Monday, March 6, 2017

Sh*t Gets Real In The 'Burbs

I live in the suburbs, the final battleground of the American dream, where people get married and have kids and try to scratch out a happy life for themselves. -Harlan Coben

My wife and I live in the suburbs.  Yes, our house and neighborhood might conform to what people would call cookie cutter.  Yes, beige is a predominant color in our neighborhood.  Yes, our choice in restaurants and shopping is relatively limited to the same chains as every other cookie cutter suburb throughout the country.  Yes, we have an abundance of SUV's and minivans driving cautiously through our streets as they look for young children on their bikes and scooter  in prerequisite helmets. On the other hand, we also have some of the best schools in the state.  We have more square footage for our money.  We have well manicured lawns in the summer and pissing contests with Christmas lights in the winter.  We have high achieving kids we are proud of, even if they drive golf carts recklessly, occasionally rearrange the letters on the signs in the neighborhood, and experiment with profanity at the park.

Unfortunately, last week the sh*t got real last week in our little slice of the 'burbs.  For me, it was another Wednesday morning.  I woke up hating the idea of going to work, showered, dressed, poured my coffee, grabbed my lunch, and slouched out the door.  As I pulled up to the stop sign to the entrance to my neighborhood, I looked to my left to see a sheriff's deputy go flying by with no lights or sirens.  My first thought was, "Asshole!  Doesn't he know this is a residential neighborhood?  Kids are walking to the bus stops, and God knows they aren't paying attention!"  As I drove, the newon the radio talked about an officer involved shooting at a residence in Montgomery County. In my drowsiness, I didn't connect the shooting to the deputy's speeding car.

When I arrived at work, I received a text from my wife if I knew anything about the shooting in our neighborhood.  I didn't, but turned to the internet for answers.  I browsed the websites for the local network news stations and found what I was looking for.  Just a few blocks away, while we were all snuggled soundly in our beds, one of our local residents stabbed his wife to death.  Deputies arrived and found his 11 year old son at the front door covered in his mother's blood.  The father was found in the bedroom and was shot to death after lunging at deputies after refusing their orders to drop the knife.

In that instant, our idyllic lives were shattered.  We had gone from silently cursing our neighbors for not brining in their trashcans to worrying about what was going on behind their closed doors.    The street that had at one time been filled with mothers pushing infants in strollers and children taking advantage of incline to gain speed on skateboards was now clogged by police cars, news vans and curious onlookers.  Reporters interviewed neighbors, family, and friends who all told of a dedicated father, loving mother, and shock and surprise that some one in our neighborhood was capable of such a horrific crime.  This was the type of crime we heard about on the evening news and then made sure our doors were locked.  Crimes like this were one of the reasons we chose a longer commute and dinner at Chili's.

The response of the community was amazing.  GoFundMe pages were started, meals were cooked, collections taken, and some one even contacted the Buffalo Bills (the young boy played for the Bills in the local Pop Warner league).  Flowers, balloons, candles, and stuffed animals were left in the yard as a make-shift memorial.  On the neighborhood Facebook page, people rallied to help and offer their services, and to not make mention of the incident for fear that either the 11 year old or his brother might stumble upon them.  Normally when I publish my blog, I post the link to that particular page, but this time, I will not.  However, that won't keep my from asking just what the hell happened that night behind those closed doors?

As stated earlier, this is not something that is supposed to happen in upper middle class neighborhoods.  This is something that is supposed to happen to crystal meth tweakers in trailer parks on the seedy part of town.  Now it is a reality for many who would prefer it not be, and it must be addressed and talked about, the 800 pound gorilla so to speak.  Why would a seemingly happy man kill his wife and then lunge with a knife toward heavily armed deputies (in Texas no less)?
This same man had earlier written an eight page letter to his sons detailing what was to be done with the house, the cars, and the money.  It was as though he knew that night would be his last.
Were his acts rational?  No, they were the acts of a person losing a battle within their own mind.  A rational person doesn't kill his wife.  Had the pain been bad enough that he wanted to end it for her as well as himself?  Perhaps.Does a rational person lunge toward gun bearing police while holding a knife? After all, if you lunge with a knife at an officer in Texas, there is a good chance you are going to come out on the losing end.   Did he want to spare his wife from what was going to happen? Perhaps.  Then why spare his son?  Why did this happen at all?

Now we are left to question the actions of a man no longer able to defend or define them.  We are left trying to explain to our children what had happened, and why the man who had waved from his driveway, as well as his wife, was never coming back. Why the comfort and security that we had abandoned trendy restaurants and chic boutiques for was no longer there.  Why we now want to know where they are going, what they will be doing, and most import, who will be there. We will not wave at a neighbor again without wondering what goes on when the door is shut or we are all nestled snug in our beds.  We won't watch another soccer mom in a minivan go by without wondering if she is hiding a dark secret.  But then again, that is what happens when sh*t gets real in the 'burbs.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Austin's Magical Secret Garden

There is a secret garden where miracles and magic abound, and its available to anyone who makes the choice to visit there. - Dr. Wayne W. Dwyer, "I Can See Clearly Now"

Tucked off of Barbara Jordan Boulevard in Austin is the Ronald McDonald House.  For most people the image of Ronald McDonald musters images of the clown who serves as the spokesperson for the McDonald's restaurant chain. Hundreds of people drive past the House every day, rarely give any thought to the people, that are at that moment, calling it home.  The families of children, from birth through 21 years of age (or 18, depending on the House), who are being treated at nearby hospitals and medical facilities, are eligible. Twenty eight months ago, my wife, daughter, and I called the House home for three of the longest days of our lives, while across the parking lot, Peyton fought a losing battle for his life in the PICU at Dell Children's Medical Center.

The House itself looks like a small mid-priced hotel.  The rooms each have a sitting area, a bathroom, and a bedroom.  There is a common area with dining tables and a kitchen.  The kitchen is available for all to use, but at least two times a day, a stream of volunteers come in and prepare simple meals for the residents.  A play room contains a variety of toys to entertain, or distract, brothers and sisters. Outside, there is a play set to help kids burn off energy and stress, benches to sit and relax, a grill, even a putting green.  There are statues donated in memory of loved ones sitting among the landscaping. Among the various plants, what would appear to be nothing more than ordinary bull rock used for landscaping across the state.  Upon closer inspection, each of the rocks has the name of a child, but not just any child.  The rocks memorialize a child that passed away while their family was staying at the House.  Each rock is made by a local stone mason who donates his time and materials.

Nestled among those rocks is one that reads "Peyton J".  This is Peyton's rock, and because he was cremated, it is the closest thing I have to a gravestone.   I first laid eyes on it two years ago when we traveled to the State Swimming and Diving Championships held every year in Austin.  We thought it would be a nice to have the swimmers pay a visit and donate some toiletries I had collected.  While they were taking a tour of the house, I walked outside and found Peyton's rock.  I knew it was there, but I didn't know what to expect.  It sat among the Madison's, John's, Sarah's, Bobby's, and Baby Boy Smith's. I slowly approached and knelt down while my heart did a Neil Peart drum solo in my chest. When my fingers touched the rock, my eyes filled with tears and I sobbed uncontrollably as snot bubbles ran from my nose.  I talked to the rock telling it how sorry I was that I had failed him, how disappointed he must have been in me as a father, that I would still trade places with him to let him live his once promising life, and begging his forgiveness for my short comings as a father.

After ten or so minutes, I pried myself away from the rock, dried my eyes on my sleeve, put on my sun glasses to hide my cryin' eyes, and headed back in to the House to collect the swimmers and head to the hotel to prepare for a weekend of action at the pool.

Over the years, this is a ritual I have repeated every time I visit the Austin.  I try to make a delivery of toiletries to the House to justify my presence.  I search the garden, find the rock, kneel down and lose my shit for the duration of the visit.  it is a cathartic and cleansing ritual for me.  Because Peyton was cremated, it is the closest thing (in addition to a tree planted in his honor at his former school in Round Rock), that I have.  I can kneel down, talk to him, hold the stone, and enjoy the quiet and beauty of the garden around me, even if just for a few minutes.

Compared to the rest of the state of Texas, Austin is a freak show.  Not in a bad way, but it is different.  Where as most of the state is known as a bastion for conservative values, Austin tips heavily liberal.  While Dallas strives to be sophisticated, Austin prides itself on keeping weird. Houston is known for fine dining, but Austin for its food trucks.  San Antonio prides itself on its Hispanic heritage, but Austin is the cultural diversity capital.  From food, to architecture, to music, to the people, Austin stands out, and is a great place to live and visit.  However, for me, the number one attraction is the unassuming building on Barbara Jordan Boulevard that is home to Austin's Magical Secret Garden.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Red Headed Nerds Are Everywhere

WARNING:Before anyone gets butt hurt about the title, please continue to read this post as it relates to the title.  

nerd : An individual persecuted for his superior skills or intellect, most often by people who fear and envy him. -Urban Dictionary

Eventually, the nerds and the geeks will have their day. -Judd Apatow

This past Thursday, we hosted a track meet at College Park High School.  It was a practice meet, no places kept, no medals awarded, and the only thing that truly mattered to the coaches were the times and distances as we prepare for our first meet this coming week.  As the meet came to its last event, we shuffled runners on and off the track so that we could finish up, get inside, and get warm.  As I looked up to check the lanes, I couldn't help but notice one young man.  He was tall and gangly with a distance runner's physique, but what really stood out what his red hair and freckles.  Not only did he have the same haircut as Peyton used to sport, but he looked enough like Peyton that I had to take off my glasses, rub my eyes, and do a double take.  Needless to say, it wasn't Peyton.  Peyton has been dead for almost two and a half years, but none the less, the resemblance was shocking.  

Flash forward to yesterday.  Lisa and I took Emmy down to Houston for one of her former classmate Ally's birthday party.  For the uninitiated, the birthday party of a five year old is a blend of the various action scenes from the Mad Max/Road Warrior films. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Thunderdome is relatively tranquil compared to sugared up five  year olds.  Now add in that it was not just a party for Ally, but also her seven year old brother Greg, and you have the makings of pure pandemonium.  Mixed in among the mob was another little red headed boy. Not only was he similar in appearance, but also actions to Peyton.  At one point, he had taken off his shoes to test the strength of some dead reeds in order to poke at the koi in a fish pond with a stick.  Again, I was reminded of my son, but at a younger age.  

These two cases of deja vu truly got me to thinking about all the other red headed kids I have seen since Peyton's death.  They never seem to be in possession of a comb, thus leading to an unruly mop upon their head, like Peyton.  The cavalier attitude of adventure over their own safety was too, like Peyton.  The fact that they are all arms and legs, lacking in grace and athleticism reminds me of, you guessed it, Peyton.  Never mind the fact that they all seemed to be lovable nerds, like Peyton.  

I have no doubt that there are graceful red heads that can dunk a basketball after taking off from the free throw line, throw a slider that never fails to catch the corner of the plate, repeatedly make acrobatic catches in the end zone, or who have never seen an episode of Dr. Who or The Walking Dead.  Just like I have no doubt there are red heads who possess the grace of a Baryshnikov, the hair of a Clooney or Pitt, even the complexion of Kutcher or Reynolds.  However, it never fails that every red head I see never fails to remind me of Peyton.  

Maybe its because I miss him so damn much.  Maybe because he should be walking the halls of a high school right now.  Maybe because whenever I see the trailer for the latest Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, or Harry Potter spinoff, I want to call him so he can watch it, call me back and discuss it.  Maybe it is because I will be heading to Austin this week for the state swim meet for the fifth straight year, and I will pass all of the landmarks that he used to point of every time we passed them.  But whatever the reason is, it seems that all the red heads I see are all goofy, gangly, nerdy kids like Peyton.  

Perhaps it is meant to be this way.  Maybe all of these kids are reminders of just how truly special Peyton truly was.  How not every one is meant to be a star athlete, or smooth with the ladies, or even able to dazzle socially.  Maybe we need to be reminded of that despite being far from perfect, there are people out there that will capture our hearts with their awkwardness and quirks.  

Next time I am out and about, walking through the halls at school, or even braving the savagery of a children's birthday party, and I see a red head step and throw with the same arm and leg, choose not to play tag because he wants to finish a chapter, or even get soaked falling into a fish pond, I will think to myself that red headed nerds are everywhere, and for that I thank God.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Just Don't F*king Care

Rev. Lovejoy: [Describes being bothered incessantly by Ned Flanders] Eventually, I just gave up and stopped caring. Luckily, by then it was the '80s, and no one noticed.
Marge Simpson: You can't let a few bad experiences put you off helping people!
Rev. Lovejoy: Oh, sure I can.

I never asked for Peyton to die.  I never imagined living in a world that he was not part of, but it happened.  October 8, 2014, Peyton came home from school, went into his room, and hung himself. My world took a total and complete nosedive that day.  Things that once seemed important went by the wayside.  That is not to say that I am apathetic towards everything, but my priorities have changed, dramatically.

I have been a teacher and coach for 26 years.  Of those 26, 20 have been spent teaching English.  I have taught every grade level from 6th through 12th.  Teaching is my second career, and when I began, I pursued it passionately.  I went to work shops to exchange ideas and learn from others.  I volunteered to be on committees to develop curriculum that would be interesting and beneficial to the students.  In the pre-internet days, I would spend hours creating activities and lessons for my students, and post-internet days would find me using the vast resources available to me to make the lessons even better, more relevant, and beneficial.  I prided myself on strong evaluations, and loved to be praised by my peers for my effort.  I was proud to be a teacher, I loved to see the light go on when students "got it",  or when they read a book I recommended, or when they thank you for helping them.  I loved it.  However, since Peyton's death, I just don't f*cking care.

Don't get me wrong.  It is not that I come in to work every day, sit at my desk and throw worksheets at the students.  I still teach, but the passion is gone.  The joy I used to experience when I taught has vanished.  Now it has become a job.  What was once an adventure now has become as routine as stocking shelves at Piggly Wiggly.  It feels as though I should be punching a time clock.

It wasn't just Peyton's suicide that led me down this path, but his death, along with other circumstances, formed the perfect storm that brought me to where I am now.  The first step was my perceived apathy by school districts toward mental health issues and the psychological well being of their students.  The fact that districts spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure that students pass standardized tests, but nary a cent to make sure they live long enough to take it frustrated me to no end.  I would see students miss entire days of class to prepare for the upcoming retest, but never checked to make sure that they were in the right frame of mind when they took it. Other districts would pretend that suicide and mental health issues never existed, even after the death of a student, some would try and go on as though it never happened.  I even heard of a school here in Texas that forbid students from wearing memorial shirts to honor a classmate killed in a car crash due to a policy that wanted to keep students from honoring those that committed suicide.

If educational institutions were willing to turn a blind eye to mental health issues and suicide, something that I feel passionately about, then why should I care about teaching a test that they rely on?  Students spend the first twelve years of their lives being either prepared to take the test (my son was given practice tests in kindergarten), or being tested.  Over that time, how many times are they taught that it is ok not to feel ok?

Some times, it is the students themselves that spawn my apathy.   When ever a student tells me that anything from MLA format, to Ernest Hemingway, to a five paragraph essay, to SAT test prep, or capitalizing proper nouns is either gay, stupid, retarded, or sucks, I just don't f*cking care.  When I student begs you to come in and make up a quiz they have put off for a month, but don't want to come in before school because they don't want to get up early, I just don't f*cking care. When ever a student tells me that they couldn't complete something because they had (fill in the extracurricular activity here) last night, I don't f*cking care. Not that I am entirely unsympathetic, after all, I am a coach, but it is not like the deadline was just announced.  Most of the time, any due dates I have are announced far in advance, recorded on the board in the room, recorded online, and constantly updated.  It is not my fault that you let it slide, so when you tell me that rehearsals for the musical take all your time, I just don't f*cking care.

Of course I don't hate my students, I am deeply concerned about each and every one of them, but what it comes down to is priorities.  I have 111 students on my academic roles.  If you go by national averages, then 22 of them are struggling with some type of mental health issue, 12 have a mood disorder, 11 have a behavior conduct disorder, and 10 have an anxiety disorder.  Of those with a mental health issue, 50% have a high chance of dropping out, ending up incarcerated, or taking their own life. 22 of them have thought of taking their lives, and 17 have made a plan.   Perhaps that provides some insight as to why I don't f*cking care about play practice or a standardized test score.

There are other things that I just don't f*cking care about, and the list in lengthy.  Some I didn't care about before Peyton's death such as Major League Soccer, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, political correctness, rap or country music, awards shows (except the Oscars), or standardized testing, just to name a few.  Now the list goes on to include things like my appearance, my diet (I have gained at least 30 pounds), political squabbling (both parties suck), and the Oscars.

On the plus side, maybe it balances out because now I actually care about suicide prevention, mental health issues, and that my students success is far more than a well written research paper or a score on a test.  I actually want them to make a mark in this world beyond the classroom, track or pool.  I want my students to come back to visit me some day not to tell me that they appreciate  that I taught them how to write an essay on a test, but that I taught them that it is okay to not be okay, that they were headed down a dark path until they realized they weren't the only person in class dealing with depression or anxiety, or even that they had made a decision to take drastic steps to end their pain, but knowing that there were people in the world that cared about them for who they are and not what they could do made a difference.  That is what I do f*cking care about.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

To Those We Lost In 2016 And Those That Are Left Behind In 2017

“I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.” -Carrie Fisher

2016 was a bitch if you were a celebrity. It seems as though a large part of my childhood passed away. From David Bowie, to Prince, to George Michael, to Carrie Fisher, to William Christopher (the beloved Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H), faces I grew up with were being shown on the In Memoriam segment at the end of the nightly news. Friends and acquaintances talked about their careers, accomplishments, awards, and achievements.  They praised songs, albums, movies, television shows, books, and humanitarian efforts.  Others spoke of their ups and downs, highs and lows, battles with drugs and alcohol, and struggles with mental health issues.  TMZ and other gossip outlets speculated on the causes of death, talked about the wives, partners, parents, and children left behind, and wondered how their legacies would be remembered and preserved.

Unfortunately, for every Bowie, Fisher, Michael, Christopher, or Prince, there was a Michael Thornton, a Brandy Vela, a Grace Loncar, a Natalie Natividad, or a David Molak. They were all students in the state of Texas that took their lives in 2016.  Some of them received media coverage, but were quickly forgotten as other world events, or celebrity deaths and foibles, pushed them to the back pages, and eventually out of the news.  Maybe there was a fund raiser,  or maybe a foundation or an organization was formed to keep the child's memory alive, but it is a safe bet that those left behind by these suicides, and the approximately 40,000 others in the United States during 2016, were not rocking in the New Year last night.

For the families mentioned above, as well as the others left behind, this was their first holiday season without their loved ones.  Many may have just gone through the motions of some semblance of a holiday, especially if there were kids involved.  Some may have cut back, choosing moderate decorations instead of going full blown Griswold.  Others may have chosen to take a pass on the whole holiday, leaving the decorations in the attic and presents unbought.  Maybe they attended a party or two and felt as though every person there was staring at them and judging them.  Perhaps they made small talk with old friends while what they really wanted to do was talk about their loved one, but don't want to kill the mood.  Maybe they will drive past a packed mall and scream from their car, "How can you go about your lives when my child has killed themselves?" In the week between Christmas and New Year's when so many have trouble remembering what day of the week it is, they may lose track of what year it is.  As New Year's Eve nears, perhaps they will make plans, only to cancel them.  The thought of being around people having fun becomes less appealing the closer the day gets.  If they do go out, maybe it will be a quiet evening.  For most the best idea seems to be sitting at home doing nothing.

My first New Year's Eve after Peyton's death was spent at a small party held by a friend of a friend.  I had no desire to go.  I had made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas, did the obligatory family parties, but I needed a break.  I just wanted to stay home and do nothing, unwind, and watch pointless bowl games.  Instead I found myself surrounded by people I vaguely or barely knew, ate mediocre pot luck food, and watched grown men come damn close to blowing off fingers while playing with fireworks. As a result, I did the only thing I could think of to feel comfortable, I drank large amounts of vodka to try and ease the pain I was feeling, and it worked until the vodka decided to relocate from my stomach after a couple of hours.  I have no doubt that last night, some of those left behind followed in my footsteps and chose to numb themselves.

For those new Survivors of Suicide, 2017 will be very similar to 2016 after they lost their loved ones, and that is a total fog.  They will have the painful and inevitable "firsts".  They will deal with depression, anxiety, PTSD, self-doubt, anger, guilt, sadness beyond measure, triggers, and so much more.  Some days they won't be able to get out of bed.  Others will be fine until they are hit by an overwhelming emotional wave and end up crying in their office until they are told to go home.  They will feel abandoned and left behind.  They will want to throat punch a well intentioned friend because they say something they think is helpful, but isn't.  And by the way, all of the aforementioned is okay. They have the right to feel how they want.  There is no time table to "get over it" or to "move on".

So as we bid farewell to 2016, we mourn those we have lost.  But as we move forward into 2017, lets remember to take care of those that are left behind.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Why Christmas Hurts So Damn Much For Survivors Of Suicide

I hate Christmas. The mall is full of nothing but women and children. All you hear is "I want this.", "Get me this.", "I have to have this."... and then there's the children. And they're all by my store 'cause they stuck the mall Santa right outside ringing his stupid bell. As if you need a bell to notice a 300-pound alcoholic in a red suit. "Ho, ho, ho," all day long. So, nice as can be, I go outside, ask him to shut the hell up. He takes a swing at me. So I lay a hook into his fat belly and he goes down. Beard comes off, all the kids start crying and I'm the bad guy. - Al Bundy, Married with Children

First of all, I don't hate Christmas. There are some great things about the holiday.  I enjoy having two weeks off from work, Jack in the Box's eggnog shakes, watching my daughter's face light up Christmas morning, hearing John McClain say "Yippy Ki Aye Mother F*cker" to Hans Gruber, my wife's prime rib and mashed potatoes, free flowing booze (the good stuff no less) at her office Christmas Party, Zu-Zu's petals, and who doesn't love seeing Scut Farkus get his ass kicked over and over again as A Christmas Story rolls for 24 straight hours.

For me, and many others like me, Christmas hurts.  It isn't the commercialism, the bickering (Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays), the crowds, the lines, the perpetually happy people or the continuously angry, the parties we don't want to go to, every sitcom doing a spin off of A Christmas Carol, or even commercials featuring shallow adults jumping up and down because Santa brought them a luxury SUV.  For us, it is because we lost a loved one to suicide, and now we are faced with a never ending series of events that we will never get to experience with them.

I understand that other people have lost loved ones, and the holidays are rough for them as well.  I lost my mother unexpectedly in July of 2005, and that first Christmas without her was difficult, and   I know several people that have lost children to everything from accidents to cancer, and for them I pray daily, but for those left behind as the result of a suicide, the pain is usually worse.

Maybe our loss hurts so much because of the sudden trauma of it.  There are those among us that saw the signs, or previous attempts, and were not taken by surprise, but for the majority, it was a sucker punch to the gut.  If Peyton had been hit by a drunk, had his body ravaged by cancer, fallen off his bike and hit his head, or walked into a CVS and been shot by some tweaker trying to steal Sudafed, at least I would have an answer or explanation.  As it stands, I, and many others, have no reason, no explanation, no nothing.  Instead, we spike our eggnog and replay the situation over and over again in our heads.  We sneak off to the bedroom and cry into our pillows.  We watch It's A Wonderful Life and wish our guardian angel would give us a do over.

Many of us survivors of suicide want to skip Christmas all together, but alas, many of us can't. We have other children, family, and other obligations that will not allow us to just walk away.  We are forced to get out ornaments or stockings with our loved ones names,  We shuffle through Christmas cards and pictures with their smiling faces that hid a pain we can't even begin to fathom.  We see a gift at the mall that would be perfect if they were still with us.  We force ourselves to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with one child and imagine what it would be like to have our loved one sit next to us in wide eyed wonder one more time.  We look out the window  Christmas morning and see the neighbor's kid in their pajamas and robe riding their new bike only to have to turn away before the painful memories come flooding back and bring us to our knees.  We go to Christmas parties and pretend to be happy only to chug down the free flowing booze in hopes that, at least temporarily, the pain goes away.

So as you travel through your neighborhood looking at the colorful lights, knowing that Shlomo's family doesn't have lights up because they are Jewish, but Cathy's and Hannah's and Cassidy's and Lauren's and Haley's and Issac's and Johnathan's and Grace's and Brandy's and Matthew's and Hunter's and Trayvon's and Jack's and Hunter's and Peyton's families don't have them out because it just hurts too damn much.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rest In Peace Brandy

'I love you so much just remember that please and I'm so sorry for everything.'  Brandy Vela's final text to her family

On November 29th, the pain became too much for Brandy Vela to bear and she shot herself in the chest while her terrified family looked on.  

The 18 year old senior at Texas City High School had endured relentless online bullying and harassment.  Her tormentors use encrypted apps in order to send her messages, set up false profiles on dating websites saying she was offering herself up for sex.  According to reports, she changed her number, but that didn't stop the harassment.  Eventually, it all became too much, and Brandy felt that the only way to escape the pain was to end her life.  

As I watched the story unfold on the local news, so many memories came flooding back to me, as Peyton had dealt with bullying and harassment at school as well.  But the person I could truly empathize with was her brother Victor.  As he looked into the camera and addressed those who had harassed his sister, "I'm glad you got what you wanted. I hope this makes you happy," but it wasn't what he said, but how he said it.  His voice was full of the anger and sorrow that would be natural in someone who had lost a loved one so tragically, but the look in his eyes told me that who ever bullied his sister to death had better hope that the authorities found them before he did.  

To the Vela family, I can't begin to express my sorrow for your loss.  I can't say I know what you are going through, as we all grieve differently, but I can empathize with you over the senseless loss of a child. The fact that bullying played such a central role makes it more familiar.  I know right now, that it feels as though your whole world has been turned upside down, and you have no idea how you can go on after what happened to your daughter. I can also imagine that you want frontier justice for your daughter, but there is a better way.  

After I found out that Peyton had filed a harassment complaint against another student the day before he hung himself, I was livid, especially when I found out that nothing had been done.  I don't know whose ass I wanted to kick more, the kid who taunted him or the administrator that did nothing.  The desire to inflict bodily harm was there, and at that point, jail did not scare me.  If I couldn't get my pound of flesh, I was also willing to sue the living sh*t out of the district and the parents who had raised a child who would willing harass a stranger.  All I wanted was some one else to suffer the way that I was at that point.  I wanted others to feel pain whether physical financial, or emotional.  Just as you do right now.  

However, over time I realized that no matter how ever much immediate satisfaction I would have gotten dragging an 8th grader, or administrator, into the hall and kicking their ass from one end to the other and back, would not have brought Peyton back.  The blood lust dissipated quickly, and my thoughts turned to putting my own life back together again.   

In fact, when I did speak to the principal of Peyton's school, my thoughts about the young man who had tormented Peyton had changed from violence to concern.  Unless that child was a sociopath, he was going to need help, and lots of it.  I imagined how he felt knowing that he was the final straw that sent Peyton over the edge.  Now he was going to have to spend the rest of his life knowing that he had played a role in the death of some one.  That in itself will be hell enough.  

I also realized that the administrator that dealt with Peyton's complaint had his hands tied by a slaws that all too often allows the guilty to roam free, and a education system more concerned with test scores and public image than with the children they are entrusted with. I am sure that they wish they could have done more to help, and knowing they lost one of their students is a burden they will have to bear. In no way will I ever  be able to forget what happened to Peyton, or what role his tormentors played, but I had to learn to forgive.  I already had enough on my soul without having to deal with the anger and hatred.  I had to learn to turn that into something positive rather than letting it eat away at me.  If I was able to forgive Peyton's tormentor, then perhaps the Vela's will some day forgive Brandy's as well.   

However, to the people that tormented Brandy to death, I do hope that the authorities locate you, and when they do, they prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.  Some one will have to serve as an example, and it might as well be you.  As you sit in jail, let the idea of what you did to Brandy and the Vela's eat away at you.  You were cowards that hid behind technology to torment another human being to the point that they actually thought ending their life was the only solution.  For that, you deserve to be punished.  Perhaps some day, the Vela's and society will be able to forgive you, but let's hope a jury isn't.