also concerned that by doing an open letter and posting it out in, that it would somehow get back to the people who I am referring to (even though I refuse to name names of the people involved).

So, yes, there is some risk involved in my coming forward with this open letter.  But, there’s one reward at the end of it all that I hope to achieve with this letter.


Before I go ahead with my open letter, I will offer a little bit of a disclaimer.  I post this blog every day on my personal Facebook page, and I have a few friends on my friends list who may believe that this note is about them.  I just wanted to say that if you are reading this on my Facebook page, you may breathe easy.  This letter is not for you...but feel free to browse if you like.  I just didn’t want anybody to get the wrong impression, because when I get honest, I have a tendency to be blunt and tell things as they are.  So, just a heads up.

Now, on with the letter...which could be one of the hardest ones that I’ve ever written yet.

To my fellow graduates, the Class of 2000.

Hi!  Remember me?  No?  Well, I suppose that’s to be expected.  My name is Matthew Turcotte, though some of you might have called me by the unflattering nicknames of “Turkey” or “Turc”.  Ringing any bells?  Well, I suppose that I can’t blame you for that.  For the five years we attended school, I did sort of keep to myself.

NOTE:  I attended high school in Ontario, Canada from 1995-2000, in which there was an optional thirteenth grade known simply as OAC...hence the five year high school plan.  Just putting that out there in case you thought I flunked grade nine.  J

You all remember high school right?  I know that it’s been a baker’s dozen of years since we all graduated and went on our separate ways, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  The red and black lockers, the cookie days in homeroom, the “Rampage” yearbook, and of course all of the homework!  How many of us actually enjoyed doing homework?  I know that I certainly hated it.  But I suppose it was finish it or flunk.  We just sucked it up with smiles on our faces and just did it, hoping that once it was done, we could go back to doing what we loved to do.

Do you want to know what I hated more than homework?  What I hated more than the Pythagorean Theorum?  What I hated more than having to sit through a boring science lecture about mitosis? 

Being bullied.

In many ways, I suppose that I could compare the toughest homework assignments out there to some of the meanest people that I had to share the high school halls with.  In both cases, they fried my brain to the point where I couldn’t think straight, I ended up giving more wrong answers than right ones when trying to address them, and by the end of it all, I was so exhausted that I just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep the entire week away.

Okay, so it’s not exactly the best metaphor here.  I’m typing this letter out as thoughts pass through my head at rapid succession.  The fact that I even came up with a half-decent metaphor at all impresses even myself!

It’s no secret that in this blog, I have talked (probably ad nauseum as far as a few of you may be concerned) about bullying and my experiences with it.  The reason for it is because bullying is a cause that I feel strongly about.  I don’t believe that anybody should have to go to school (or to work) in fear about getting beat up, or worrying about the latest lies and gossip that is spread about them.

But I never really had the opportunity to actually stand up for myself against some of the people who treated me absolutely horribly in high school.  I didn’t stand up for myself back then because I was absolutely afraid to.  I was knocked down, and stayed down because I thought that by keeping quiet, they would eventually leave me alone and move on to someone else.  Only, it never happened.

Until now.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of you reading this probably may not have even been aware that I was a constant target of bullying, because at first, it didn’t start out that way.  The pranks that were pulled on me were completely innocent, shall we say.  I imagine some of you probably had a laugh when I received a note from a “secret admirer” in my locker, and I ended up waiting after school for nearly a half hour before the naivety wore off, and I ended up looking like a fool.  I imagine that some of you also had a grand laugh putting dozens of balloons all over my locker knowing full well that the noise they made when they popped aggravated my sensitive ears.  But, again, that was kid’s stuff.  It still stung, mind you, but we were all in ninth grade then, and I thought that we’d all mature.

But then tenth grade came along, and my locker soon became the site of a school arson investigation.

Oh, wait a minute.  There was no investigation.  Just me having to switch my locker around the school campus a total of five different times before finally ending up with a locker right next to the principal’s office for the whole year. 

I’ll tell you one thing though.  Thanks to the firebug, I learned fairly quickly how to carry all of my schoolbooks and school supplies from the third floor to the second in one trip.

Oh, sure, I tried to get the school administration team to launch an investigation into the fires, even showing them the charred remains of my thesaurus as “Exhibit A”, but all they told me was that they would get them.  Well, they didn’t get them, and the firebug disappeared into the night never to be heard from again.  But, what that firebug doesn’t realize is that I did eventually find out who their identity is three years after the fact, and I don’t forget things like that.

And, I certainly don’t think that I’ll ever forget the hell on Earth that was eleventh grade.

They tried to set me up in a locker with the rest of my homeroom class at the beginning of September.  A week later, my locker was vandalized again with obscene graffiti written on my locker door, and once again, I was at my old locker next to the principal’s office.  I think that was also when I began to isolate myself away from the rest of all of you.  It sort of helped that nobody else in the whole school had a locker in the same block as I did, so nobody even really noticed I was there.  Sure, I would see a whole bunch of you hanging outside of the flags next to the auditorium, but do you think I would have just marched over there and said hello?  Not in that lifetime.  For all I knew, the person who was terrorizing me could have been in that group.  So, I just sat back at my isolated locker, watching the rest of you have fun.  And, I’m not going to lie to made me feel sad.  But what other choice did I have?

Eleventh grade was also the year that I began using the Internet for the first time.  Despite the fact that 1997 Internet was slow and primitive compared to 2013, I admit that it started off as fun and games when we started building basic web-pages and sending e-mails to our classmates.

Until I received the message that I was “fat and stupid”, and that “the school would be a better place if I killed myself”.

That was the final straw.

Sure, the kids in my computer class looked like they were more shocked than anything.  And the computer teacher looked like he was not impressed with the situation at all.  Meanwhile, I just stared at that screen in complete silence.  It was like I didn’t feel anything.  I should have been more upset.  I should have been angry.  I should have kicked the computer screen (well, okay, that would have gotten me expelled), but it was like I was completely dead inside.

I mean, I go back in my mind to when the locker fires happened, and I remember telling some of you all about it.  Some of you laughed in my face, giving off the impression that my misery was inducing a nice outbreak of schadenfreude.  But the vast majority of you just stared in shock and said absolutely nothing.  It was like you were horrified at what you had just heard, but you didn’t exactly offer me any words of wisdom or comfort.  It was like the news I had just said was as interesting as the news that the cafeteria was changing the Nacho Bar day to Fridays.

The impression that I got was that it didn’t matter what happened to me.  It was like I was attending school with a bunch of people who couldn’t care less.  It basically confirmed my own stance that I was fighting the battle alone without a single person in my corner to back me up or defend me.

And, you know what fighting a battle against a select group of bullies in a school alone is like?

I always saw it as being compared to this scenario.  Imagine being underwater and trying to let out a huge scream.  But, you can’t.  The more you try, the more water enters your body, and weighs you down.  You try to scream, but the words don’t come out.  You just keep getting bogged down until you black out and lose sense of everything.

That was how I was feeling when I got that e-mail message.  It was like I needed to cry for help, but only a little whimper came out.  It was like I needed to get someone to help me, but I didn’t trust anybody. 

I truly was alone and miserable.

I’m not going to sugarcoat things.  There was a brief period where I went over that letter and I thought about taking it to heart.  The message about killing myself to make the school a better place was actually quite tempting to a broken 16-year-old boy, as I certainly was back then.  I bet none of you actually knew that I did concoct a plan to end my life shortly after I got that letter.  Who am I kidding?  Of course you didn’t.  You see, I kept my feelings bottled up inside because at the time, I believed that nobody would listen to them.  I had it elaborately planned too.  I think I ended up putting more detail into that plan than I did my homework (which could explain my terrible report card the first semester of 11th grade). 

In the end, I was too chicken to go through with it.  The only thing that I feared more than the bullies at my school was the fear of dying.  I honestly don’t know what stopped me from going through with it, but whatever it was, I look back on it and thank my lucky stars that I didn’t end up killing myself then.  It would have been an absolutely cowardly thing to do, and in the end, the only ones who would have been hurt were the people who truly did matter in my life.

Do you know that I spent the majority of my high school years living in fear and self-medicating myself with food just to escape the pain of being bullied?  Did you know that I ended up locking myself in my room for years on end so that I wouldn’t have to endure being ignored by people?  Did you know that I actually faked sick days so I didn’t have to go and face all of you?  You see, back then, I actually didn’t want to be in the school at all because I felt as though I wasn’t good enough for you.  I thought that I was the weird kid that was putting a blemish on the absolutely perfect Class of 2000, and that I didn’t feel as though I belonged to the group. 

But back then I was also an extremely messed up kid whose brain was completely f@#$ed over by mind games and cruel rumours.  I believed the worst about people because that was all that I had really known.  I didn’t dare join any school clubs, or go to football games, or even so much as participate in school events like the “30 Hour Famine”.  I would have liked to have taken part in all of those activities, but didn’t think that I would have fit in.  I was worried that people would hurt me the minute the teachers backs were turned, and besides, I would have just ruined the event anyway.

(This was the messed up teenage version of me speaking...not the 31-year-old who knows better, by the way.)

I imagine some of you might have been quite shocked and floored when in our OAC year, I broke out of my shell a little bit and actually began to get a lot more active in the school.  To be honest, I think part of it was the fact that it was the final year that I would be there, and I wanted to actually leave the school enjoying myself rather than fade away behind the wall of self-pity that I had grown so accustomed to the previous four years.  But, here’s the real reason.

OAC was the year that I befriended four of the most AWESOME people that I have ever met in my whole life.  Dave, Erik, Laurel, and Clement.  Those four people may not have known it back then, but they absolutely helped save me.  Their unconditional love and support, their understanding, and most of all, their commitment to friendship helped me learn how to trust people again.  They helped me realize that not everybody in the world was out to harm me.  They helped me realize that I could have fun again.  They allowed me to bring forth the best aspects of my personality instead of exploiting the worst.

They helped me see that it was not my fault for being bullied, and I honestly don’t know how the hell I can ever repay them for that.  Of those four, I have lost contact with two of them, but I do hope they are doing well.  I really mean that.

You see, they didn’t try to bring me down like some of you did.  They helped build me up.  They saw the good in me that a lot of you weren’t even aware that I had. 

And, that’s what I want to remember about my high school career.  I want to remember the few good times that I did have with people who actually gave a damn about me...instead of focusing on the ones that did nothing but kick me when I was down.

So, I’ve made a decision.  This blog post will be the final time that I talk about my horrible high school life.  Because looking back on it, the more I hold onto it, the more it eats away at me and steals more of my life.  I spent so much time defining the rest of my life, and using high school as an excuse for why I wasn’t getting what I wanted.  It was just five years out of, oh, 75, 85, 95 if I’m lucky.  Yet, the pain has carried with me for at least a decade after I graduated.  That’s a lot of time that I wasted.  I could have been out seeing the world, dating a nice girl, and settling down by now had I not let high school torture control my life.

I guess I spent so much time mourning the loss of the perfect high school experience that I never did have that somewhere along the way I forgot how it was to live. 

And, frankly, I want closure.  I want a clean slate.

So, I guess my final message to the Class of 2000 (minus those of you who I have reconnected with), I just want you to know that you didn’t break me.  If anything, I actually wish to thank you for giving me two extraordinary gifts.  First, you showed me what respect absolutely meant.  By some of your actions towards me, I learned very quickly how NOT to treat other people, and I now treat every person I come across with dignity and kindness (even if they aren’t my favourite people).  And, secondly, you taught me that I had a lot more inner strength than I (or even any of you) thought.  There may have been some dicey times in which I was hanging by a thread, but I somehow mustered the strength to pull through.  Whether it was my inner voice telling me to stay strong, or whether it was an unconscious desire to piss some of you off by coming back for more, I can’t explain it.  Whatever the case, I’m here, and I take no prisoners now.  My skin is so thick you couldn’t cut it with a butter knife.

The last thing I want to say is this.  Yes, some of you made me very angry.  And, yes, some of you hurt me beyond words.  At the same time though, I only have myself to blame for shutting people out.  I was so weak-minded at the time because of being beaten down so much that it just became easier to hide rather than face all of you and let you know how I felt about the abuse.  I wasn’t able to muster up the courage before.  But now I have.  And, I am crying again...but this time these are tears of joy.

Tears of joy that I am now shedding because now that it’s out in the open, I’m finally free.  I’m finally at peace.

And, I think I’m finally able to say...I forgive you.

Whether or not I like you...the jury’s still out.  But in order to have total closure, I need to forgive you.  If I don’t, the bitterness will win out and steal even more years away from my life, and that’s the last thing I want.

The bullying is now firmly in my past.  And, now I have a permanent reminder of it so that I can clearly see that it is locked up tight.

And now begins the long climb the life that I know I deserve.

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