Can I Sit with You?


Cookie

by Pamela Merritt
Kindergarten and First Grade

When I was four years old my parents moved my family to a middle class suburb in St. Louis county. When I looked around our neighborhood I saw a sea of white faces. Our family was one of only two black families in the neighborhood. The ramifications of that didn’t hit me until the first day of kindergarten when I walked into the classroom wearing a brand new pink frilly dress and white patent leather shoes only to find myself greeted by looks of disgust and distress from my fellow students.

By the time that first day was over I had been pushed, spit at, called a monkey, and ignored by my teacher. I went home in tears and announced to my parents that there was no way in hell I was going back to that miserable place. My parents responded by telling me that there are ignorant racist people all over the world and, sadly, they teach their children to be ignorant and mean too. The basic message was that I was going to have to learn how to cope because my parents held the value of a good education over the pain of prejudice.

My parents came of age during the 1950s and 1960s, so they were well aware of the pain of in-your-face racial prejudice. But their generation had risked their lives to get a decent education and both of my parents felt that a few bruises or hurt feelings were par for the course for any person of color trying to get ahead. As far as they were concerned, I was learning a lesson young that I was going to have to learn eventually.

So I suffered and learned how to cope. I sat in the back of class and knew better than to try to make friends. After a particularly vicious beating in the girl’s restroom, I even taught myself to hold my pee until I got home. Yeah, I was coping but I was also miserable and terrified. And I wasn’t learning much other than school survival skills either.

All that changed the next year when Cookie transferred to my school.

Cookie was also black –- a pure dark chocolate brown some people are blessed to be born with. She was solid where I was skinny, fearless where I was cautious, and she became my first friend at school. With Cookie I could conquer the world or at least conquer my phobia about the girls restroom. She talked loud and didn’t take crap off of anyone and I quickly became her fan club of one. I began to laugh and play and ask questions and some of the other students began to hang out with me.

When I looked at Cookie I saw a strong black child and I began to realize that the weeks of racial taunts and physical attacks had taken something very precious from me. I realized that Cookie hadn’t inspired something new in me, but that she had revived a spark that had died such a quiet death that I didn’t even notice its passing.

I recall swinging on the playground next to Cookie one Friday afternoon, thinking that I was having fun and that I couldn’t wait to come back to school. I couldn’t wait to share my weekend news with Cookie over lunch and gossip about the other girls or our older sisters. I remember going to the bathroom without fear of assault, my head held high as I walked past girls who used to haunt my nightmares but who now held no power over me. And I remember hugging Cookie goodbye and getting on the bus, not knowing that everything would change that weekend.

That Sunday after dinner my mother sat me down and told me that Cookie’s mother had called.

Their family was moving because of a work transfer.

Cookie was moving away.

I cried as if someone had died, but my mother said that I should save my tears for a real tragedy. I was well grown before I learned the meaning of that and, at the time, I thought Cookie moving away was the world’s greatest tragedy.

Our parents took us out for burgers and fries but neither one of us ate. We promised to write and call and that we would be friends forever. But then Cookie turned to me, took my hands and leaned forward and whispered in my ear.

“But it’ll be okay if you don’t write or call.”

She pulled back and looked me directly in the eyes.

“You’re going to be okay … you know that, right? Because we made a memory and that’s what’s really forever.”

I nodded but my throat closed up and I couldn’t form the right words.

“Come on, girl.” Cookie said, and stood up with a smile. “Let’s go play!”

And off we went to play together for what was to be the last time.

We quickly lost touch after Cookie moved away, but I thought of her often over the years. I hope she’s happy and as confident as she was when we were young.

The cool thing is that Cookie was right.

She moved away but she left me with a memory and she also left me with an awareness that I am worthy of kindness, friendship, and laughter.

And that is still one of the most precious gifts of my childhood.

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An Open Apology to Kirk

By: mom2spiritedboy
Age at the time: 6

Dear Kirk,

I am sorry that I did not stick up for you more in the first grade
I am sorry that I didn’t ask you to come to my house to play
I am sorry that you didn’t get to live with a forever family
I am sorry that the kids at school were so horrible to you
I am sorry that they called you “Kirk the Jerk”
I am sorry that I do not remember your last name

If I could have it all to do over
. . . I would have played with you at recess when no one would, EVERY day, not just sometimes
. . . I wouldn’t have let go of your hand when we were walking home and other kids were coming
. . . I would have shared my Jos Louis with you on the field trip and sat with you on the bus
. . . I would have been your best friend

I am glad that I kicked those boys HARD with my Cougar boots that day they were bullying you after school. I wish that there wouldn’t have been a need for anyone to have to protect you – I wish people could have been nice to you and that grown ups would have made the world a safer place for you.

I think of you often. I feel much shame and sadness for the things that never were and all that should not have been. When I watch my son as he struggles so much to fit in, I often think of you. I will do better by him than what was done for you.

I am sorry and I hope life got better. I hope you found someone to sit with on the bus and who would share their lunch with you.



Imagine This (A Narrative on Bullying)

by Lastcrazyhorn
Age 12 at the time

Let me set up a scenario for you.

Imagine first that you’re a kid, maybe 11 or 12, possibly 13. You have Asperger’s Syndrome, which means that your social skills are impaired already; plus you’re a preteen/young teen, which means that the rules for your social world are constantly in flux. But as of yet, you’re not diagnosed; nor has anyone in your life ever heard that word, let alone know what it means. As if that weren’t bad enough, you’re a girl who is more of a tomboy, who doesn’t see the point in following the social rules or norms, either because it seems like a waste of time, or you’re just mostly oblivious to their existence in the first place.

Most kids don’t like you very much. You don’t know why. Vaguely, you understand that there is something about your being that offends or bothers these kids. You don’t know exactly what it is. You think that if you smile at them, if you laugh at their jokes (their very unfunny jokes), if you make a point to be really nice to them, then they’ll see your effort and be friends with you. You think that if you can find a topic that you both can talk about, that you both like, then maybe you can have something in common and that’ll help the situation.

They laugh at you a lot, these other kids; sometimes you know why; sometimes you don’t. They seem to be speaking another language from the one you know. They use slang that’s unfamiliar to you, because no one in your world speaks it. Your world consists of what you’ve learned from books (specifically fantasy and fiction and children’s literature), games, adults and perhaps a few highly specialized interests that you really think are cool, that no one else ever seems to get quite as well. You start thinking that maybe you shouldn’t mention these interests, since they aren’t very well received; but sometimes you just can’t help it, because it’s something that’s important to you, and after all, other kids talk about what’s important to them all the time; so why can’t you?

Other kids bump into you in the hall. You try to be more careful as to not bump into them, thinking it was your fault to begin with. You slowly start to realize that they are purposely trying to hit you. Maybe it’s a new kind of joke. Maybe not. Just to be safe, you always try to smile at them and say “excuse me.” They laugh, like you’ve said a joke, even though you’re pretty sure that you haven’t.

Sometimes they trip you and you fall. When they laugh then, you think maybe you had a stupid expression on your face as you fell or maybe someone said something funny that you missed. Sometimes you laugh with them, because after all, someone falling flat on their face is kinda funny, right? Sure.

Sometimes when you fall, you bruise your knee or cut open your lip on someone’s foot that got in the way of your fall. You try to smile, even though it really hurts, because maybe they can still be your friend if you show that it doesn’t really hurt. Maybe you can show that you’re one of them, because you’re laughing and having fun, even though you are bleeding on the floor of the hallway.

Eventually, you might figure out that they are doing these things to you because they like seeing you hurt. Somewhere between them putting a bee down the front of your shirt, setting fire to your backpack, stealing your backpack, flushing your inhaler in the middle of your asthma attack, pushing/throwing you down the stairs, spitting on/at you, giving you Indian rope burns, drawing on your shirt in permanent ink, giving you the silent treatment at lunchtime (or just getting up en mass whenever you sit down), grading your homework wrong, threatening your life by showing you a knife that they brought from home just to cut your throat with, you start to realize that maybe they really might not like you.

Slowly, you start to realize that those videos your class watched a few months ago on bullying and bullies were demonstrating things that could really happen in your life. Who would have thunk it? So, you think to yourself, like anyone would after having seen those videos, that maybe you should tell someone about it. Either that, or the thought just never occurs to you as a viable option.

Say you try to talk to the principal about it. You ride a bus to school filled with these kids that don’t like you. In fact, as you think about it, you’ve started getting diarrhea every morning before you get on the bus, just from worrying about what might happen that day. Most of the time your bus gets to school late, and your bus driver tells you to go straight onto class as fast as you can. Thus, you can’t talk to your principal then, because the bus driver told you get to class as soon as possible.

All of the breaks in the day, when the kids push you and hit you going through the hall, are only about 5 minutes long. The halls are crowded enough, without kids purposely trying to run into you; so what should take 2 min. to get down the hall now takes 4 minutes. Plus, you have to go the bathroom on your breaks, because as it slowly is revealed to you, none of your teachers like you either, and rarely allow you bathroom breaks. Apparently you are considered a difficult student, because you have to ask a lot of questions just to know what’s going on consistently during class. Your teacher gives you instructions, but you aren’t sure who they pertain to. Is she talking to all of the students in the class or just the ones that think that particular way? You don’t know, so you ask.

You can’t talk to the principal on any of your breaks. So you think, well, maybe I can talk to him/her at lunchtime. At lunchtime, in-between the food fight that seems to be only directed at you, you go over to your teacher, who is far off at their table, and try to ask them to let you go to the principal. The teacher, thinking that you’re onto some new ploy to be allowed to go the bathroom, or just because they don’t feel like it at the time, says no and tells you to go back to your seat and quit bothering her. When you leave their table, you hear them all start laughing and wonder to yourself who told the joke and what was it to make everyone laugh so hard??? Boy, if you had that joke, people would fall down at your feet to be your friend.

You ride the bus at the end of the day. You have to get to a seat fast, because otherwise, you’ll end up standing/sitting in the aisle for the rest of the bus ride since no one thinks you really deserve to sit down. Plus, you have to carry on a french horn and even though you might be a little slow socially, you can tell for sure that no one likes trying to accommodate that thing in their seat. You have no time to talk to the principal because if you miss your bus, you’re stuck at the school even longer, and school isn’t really that great, so why be stuck longer?

Eventually, either you realize that if you go to the principal, the other kids will see and really will follow through on that threat to come to your house at night and hang you from your front tree; or else you do manage to see the principal and he either:

1.Doesn’t do anything
2.Doesn’t believe you
3.Calls you overly sensitive
4.Does something, but tells everyone who got them in trouble to begin with, resulting in your getting beat up by an entire crowd of kids, instead of just one or two

Or some combination of the above.

Now, the kids that aren’t actively trying to hurt you/embarrass you don’t do anything to you, but sometimes they sit back and laugh while some other kid fills up an entire wall full of spitballs why you crouch on the floor during the lesson.

There isn’t anyone you can talk to, because either they’re like the principal and don’t believe you, or they call you overly sensitive/compare you to their days of woe and explain that what you’re really doing is building character, because, you see, you really don’t know how it feels to be bullied and they do.

Every time you walk down the hall, either someone trips you, laughs at you, hits you, or whispers behind your back about how shitty a human being you are. In fact, sometimes everyone whispers and laughs at you as you walk down the hall. They say things like, “Hey what is THAT? Is that an IT? Naw, it’s a SHIT. Hey SHIT! Wanna blow me? No,” another one answers, “you wouldn’t want THAT to blow you; think about what kind of diseases you’d get if THAT touched you. Bleah.”

In the meantime, you start writing essays that are centered on themes portraying your violent death, which your teacher awards with A’s, saying things like, “wow, creative, but make sure you work on your handwriting next time.”

One day, you decide that someone has just pushed too far; that, throwing your inhaler in the toilet was bad enough, but throwing it in the toilet that was full of shit was just a little too much; so you hit someone back for the months of suffering they’ve inflicted on you. Instantly, the principal is called or the teacher sees it, and you find yourself on lunch detention for a week or better yet, you’re suspended and have to see the school counselor for a month, in order that you might work out your more violent feelings and the ways in which it might be better to handle yourself, should a situation ever arise again.

Or, say you try to hit someone and you don’t get caught, but everyone laughs it off and starts calling you a freak, or rather a nervous and crazy freak . . . and hey, you remember that one time when the nervous freak tried to hit me? Yeah, that was a laugh riot, wasn’t it.

Imagine that everyone you tell laughs you off or gets you in deeper shit when they try to do something about it. Imagine that you have teachers who purposely give you bad grades so that they can call you up in front of the class and show the class how “stupid” you really are. These same teachers also find great pleasure in not letting you go to the bathroom, even when you’re really sick, because it’s obvious to them that you just need a little toughening up.

Imagine that during PE, when you’re not losing the game and people aren’t throwing basketballs directly at your head just for the hell of it, you’re instead sitting on the floor drawing your name in your arm with a sharpened pencil. Imagine that no one sees or if they do, they don’t say anything.

Imagine that this goes on, day after day after day. Imagine that once every 20 to 30 minutes someone either hits you, kicks you, calls you shit, laughs at you or does all four. Imagine that you still think that agreeing with them will make them just suddenly like you. Imagine that there are good Christian kids that you go to church with that either stand back and let it happen, or that they are the ones doing the worst of the actions against you.

Imagine that every time you try to fight back, either someone overpowers you, or you get caught and in trouble. Imagine that every time you tell someone about it, they just tell you to grow up and get over it. Imagine that you tell the cop at your school and he tells you to quit bugging him and get out of his hair. Imagine that when you’re at home, you start cutting or burning your arms just for the sake of feeling something, since it seems that unless people can see physical evidence, then it didn’t really happen. Imagine that you ask trusted people for help and they ignore you and laugh.

Imagine that you start sleeping in a box on top of your bed for, say, 6 weeks, because it’s the only time you really feel safe. And your mother just thinks it’s a phase. Imagine that you start sucking your thumb again, as well as coming down with pneumonia. Imagine that you start pulling out your eyelashes and eyebrows, and all your parents do is get mad at you for making yourself look bad. Imagine that you suddenly realize that all there is to life is to hear the laughter of other kids while you hurt and no one helps you, no matter how much you smile or laugh with them.

Imagine that you have sleepovers with your teddy bears because no one would want to come to your house anyway. Imagine that for an exercise in your computer class, you have to make a spreadsheet with the names and ages of your ten best friends, and you have to use the names of your cousins from both sides of your family just to make up the difference.

Imagine that it’s like this every single day. Imagine that you start dreaming of ways to commit suicide. Imagine that this goes on for more than a year; more than two; more than three. Imagine that every day of your teenage life is like this.

What do you do?



Can I Sit With You? Redwood City Recap

Jennifer Byde Myers Reads "Sorry, Charlie"

Our very own Jen Myers reading her story Sorry, Charlie.

Last night’s reading at Angelica’s Bistro in Redwood City was a lot of fun, and quite a success. We filled the place, which was good for us though harrowing for the restaurant staff. We were thrilled to see so much support for the project, sell so many books, and have guests like Grace Davis and Left Coast Mom in the audience.

A few restaurant patrons who didn’t realize there was going to be a show but stayed to watch anyhow (we’re that mesmerizing!) came over afterwards and donated money to SEPTAR, the special ed PTA to which all of the Can I Sit With You? proceeds are directed. Very touching.

The show featured our scheduled readers, Jen Scharpen, Elaine Park, Lea Cuniberti-Duran, Judy McCrary Koeppen, Shannon Des Roches Rosa, and Jennifer Byde Myers. We were also lucky enough to be joined by CISWY authors Jackie Davis-Martin and John Kim


Go see photos of all the readers
(except Shan, who took the pictures). Video excerpts to come.



Tonight: Can I Sit With You? Live! in Redwood City

Can I Sit With You? Live! is back home in the Bay Area:

MAY 7, 7:30 PM
Angelica’s Bistro
863 Main Street
Redwood City, CA
650.365.3226

No Cover, Donations Accepted, Reservations Recommended

This is a really exciting event for us, as we’re featuring solely micro-local (RWC-resident or working) writers.

Angelica’s is a lively, versatile restaurant with a charming atmosphere and a considerable wine and beer selection. It is also family-friendly, but as usual please review the stories below before deciding to bring your children along.

And, er, Jen and Shan will actually be reading as well as running the show. Ha ha hahahaha. Which means that when Shan’s not on stage, she’ll be addressing her stage fright at the bar.

Readers:
Jen Scharpen
Elaine Park
Lea Cuniberti-Duran
Judy McCrary Koeppen
Shannon Des Roches Rosa
and Jennifer Byde Myers

——-

if you miss tomorrow’s show, you can catch us at Book Passage in Corte Madera on Saturday, August 9th, at 4 PM.



Dodging Bullet
April 14, 2008, 8:00 am
Filed under: bully | Tags: , ,

by Laura Eleanor Holloway
Age at the time: somewhere between 6 and 9

Everyone just called her Bullet.

Blond hair cut like a boys –- rumor was she had no mother,
Which seemed to explain the fact that her favorite toy was a hammer.
And not some hollow yellow plastic PlaySkool job that squeaked as you hit plastic pegs. No,
Bullet’s hammer was the real deal,
Straight from Heckinger’s –- “the world’s most unusual lumberyard.”

That day, the six swings were full of hostages:
Twelve legs brown with dirt and sun,
Twelve tender palms freckled with stinging rusty equal signs,
Twelve open-toed shoes dragging despondent trails in the soft dry dust as
Bullet made the rounds:

“Do you like me?”
Her hammer poised menacingly above timid knees,
There was only one way to answer the question.

Occasionally, as she moved down the line,
Someone would make a break for it and
Bullet, hammer-wielding Thor-ling,
Would chase them back to the swing set
And ask again:

“Do you like me?”
“Yes, Bullet.”

I had a lot of time to think
While the other five children were lying to Bullet.
Didn’t her father see from the window what his daughter was doing?
Why didn’t he stop her?
Take away that hammer?

“Do you like me?”
“Yes, Bullet.”

As she got a few children away, I whispered to Kathy:
“The only way we’re gonna get to leave is if someone tells her no.”
Kathy’s eyes grew wide in horror:
“But… she’ll hit you!”
“I know. Shhh.”

“Do you like me?”



If I Had Grown Up Online? Reflections on Bullying

By Amy Looper
First published online at the MindOH! Blog
Reprinted with permission from the author

When I first heard about Ryan Halligan, a 13 year old boy who committed suicide a few years ago, I was sad to hear of yet another child taking their life due to bullying. While watching the recent Frontline show “Growing Up Online”, I was particularly struck by new information his parents shared after establishing contact with some of his friends in an effort to get answers to so many unanswered questions about their son’s suicide.

I was completely horrified to hear his parents talk about a web site Ryan had visited that teaches kids the best way for them to commit suicide based on taking a personality test offered there.

A few days after watching the Frontline special I just couldn’t shake this profound sadness out of my head. I had a rush of vivid and unexpected memories about a kid I knew in elementary school back in the 60’s who had repeated first and third grade. Everyone knew who she was and teased her relentlessly calling her stupid, retard, dummy, the usual hurtful stuff some kids will say to those they see as different, or as lower on the proverbial playground food chain. Even more abusive and shocking, some of the teachers chimed in on this ridicule. Calling her out in the classroom with snide comments and making her stand out in the hall. This kid couldn’t catch a break.

She was out for a week one semester because her father had died. Kids and teachers were nice to her for a few days but eventually the usual taunting picked right back up. Then one day while we were at recess, one of the bully boys came over and took the girl’s jump rope and quickly fashioned a hangman’s noose over a tree branch. He grabbed this picked-on girl by the arm, threw the noose around her neck and gave a big tug with all of his weight. Easily twice her size, he jerked her up and she was swinging in a matter of seconds. I mean, being hung right there in front of everyone. Not one kid moved to help. I think we were all stunned.

Grabbing her neck with her hands, choking and struggling to get free, the bell rang to end recess and the bully boy let go of the rope. She fell to the ground. The teacher was coming toward the big tree, but when she saw the girl fall to the ground, the teacher turned around and left her to pick herself up. No one helped her. We all just filed back into class like nothing had happened.

That little girl was me.

What I realized about Ryan Halligan’s suicide was if the bullying I endured as a child was complemented by the resources of a 21st century online world, I too could have easily opted to check out the suicide web site and — even worse — acted on it.

It shook me to my core.

Even though I was very lucky to have loving parents guide me through my trying times as a child and see me into successful adulthood, they still had no idea of the many sad and lonely days I spent because I couldn’t articulate the full extent of what was happening, much less even understand what I needed.

This is why I’ve dedicated the rest of my life’s work to meet kids in their technology-based culture, leveraging technology in every way possible, to create positive content options, a lifeline to life skills for all kids to learn how to confidently navigate the fast paced world and myriad of negative influences they’re faced with daily.

If you’re a parent, teacher or simply care about youth watch Frontline’s “Growing Up Online.” Even though the show could have used more coverage about the positive things happening online for kids, it is still an important eye opener for offline adults.