It really wasn't until I read the question, "Does this have any personal significance for you?" that an absolute floodgate opened in my head, and I was kind of stunned at how much I really could remember about that terrible year in middle school when I became a target for a gang of bullies, and how absolutely, deathly frightened of school I became. I honestly believed that there was something wrong with me, that I was somehow deserving of that terrible treatment, and I was mortally embarrassed by that kind of attention. After all, I was told by a teacher that it was my fault for putting up with it, and if I just stood up for myself and stopped crying, I could make it stop.
After the guidance councilor finally put at end to it, I was left with a feeling of vulnerability that has never really gone away, and I don't think I've ever regained the confidence in myself that I had before that year. I'm shy and perfectly happy to blend into a corner when in a crowd, watching my back, always just a little bit on guard.
On the other hand, I learned that there's not much that I can't live through after that, and nothing has been quite as bad as that year was. As to why it happened, why I was a target for such emotional and physical violence, I don't know. I was different -- I was shy, imaginative, an only child, more interested in being outside with my horse than in shopping or watching TV the way everyone else did. I was who I was, and that didn't fit the norm. I wasn't targeted for being gay -- I don't think we even knew what gay meant back then, and I'm not -- but, God, if the kids today who are gay and being bullied feel what I felt, then I truly understand why ending it all has such an appeal.
Now I'm a teacher myself, (well, technically a special ed writing tutor) and I may be shy, but I am a lioness when I get the whiff of any bullying going on. And I'm proud to say that the district where I work, which is the same one that I was in when I was bullied, now would treat my situation very differently.
It was also in sixth grade that I began to write, and where I ultimately found my refuge and my healing. And, in a way, with this story, I think I've come full circle.
Below are my responses to the interview questions:
Question 1: How did you choose the plot and characters of your story for the Charity Sip Blitz?
This is my thunderstorm story. I wrote it back in June, when Vermont was locked in a pattern of torrential rain, wild thunder and lightning, strong winds, and flooding. It was impossible to think of anything else, when every night I went to bed worried I wouldn't be able to get down our road the next morning, and all day at work, I worried that I wouldn't be able to get home where my pets were waiting. So when I sat down to write this Sip, it was inevitable that a storm was a key element. The characters and plot were born of the storm -- the inner reflecting the outer, so to speak. The day after I finished the first draft, I honestly drove home into the exact scenario my characters faced with water flowing over the road (okay, not quite so deep, but almost). I felt like there was no difference between my life and my fiction while I wrote this, and even right now, as I sit down to answer these questions, there is thunder in the distance. There is really something weird going on here.
Question 2: Why did you decide to participate in the Charity Sip Blitz?
I like to feel like I'm making a difference, somewhere, somehow, with my writing, and this just feels like a good thing to do.
Question 3: Does the theme, It Gets Better, have any personal significance for you?
Hell, yeah. I was bullied one year in middle school, badly. I was taunted, hit, shoved, had my possessions stolen and destroyed, and I was pushed down a flight of stairs. The worst thing that happened was having my stall door in the bathroom kicked open, then having the lights shut out and being left alone in the dark to find my way out. I became absolutely terrified every moment that I was at school. My parent's advice didn't help. The teacher I told only made things worse. Finally, and I am so incredibly grateful to her, a friend took charge and forced me into my guidance councilor's office, where she proceeded to explain what was going on. Fortunately, the guidance councilor acted -- the next day, she got all the girls who'd been bullying me, and their parents, into her office, and that was the end of it. Sort of. Twelve-year-old me didn't know I needed some help getting over it, and schools didn't think about that kind of thing then. I know I still have scars inside from what happened that year. I can't go into the building today without feeling sick. Whenever I go down that flight of stairs, I hang on tightly to the railing and feel the old pain in my ankle, and when I finally made myself go into that bathroom again, thirty years later, I burst into tears. But they were good tears, tears of thankfulness that I survived. Because, without what my friend did for me, I don't think things would have turned out all right.