I came across a news story a couple of nights ago about a thirteen-year-old boy in Staten Island, N.Y., who was attending a private Catholic school. His name was Danny Fitzpatrick. Danny was bullied. Danny was bullied mercilessly. Not only did he feel his “friends” failed him, but the adults Danny went to at the school and asked for help from failed him. Danny felt he himself failed too. So, six days ago, he took a belt, went up to the attic in his home, and hanged himself.
I’m betting everyone reading this right now is well over the age of thirteen. Can you imagine only living thirteen years? Many of you have children. Can you imagine them only living thirteen years? It’s a drop in the bucket of what so many of us have experienced in life.
There’s a video included on the news page that Danny’s father made and posted on Facebook. It’s 18 minutes and 37 seconds long. I watched it. I watched every second of it. I cried during it. It was one of the hardest videos I’ve ever had to watch. There’s an entire range of emotions this father goes through, and, towards the end, he announces that he’s wearing his son’s shoes so that he knows what it’s like to walk in his child’s footsteps. He also gets something in the end that you would be surprised so many people still don’t; bullying is NOT okay.
We’ve all experienced bullying of some kind in life, and, if you’re reading this, you survived. Others haven’t. I was an only child in the 1970s whose father was a police officer, pretty much two strikes against me right there. I didn’t know how to defend myself against my peers because it didn’t occur to us that I’d have to. And the bullying I went through up until I graduated high school by a few people soured me on the overwhelming majority of my graduating class.
I never went to my 10 year reunion. I didn’t go to my 20 year reunion, but my husband all but forced me to go to the 20 year pre-reunion party. It was cathartic because we’d all grown up. People changed. And I didn’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt in that respect. I’ve since reconnected with many of them, and I’d even messaged the guy who’d made my life a living hell during those junior and high school years, and asked him why. He didn’t remember me.
The people who bullied Danny Fitzpatrick won’t be so lucky to grow up and not remember the impact they had on his life. Why? Because he names several of them in the letter he left behind along with teachers who, in his words, allowed the attacks to keep happening—although he does name one teacher who did help him. I’m sure some parents of these kids and some of the teachers will take what happened to heart. They’re going to have to live with it too.
But some won’t. I imagine some parents taking their child to a therapist who will tell them they weren’t responsible for the actions of a depressed kid. Why in the world should they accept responsibility for their actions in pushing that kid into a depressed state in the first place? Our culture has become quite proficient in not accepting responsibility these days, and we need only look at both of our presidential candidates as proof of this. Presidential candidates. It’s almost like a bad joke.
“Toughen up.” “Kids are kids.” “It gets better.” “You can’t let them bother you.” “You’ll be fine.” We’ve heard these. We may have even said some of these ourselves. Nobody should have to say them, though, because the bullying shouldn’t be happening. And yet it does. Even in the author world. Believe it or not, bullying goes on between authors, and even between readers. And bloggers.
You’d be astounded to read some of the comments bloggers will leave on each other’s posts, the name calling, and the nastiness. Why? “Oh, they’re just saying it like it is.” “They’re just being themselves.” I’ve read them. Those aren’t excuses. I’m just glad I’ve avoided having things written on my posts like I’ve read on others. What if one of these blogs was being written by a thirteen-year-old boy from Stanton Island, N.Y.? Would you be saying that then?
According to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) and based on information from the CDC, one person in the US commits suicide every 12.3 minutes. Not all of these are thirteen-year-olds. Not all of these are from bullying. But suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Wouldn’t it be something if by making some changes in areas we can, like bullying, we could knock that number down?
It won’t save Danny Fitzpatrick now, but it could save someone you know and love. Look at the father in the video again. Look at the pain and suffering on his face. Would you want to feel the way he does? Can you for a second imagine the kind of hopelessness his son must have felt that the only way to stop the bullying was to take a belt and hang himself? And could you live with yourself knowing you contributed to someone doing what Danny did?