Throughout my junior year of high school I continued to write poetry. It was a way of getting out all these thoughts that were bouncing around my head. They didn’t have to remain stuck in a circular loop, and I didn’t have to worry about how others would interpret the words.
I continued to share some of my writing with my English teacher from ninth grade. We worked to build a literary magazine for the school, and she encouraged me to continue writing. I’m sure she’s the one who suggested I enter a poetry contest hosted by a local college.
The contest was open to various types of creative writing, and they had a “senior” poetry division for juniors and seniors in high school. I had the option of submitting a single poem or a collection. I know I opted for the collection, but I can’t for the life of me remember what I sent in.
I won first place!
I also earned $200 toward the college of my choice.
It was very exciting. There was a presentation at the college, and I remember being given an option to read one of my poems. Sadly, I opted against doing this. I wish I had tried. Or at least asked if someone else could have read it. It probably would have helped make the experience more real, instead of having this dreamlike quality.
Even in the midst of receiving unbiased recognition from judges, people I didn’t know, I think there was still a bit of longing to believe that others appreciated my writing. Sometimes, when you’re stuck in the grip of depression, it’s easy to write off good things as just an isolated thing. It’s easy to brush off positive comments from teachers or parents or friends as “something they’re expected to say; they’re just empty words.”
Yet, I remember receiving recognition at school about winning the contest and having people comment on it, and my reaction was to shy away from the spotlight. Brush it off as no big deal. That others deserved recognition more than me.
Yep, nothing ever seems to be good enough.
Bullying and feeling misunderstood
I constantly struggled with the idea that no one really got me. Of being misunderstood and that no one would be able to relate to what I was experiencing. That definitely showed up in my writing.
In early February 2001, I finished reading “She Said Yes” about the Columbine High School massacre. And wrote a poem about Cassie Bernall’s perspective in that shooting. There was talk of the shooters having been bullied and the impact that had on them. The anger and depression that followed. And how these guys were seen as loners causing trouble. And it got me thinking of how those on the receiving end of bullying can reach a breaking point and snap. They want to inflict pain like they’ve received. Do they act in drastic ways just to seek revenge or are they also somehow trying to make a name for themselves?
I wrote this poem in response to that reflection.
Black boots stomp heavily on tiles
Swishing black floats across floor
Past metal lockers
Filled with faces turned in conversation.
He proceeds unnoticed.
He searches for one word
One nod of the head.
With hands stuffed in pockets
Clenching the black executioner.
Ms. Brain the first victim
And Mr. Christian the next.
Mr. Football Captain the next.
Fatal shots echoing off walls
And ringing in ears.
Red and tear stains.
His own temple ending the series
Crashing to the floor.
No smile formed
No word whispered
Nothing except a snapshot
Of a long forgotten innocence
In New York Times.
You’re not alone
Yep, that’s a dark poem. But then, looking through my computer files, I found hope! I came across a poem I didn’t remember writing. Based on the date, this was written at the end of March, about a month after I penned “Fame.”
Looking back, I see this as a tribute to those who are bullied, to those who are singled out as being too different and too weird to be considered cool. Those who are ridiculed for stupid, trivial reasons. Those who feel isolated and ignored. Those who are longing and aching to be seen and noticed and acknowledged.
Because looking at the situation at Columbine, I could see how living on the fringes can turn violent. How someone could snap after being rejected from others. It’s easy to feel like there’s no hope. That no one else actually cares. That you really are alone.
So I guess this poem was my rallying cry for standing up and seeking out those who, like me, were a bit different. That it’s ok to go against the crowd, no matter how scary it seems. I’m not saying that violence is the proper way for you to stand against the crowd. I just mean that you shouldn’t have to parrot back the opinions, beliefs and actions of the popular kids just to be liked.
We really need to do a better job of embracing those who are different from us. Of teaching our children to treat others better and to stand up in defense of those who are being singled out. The ridicule, fear, anxiety, worthlessness, trauma, depression, etc leave a deep, lasting impression. It can all too easily lead to devastating results.
Dragging my boulder of a book bag
Down the narrow corridor
Passing the faces
Illuminated in their own conversations
Not a single eye meeting mine
Or taking note of my struggle.
They shove me along the way,
Knocking me down.
They continue on,
Leaving me beneath a pile of dust,
Shoe prints covering my shirt
And not a centimeter of concern.
They wonder why my smile is forced
And ask of my apathetic eyes
“Where’s your sparkle?”
I consider changing my name
Or whether I should come back.
They know my identity
But it’s a joke
My absence isn’t an issue.
They’ll carry on just the same.
I wear glasses.
My shoes were in style a few years ago.
My clothes are not in Seventeen.
My words do not fall in place
Among those of my peers.
They criticize my choice of music:
The notes that save my inner soul.
They say my opinion is not important.
But why do they choose me
Out of hundreds!
The one who chooses
Different things aside from the popular decision.
The one who believes there are others just like me.
My mission: to find them
With a welcoming smile
And embrace them in a friendly hug.
Invite them along on a Saturday trip to the mall;
Let them tag along during a boring party
And acknowledge their existence.
Because we are —
Me and them —
We are … the outsiders.