I cannot tell you what it is like to be young in 2012. I can tell you that from 1975-1979 I hated each and every day of High School even more than I had Elementary School or Middle School. I skipped school not to be with my friends or to go to neat places or to be with my girlfriend, well, I did do some of that, but mostly I skipped school to get the hell away from everyone there. If you figure a school year is two hundred and seventy days and a student is sentenced to twelve years of going to school, then that means there were 3240 days of my life I spent dreaded the next day.
Finally, I became too dangerous and too unstable for people to pick on anymore. I brought a water snake to school one day and told everyone it was a Cottonmouth. There aren’t too many people in school who was willing to get near me to begin with but now, with the nuclear weapons of fear and venom I was untouchable. Alcohol, drugs, destruction, and faux venom build walls around me. My life was a work of fiction that I wrote with insanity each and every day of my life, when I was in school.
Only the threat of self-destruction so great someone else might be injured drove them away from me.
“I can’t believe you are still alive.” I have heard that over the years more times that I care to mention.
There isn’t a magical formula. Popularity and social success are, I suspect, somewhat genetic. I suspect very strongly there are very young people whose minds are not hardwired for group success and there will always be a population of these young people amongst those who find making friend as easy as breathing. The right clothing, sex, drugs, the right music, the adherence to herd mentality, all of these things can be tried, desperately tried, and clung to, but it is my deep seated belief that it was no easier in 1979 than it is in 2012, and it may be even worse today.
I built a small platform in the middle of a culvert, an island, where I could sit and be missing from the world. No one could find me there. No one ever did find me there. I watched turtles and snakes glide by and I wondered why I was what I was and who I was and if it would ever, ever, ever, end. There was no letter jacket, no dates with cheerleaders, no beach trips, no High School Sweetheart, no prom, and I sold my class ring for a bag of pot.
There was a disconnect between the life I saw being led and the life I could lead. There were those who swam in the stream of social life as if they were one of the minnows in the culvert while I was a gnarled stick half submerged and creating a jam everywhere the forces of life flung me. In the best of times I felt left out and invisible. In the worst of times I felt as if the whole student body would have rather found me dead and hanging from one of the stadium lights than to see me walk down the halls for one more day.
At least, at the very minimum, I had a place to hide. Today, no such place exists anymore. Once upon a time social errors would be remembered but not recorded. Once upon a time the number of people who might mob a loner could be counted on one fist but now there is no longer a limit. Social networking also means frenzy feeding. One mistake online is captured for the world to see, replayed as many times as a tormentor might chose. Some private conversation about personal life might actually be an ambush so that some secret is revealed to literally, the whole world to see. In my world, so many years ago, there was a time out, a break in the action, and during the Summers I was released from the Hell that social life could be, but now, in this day and age, with every text message or update, it can be continued or start anew with each and every second of the day.
Social Media has, in some cases, become the place of torment for all eternity, a virtual Hell, for the outcasts and the alone. In a world where instant connection and communication is as common as breathing and as popular as sex, being isolated means much more than it once did. The idea of so much going on at the fingertips of so many other people yet to have that medium used as a weapon of hate against one person is to wage a war against someone’s psyche where there is not a defense.
Some of us, like myself, are geared to be alone. I spent most of my youth alone and I have spent most of my adult life alone. There are other people who crave to be with others and they yearn to be part of something human. For these young people, for those who simply want to belong, but lack the skills needed for survival, I see the same sense of helplessness that I once saw in the mirror. In their plight I wonder how I survived so long against so many and was still able to arrive at the other end of the conflict alive. I remember so very well standing at the edge of a ditch and hoping that a plane would crash into the school, or some massive catastrophe would strike, or that I could simply hide on my island, and never have to go to school again.
We, as adults, as those who have in our power to affect change in local school ordinances, can look at Amanda Todd as an aberration, as someone pushed to the edge, but as a small minority of students who take their own lives. Or we can, if we choose to do so, is see Amanda as the tip of an iceberg where many lives will be ruined if we choose to do nothing.
I Am Amanda Todd. I lived her life. I stood in her shoes. You can choose to help. You can choose to be indifferent. But just by being here, and reading this, you are part of that same social medium that can be used to torment and maim.
You may choose who will be next…or not be.