You don’t know that when you’re twelve

Everything will be okay in the end.  If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

John Lennon

When I was twelve years old, I thought about giving up every single day.  I didn’t want to be here anymore.  I didn’t want to go to school and be relentlessly made fun of for wearing the same clothes day after day.  I didn’t want to hear how ugly I was, how flat chested… I already knew.  Didn’t need the peanut gallery chiming in in the hallway.

In middle school I could not put a foot right.  I didn’t look the right way, I didn’t dress the right way, my parents were divorced, my family was poor, I had crooked teeth and there was no money for braces.  School was hard for me because LIFE was hard for me.

None of those things are insurmountable, but you don’t know that when you’re twelve.

I became the Artful Dodger of school attendance.  I feigned illness ALL the time.  It is completely shocking that I was not held back in either 7th or 8th grade because I pretty much just didn’t go.  Not if it could be helped.  My poor mother.  The thing is, though, I really did feel sick to my stomach.  That’s what dread feels like.

When things got so bad that my mother went to the school to talk to them about the bullying, she was told I was paranoid and needed to develop thicker skin.

Helpful.

My older sister was brilliant and musical, my younger sister was popular and athletic.  I didn’t have a THING. Nothing that stood out, particularly.  And I was the walking wounded.  Kids can sense that.

When you combine that lack of a niche and obvious vulnerability, middle school is the fifth circle of hell.  I approached every single day without hope of it being a good one.  I had a few friends.  I was the tagalong, though- never the best friend.  Until I met Stacia, that is.  I think Stacia may well be the single reason I survived middle school.

Stacia was edgier than me (still is,) she was effortlessly cool (still is,) and she had rad hair (still does.)  She seemed to just like what she liked- and if you didn’t like it, whatever. She’d just saunter along, too busy being awesome to give a rat’s ass.  And she liked me. ME!

Now, she probably DID care, because she actually has one of the most tender hearts of anyone I’ve ever met, but life had battered her around a bit as well, and she’d developed a tougher outer shell than I had.  I gave the bullies the reaction they were looking for- shame, tears, anger.  Stacia would just turn her impossibly big blue eyes at them and smirk.

It was a pretty solid strategy.

One of the reasons Stacia could give no rats’ asses is that her mom, Barbara, had cancer. That’ll put your young world into perspective for you.  Barbara became like a second mom to me.  I spent countless hours at their house.  We had a lot to do.  If I was going to marry Bruce Springsteen and she was going to marry Rod Stewart, there were plans that needed hatching.  Obviously.

Having a friend, a BEST friend, made every single difference in the world to me.  I remember watching Grey’s Anatomy and hearing Cristina say to Meredith, You’re my person. YES.  Stacia was my person.  My life got immeasurably better once she was in it. My life got bearable.  LIVABLE.  I could keep showing up, now that I had someone to laugh with.  Roll my eyes with.  Dance with.  Dream with.

Cut up my t-shirts with.  It WAS the 80’s…

Stacia moved away our freshman year of high school.  Her mom, a warrior if ever I met one, passed away, and my best friend moved to Florida.  We were both devastated, but even those couple of years of feeling included made a huge difference for me.  High school wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful, either.

I think about the kids out there who don’t have that.  Who haven’t perfected the smirk or found a bestie who has.  Who are different and that feels like the END of the WORLD to them.  Because when you are twelve and thirteen and fourteen, it truly does feel like the end of the world.  You are so impossibly young that you cannot conceive of how very big and endless the world is.  And so, when you are bullied relentlessly, when school feels like an unsafe arena where your attendance is compulsory, and when the adults running the arena don’t seem to get it- don’t see the lions, won’t acknowledge your lack of armor?

I understand wanting to leave the arena.

This morning, my friend Jill posted a link to a story about a young girl, Alyssa- 12 years old- who came out as bisexual.  Her family supported and embraced her, but at school? That’s a different battlefield.  She was told she was “disgusting” and called names, and even though she was loved and lifted up at home, it became too much for her.  She decided she couldn’t face the arena anymore.  She left.

She left US.  She left the WORLD because she thought she was at its end.  Because she was twelve.

Alyssa’s suicide was the fifteenth suicide at her school in twelve years.

Something is BROKEN, friends.  There is a fracture running so deep, and so wide, and these children- these BABIES, are falling into it. And while the statistics are particularly horrifying at that school, they are bad everywhere- particularly among gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

If you’re wondering why that is, the answer is found in the first few paragraphs of this essay by my friend Glennon.

When Stacia and I were young, we both hated our names PASSIONATELY and wanted to change them.  I, somewhat inexplicably, wanted mine to be Elles.  Stacia, always cooler, wanted hers to be Alyssa.  That’s how we signed the notes we passed to one another.  We practiced our signatures, Elles Springsteen…. Alyssa Stewart.  We signed those names to the letters that traveled fervently from Massachusetts to Florida and back, letters filled with inside jokes, and angst, and friendship.

I don’t have any answers, other than to say that the adults need to step the hell up, because this is not a kid problem- it’s a grown-up problem.

I’m going to think about this all day.  I am going to think about that beautiful, brave twelve-year-old girl who spoke her truth and then felt so battered by the reaction in what should have been a safe place for her, that she felt as though she needed to leave.  Forever.  It wasn’t okay, but it also wasn’t the end.

But you don’t know that when you’re twelve.

I am going to carry her family in my heart, today.

Dear Alyssa,

I miss you so much!  I just wanted to tell you that I love you.  And I wanted to thank you for ninth grade.  And tenth.  And eleventh.  And twelfth.

You were part of what made them possible.

Q-Rat 4-eva

Love, Elles

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

The Trevor Project

It Gets Better Project

24 Comments on “You don’t know that when you’re twelve

  1. At 12 I had a stolen bottle of pills hidden under my mattress. I would take them out most nights and count them, pass them from hand to hand, wonder was this the night?

    Life was hell at home. Life was hell at school.

    And I had recently started my period and learned what that could mean.

    It was my ‘if I got pregnant’ option. Because how do you face the world with that? Hard enough to be a shell of a person because you’re getting abused every possible way at home, and not much better off at school. But carrying the baby of shameful, improper, unwanted sex? Nope, that would have pushed me over the edge, the pills would have been taken.

    I am so sorry for Alyssa’s family. It sounds like they knew how to cherish her, and still lost her to the cruelty of others. That’s just so wrong, and so heartbreaking for her and them. You’re right, twelve year olds don’t know that misery ends, the unbearable ends.

    I have a son, 19 now, who was horribly bullied for two and a half years, the middle school years. He still carries the scars. We eventually changed schools, but took us too long to do so.

    Bullying is not insignificant. There’s research that says bullying by peers is as harmful to future mental health outcomes as abuse by parents.

    I know it cycles through my story, through pain that stays lodged in my heart.

    I wish there were answers, and I wish there were ways to protect our children from that kind of misery.

    And most of all I hope that Alyssa’s family finds some kind of comfort in their grief which can’t even be comprehended let alone put into words. Prayers going up for them, and for her. And all the twelve (or other) year olds out there who feel that dark, black despair that any of us who have come through it understand so well.

    Liked by 1 person

      • No one would have cared then but there are people who would care now.

        I used to imagine my funeral — my parents crying, seeking forgiveness (haha, I know) and all the kids who tormented me at school feeling sorry they had.

        But of course it wouldn’t have gone that way.

        I think knowing that was a fantasy kept me from it as much as anything else. Knowing it’d just be a blip, I’d be an empty desk and some new scapegoat would be found, I’m sure.

        You are right, there is something about some kids that just attracts it, and I did.

        Not sure what adults and teachers can do in those situations. So much of It happens out of their sight.

        The boy that tormented my son the worst — a couple years ago I joined a church and not only found that family there but he was huge in the youth group and leadership. So you can’t even say it’s a loss of Judeo-Christian values.

        Now this was five years later, and maybe he matured and changed — I can hope so — but I don’t know that I will ever hold anything but anger towards him and his family for how my son was hurt.

        I can’t imagine how her family will be able to tolerate the anger they will feel — and it’s all so senseless. Alternative sexuality is more tolerated than ever before.

        If we could just reach back in time and tell her somehow.

        Like

  2. I only got the Alyssa connection on my second read. Yes. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be the grownups who do it. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror earlier and it appears that I am, in fact, one of them now. Praying, and trying.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Words cannot describe how true this (and so many other things you’ve written) are and hit home for me.
    Almost everything you write – is like you’re writing MY story. Your words are raw, honest and beautiful.
    I’ve dabbled in writing my entire life and you’re giving me the courage and the motivation to write more….to do more…to hopefully inspire others, as you’ve inspired me.
    Life doesn’t end when you realize the hell you’ve gone through…it begins when you realize there’s so much more to live.

    Thank you so much for your words and your bravery.

    -Tosha in Michigan

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Am I missing it? Is there a share button for facebook? I really want to share what you write.

    Like

  5. Laura, you are awesome. I am so thankful God made you just as you are. Thank you for your amazing words that always touch my soul and give me the courage to keep going. I wish I would have known you in junior high! I would have been there for you. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There are so many things we don’t know when we are 12….and so many I still don’t know. BUT. I do know that the 12 year old girl who never takes her winter coat off is dying under that layer. I know that the sweet love who has a single hot tear run down her face over one missed answer is hurting from so many other missed approvals. I know that the girl who leaves sleepovers in the ninth grade is running from something in the night. And that the young soul who would never be caught in a tank top has marks, lashes really, that others would be wide eyed and speechless over – all before they gave her a sweater so no one else has to feel uncomfortable.

    I missed 76 days of the fifth grade. SEVENTY SIX. I get it, sister.

    We have to step up because the 12 year olds don’t have quite long enough legs to do so yet. Not to mention, some of them, the battered ones, are already carrying the weight of the world. I survived my 12th year (and many others) by a miracle alone despite wanting to leave so many times. So many times of thinking that it just had to be the end. Until they are strong enough to hold on with both hands we have to hold onto them.

    Also, to this day, my best friend and I are still Kit and Ruby Ellen versus our given Kate and Rachel…

    Like

    • Rachel,

      Oh, you are so right. About all of it. About the girl wearing long pants on the beach with her friends in bikinis — yeah, sure, she “gets cold easily, and that lake breeze, you know..” Her friends laugh, never knowing what’s hidden under long sleeves and pants.

      I had those kinds of absences every year of school. Always flirted with the letters of threatening not to advance for too many absences.

      I’m learning, finally, slowly… to hold on a little better.. to not hate that girl quite so much for her failings and weaknesses. It’s so easy to hate her because why not, everyone else did, it’s the thing to do, right? — harder to accept her with her bruises and fears and what she let happen in the nights (or days), what she didn’t stop, didn’t prevent.

      I have to fight really hard not to hate her, but maybe that’s a fight worth doing.

      Like

  7. Pingback: Sing | In Others' Words...

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