Tuesday, November 27, 2012

For all those I didn't reach in time, I should have tried harder



A Victim of Bullying

By Travis Bughi

Copyright 2012 Travis Bughi

Smashwords Edition

License Notes
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Dedicated to all those I didn’t reach in time



Chapter 1
The Story

Spring 1996 – Turlock CA
The crowd was silent as six-year-old, Amanda Bughi held her mother's hand and approached the coffin.  When they reached it, Amanda put up a hand and touched the wood casing.  She looked up at her crying mother, 34-year-old Melody Bughi, and asked, "Is my brother in there?"
Her mother couldn't even answer.  She just nodded and choked back tears.
Amanda put her other hand on the coffin, her cheeks already red from crying, and broke out into tears again.  Everyone at the funeral began to cry again too, even Travis's father, who was the only member of the family who could hold back tears long enough to give a speech.
"Travis was a good son," he started.  "He was my only son.  He made me proud."
People did not always say such nice things to eight-year-old Travis Bughi.  None of his family's praise could save the young boy from the constant bullying and harassment at his school.
On one bright, sunny morning, Travis's parents opened his bedroom door to find him hanging from the ceiling fan, a rope tied around his neck.  He had been dead all night.
Travis's father, Tim Bughi, went on in his speech to tell the crowd about his son.  Travis's favorite color was blue, he liked baseball and soccer, he liked to read, and he listened to Country and Rock music.  Tim went on to talk about all the things he'll never get to enjoy with his son, and how he wished he could bring his son back.
"What were those kids thinking?" Travis's grandmother said while dabbing her eyes with a napkin.  "How could they be so mean?  He didn't do anything to them."
While Travis always appeared pretty content at home, he was constantly teased while in school.  The other kids picked on him and called him hurtful names.  He cried a lot at school, and didn’t eat lunch with the others.
"The worst part is," Travis's grandmother said, "these teachers, the faculty; they knew what was going on, and they didn't try to stop it."
Travis's death has brought bullying to the front stage, nationwide.  Local police say they are investigating the situation, but are having trouble dealing with it.
"We've never had a situation like this before," the police department said.  "There's never been a suicide this young in Turlock before, or anywhere that I'm aware of."
But for now, Travis's family says they are trying to do right by Travis and cherish his memory.  Tim ended his speech at the funeral with: "There will never be another one like him."

* * *

I want you to stop here and consider if you had read this article in a newspaper or in a blog.  Maybe you watched reporters talk about it on the TV, or listened to it on the radio.  If you were alive in the spring of 1996, you almost did hear this story.  I know this because I am the 8-year-old boy you just read about.  I was picked on, teased, and bullied to the point where I sat down one day after school and contemplated killing myself.  I thought very long and hard about it, considered the many ways in which I could do it, which ways would likely work the best and what my last actions on this earth should be.
I can happily say that I did not go through with it.
I am writing this now because, in 2010, I watched in the news as several kids killed themselves because of bullying in school.  I watched their parents and others pour out tears.  I watched the fingers fly as people pointed to the bullies, then to the teachers, then to the schools, then to the federal government as they tried desperately to get someone, anyone, to care enough to help those kids out there who suffer every day, live in a pit fear, and hate themselves with such a passion that death appears to be their only outcome.
But, the government can only do so much.  Even teachers have small power beyond the classroom.  Parents, too, have little control over how their children are treated.  The fact is that the power to change this lies squarely in the hands of the victims, their tormentors, and those who sit idly by and watch.
I was a victim of bullying, and after I had cleared that storm, I became one of those who sat idly by and watched.  I realized this as I watched those stories unfold on the TV, in the newspapers and blogs, and over the radio.  I felt the pain that those kids were going through, and I knew why they had chosen to kill themselves.  I knew what had led up to it, how they felt no one cared, and the final decision they’d come to.
I'm going to tell my story now in the hopes that it will help someone out there.  As a society, we’ve become so used to bullying that we’re numb, almost callous to the pain that others suffer from it.  It’s ignored, put out of our heads, and thrown away in the back of the mind.  It isn't until another senseless death occurs that we wake up.
My hope now is that all the pain I endured growing up will not be for nothing.  I hope that it will serve as a guide for those in need, and will bring light to the suffering that goes on around us every day.

Chapter 2
A Trouble Maker is Born

Every story has a beginning, and my story is fortunate enough to start with a time when I was not bullied.  For some children, their life of torment begins right away.  Their bullies are their parents, siblings, or guardians.  They have it rough right from the start and usually never know a life outside of that.  Unlike me in years to come, home will be their prison rather than their sanctuary.
So, in that regard, I consider myself to be lucky.  I was blessed with two loving parents who did everything in their power to raise me and my younger sister right.  In all honestly, they had their work cut out for them.
I was a rebellious child and frequently got into trouble.  Being a skeptic at heart, when my mother told me, “don’t touch that frying pan,” I waited until the moment she looked away and touched it.  I received both a burnt finger and a well deserved punishment for disobedience.  I also have an inherent lack of respect for authority.  Even my father, who I had an immense amount of respect for, had to lay down the law several times when I specifically did things he told me not to do.
Honestly, I am thankful for every punishment I received.  I was a real brat.
For all the love I had for my parents, I just could not seem to keep out of trouble.  Rules were more like guidelines to me, and they existed to be tested or broken.  This is the attitude I had when I entered kindergarten, and it stayed that way throughout.  I was sent to “the office” often for bad behavior and it was always for being disruptive or something similar.  I continued this behavior because, at school, my actions never carried much consequence.  In kindergarten, I got in trouble all day long and was given nothing more than a sigh and shake of the head from the faculty.  Being sent to the office was more like a break from class than anything else, so I saw no reason to act differently.
When I entered elementary school, my appetite for mischief only worsened.  Within the first few days, I quickly found common friends with similar interests and we proceeded to find new ways to have a good time.  Among our most common enjoyments was throwing wads of paper into the urinals, climbing poles to get onto the roof, and talking constantly in class.
Fortunately, I did not stay this way.
I was soon to learn that elementary school was not like kindergarten.  The Principal at the time, Mr. Holmes, who I owe a great debt to, had little patience for a trouble maker such as me.  In those first few days at school, I was sent to the office only a couple of times before I met him face to face.  He let me know that the school wasn’t going to put up with my behavior, and then made it abundantly clear with a threat I had never received.
Very sternly, I was informed that if he saw me just one more time in his office, I would be expelled from the school.  I would be kicked out, no questions asked, and with no chance of return.  I was either going to change or leave.
This was the first time I received such a promise.  At the time, I didn’t even fully understand what getting expelled meant, though I knew it was very bad.  I also realized that this punishment was much different and much more serious than anything I had encountered before.  I instantly thought about my parents and the shame they’d bear for having their child kicked out of school.  I did not want that shame or that pain.  I resolved myself that I would not let this happen.  I would change, and I would stay.
I decided that I would go to the office no more.  I did not want to be expelled, so things that were against the rules needed to be avoided.  Through this, agony and despair upon my parents could be prevented.
And then I went to school the next day.  The very next day, mind you, I went to school and all the kids were lined up outside the classroom, waiting for the teacher.  I had every intention of being good and behaving myself.  I would follow the rules and make my parents proud.
And then, my friends showed up.
It is interesting that I call them friends.  At the time, that is what I considered them.  But one day, when the tables turned and I became the outcast, these so-called friends would be the first among my tormentors.  But on that day, I thought of them as friends, and they came to me for fun.  I wanted to resist them, but they only wanted to hit trees with their backpacks.  They were laughing and having such a great time as they did it, too.  So I joined in, and we went about smashing random objects with our book-heavy packs.  Surely, I thought, nothing could go wrong with this.  There was no rule against hitting objects with my backpack, right?
So we continued, we laughed and, like anything else, things escalated.  It didn’t take long for one of my friends to get the bright idea to hit each other with the backpacks.  The first hit landed, it didn’t hurt so much, and we all laughed.  And so we continued, right outside the classroom door, to spar against one another.  Surely, I thought, I would not be sent to the office over this.  We were merely having a good time.
And then, one of my friends swung too high.  As my backpack went low, his went high and I was hit in the face with a pack of books.  It hurt and I cried.  Hot tears streamed down my face in pain, though I tried my best to hide it.
It was just as I took a face-full of hardcover paper that my first grade teacher turned the corner.
What she saw was plain and simple fighting.  Two kids were hitting each other with their backpacks and one was crying in pain.  There was only one course action for that: straight to the Principal’s office.
As that verdict was read, my pain was turned to fear and I tried desperately to plead with her.  She couldn’t send me to the office!  She just couldn’t!  But she would hear none of it.  She had no idea that she was sending me to be expelled and she would not listen to me, the troublemaker, who would say anything to save his own skin.
Now, real tears poured out of my eyes.  Not the tears of pain, but the tears of utter shame.  I cried all the way to the office, the entire time I waited in the office, and watched in horror as the secretary picked up the phone and called my mother.
I waited then, drowning in my own guilt, as my mother had to leave work to come to the school and go into the Principal’s office.  She didn’t even look at me as she walked into the room with Mr. Holmes.  I was left outside to cry small tears, pondering my future, knowing how everyone would look down on me as the child who was kicked out of first grade for bad behavior.  I sobbed and wondered what would happen to me.  What would become of me?
It was then that I heard a terrible, awful sound.  It was a sound that would haunt me, shake me to my core, and alter the course of my entire life.
I heard my mother cry.
I had not heard my mother cry before.  Until now, I had been sparred this terrible sound and so it was pure torture to hear tears falling from my mother’s eyes.  The worst part of it all was that it was my fault.  I had caused this.
I had made my mother cry.
And so I cried too.
What deep shame I felt at that moment.  I loved my parents so much and this is how I repaid them.  I was the persona of evil.  I was a horrible, hated human being who deserved the worst punishment that could be issued.  It was then that I was called into the Principal’s office.
I could barely stand, or breathe, as I walked into that room.  The guilt and pain that wracked my soul was more than I could handle.  The Principal waited until I stepped completely inside, took a seat, and until my sobbing was just sparse enough that I could listen.
He told me that I was getting one very last chance to get it right. The next time he saw me, there would be no talk and there would be no waiting.  My mother would be called, I would wait until she got here, and when she did, we would leave together and I would never come back.
I could not believe my luck.  I was in shock for the chance I was being granted.  I thanked him for his forgiveness, promised him that I would be different this time and he would never see me again.  I apologized to my mother, hid from my father (it was not punishment I feared; I hid because I did not want to feel his shame), and made a decision that I was not going to screw this up again.
I would change everything.
So, the next day, I did not come to school early.  I got there right on-time instead.  There was no chance for me to get in trouble before school that way.  And then, during class, I said absolutely nothing.  When my friends talked, I didn’t even look at them.  I didn’t even talk during the group assignments unless I had to, and I certainly didn’t raise my hand.  I avoided all attention.
At recess, I took a seat right outside the classroom door and did not move until recess was over.  When the bell rang, I was the first back inside the classroom.  At lunch, I sat right outside the door again and ate quietly.  My friends tried to pull me away but I would not go with them.  I knew where they were headed and I could not leave with them.  Nothing they said could tear the sound of my crying mother from my mind and so they gave up and went without me.  When lunch ended, I went back inside the classroom and said nothing again.  When the bell rang, I went straight home, stopping nowhere and talking to no one.  I just looked straight down at the ground and walked, not stopping until my feet touched my room.
At the end of that first day, I had done the impossible.  I had gone one entire day without getting into trouble, being told to be quiet, or sent to the corner.  I had, in my hands, a winning strategy to keep myself from getting expelled and hearing my mother cry again.  I was proud of my decision, and I would continue to do it.
Unfortunately, there are consequences to every action.  And mine were going to be dire.

Chapter 3
The Descent into Darkness

The reasons people are picked on are as numerous as the victims.  Some people are bullied for the way they look, how they talk, the way they walk, who their friends are, what they wear, what they say, how they say things, what or who they like, who or what they don’t like, and on and on and on.  Some people are too big, others too small, some are too excited, others are too sad, some are too smart, and others are too slow.  The list is never ending and not a single reason is justified.  The only reason a bully needs is that you are different and capable of being bullied.  Even if you are not different, they will invent one if you are their target and can be bullied.
For me, my reason was plain and simple: I became an outsider.  I didn’t play with others, I didn’t talk to others, and I didn’t even eat with the others.  Where the entire class sat and ate together or in groups, I alone sat off by myself.  I was different, a loner, and I was capable of being bullied.
What I mean by "capable of being bullied" is that I responded to their taunts.  There’s a reason some people are bullied and others are not.  Nearly everyone can be made out to be different, but it’s how you respond to taunts that will ultimately decide the outcome.  Bullies tend to want several things out their tormentors, but it all boils down to a reaction.  That reaction doesn’t have to be physical either.  Some bullies just want to make their victims mad, others want to degrade their victims, or make them sad in any way possible.  They like to feel as if they have control over others by being able to elicit emotions from their victims.
As long as victims react in a way that doesn’t harm their bullies, they’ll continue to bully.  Even then, it is not so simple.  Some will pick on victims just because others are doing it too.  Even if a victim doesn’t react, they could be bullied day in and day out for years.  It’s a very difficult cycle to break, but it can be done.
Before I was bullied, I was one who stood by and watched.  In the first grade, there was another person in the class who was picked on by all the others.  She looked different and we teased her for it.  It was terrible of me to do so, but I didn’t know any better and there was no punishment for teasing.  So, I joined the rest of the class and we picked on her.
Things got so bad that her parents transferred her out of the school at the end of the year.  I would like to thank her parents for doing that, and I hope that wherever she went, she did not meet kids like us.  I only hope that she found her own way through life to better things.
As for the rest of us, when everyone moved up to the second grade, we quickly noticed that she was gone.  At first, her absence was of no concern to me.  I did not realize that upon her leaving, a vacancy in our class’s social hierarchy had just opened up: the bottom.
And I was going to fill it.
The teasing started small at first.  I was already an outsider so when I tried to integrate myself back into the classroom, I encountered a surprising amount of hostility.  When groups were picked, I was ignored.  I tried to sit with others at lunch and I was not acknowledged at all.  Sometimes, those people even moved to different tables.  When we played games outside, no one wanted to be on my team and I was picked last at everything, assuming I was even picked at all.
When I did accomplish something, such as winning a game or getting a good grade, I was teased for it and called names.  The names were hurtful even though they had no meaning, because it showed the hatred others had for me.  They didn’t want me to win, play, or even have a good time at all, and so they did their best to discourage me.
I reacted like they wanted.  I was hurt and I showed it.  I didn’t join in, I stayed away, and I kept quiet.  Things didn’t stop there though, as those victims of bullying know.  They only got progressively worse.  Over a period of time that seemed all too rapid, I was socially ostracized not by a decision of my own, but as a general consensus by the others.
Things worsened all through second grade.  I continued to be pushed away, neglected and ignored until, by the beginning of the third grade, it was normal.  The struggle for my life was about to begin and I didn’t even know it was coming.  It was going to be a tough fight, too.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was being taught to hate myself with a passion.

* * *

There are basically three types of bullying.  There is the physical, the verbal, and the mental.  In all honesty, I believe mental almost always accompanies physical and verbal, but there are times where mental bullying exists all on its own.
I was young enough to be spared the physical in any real damaging way.  Besides being tripped here and there, or excessively pushed in a game of touch-football, I was fortunate enough to never come home with a black-eye or be thrown into a trashcan.  The most severe physical abuse I suffered was being held against a wall by two people while a third threw rocks at my stomach.  This was not common though and I wish I could say that for everyone.  There are others out there who have endured far, far worse.
My bullying came mostly in the form of verbal and mental.  I was called more names than I can even remember, and I was excluded from every event possible.  My experience is, unfortunately, extremely common all across the world.  You can almost guarantee that in every class in every school in every country, there is someone who is bullied by his or her classmates.  If you extend that into family and friends, the number is even greater.
My bullies were many, but the two that I remember the most were Jake and Robby.  They were not colleagues necessarily, but they took great effort to make sure I understood how much I was disliked.  They teased me, picked on me, and often led the groups that tormented me.  As my skin grew thicker, they invented new names to call me and new ways to exclude me.  They seemed to take a lot of pleasure in the pain they caused me.
They weren’t the only ones of course.  There were others who followed along with the group and, although they had no direct hatred for me, did harmful things simply because they could.  I remember one profound event that, as I waited in line to drink from a drinking fountain, one of my classmates spit on the nozzle when he saw I was behind him.
That was a real awakening moment for me.  After I went back to my desk, my self-worth depreciated even more as I realized just how much I was despised by the others.  I began at this time to really see myself as my bullies did.  I really began to hate who I was.  And it is from that view that the thought of suicide first occurred.
That right there was the most brutal hit from bullying.  The stomach bruises from rocks healed.  Name calling was forgotten in time and ignored.  Even the lack of joining-in didn’t hurt me so bad.  But I will tell you that it is a slow, painful process to learn how to hate yourself so much that you want to die.

Chapter 4
To Kill an 8-Year-Old

For those of you who do not want to know how an 8 year old contemplates suicide, I suggest you skip to the next chapter.

By the end of the second grade, I had gone through an entire year of abuse I’d never known could exist.  Every day I woke up, all I could welcome was a day full of scorn and torment, exclusion and despise.  Any positive thought I had, I could not express or it would be crushed.  Any moment of weakness I exposed was capitalized to further my torment.  Any friends I attempted to make were shunned, excluded, and socially pressured to avoid my existence.
Maybe, had I been older, I might have taken it better.  However, when I returned to school during the third grade, six more months of bullying passed before I realized something.
This would be my life.  This would be my entire life.
Tomorrow would be the same.  The day after that would be the same.  I was someone to be hated; my company would never be enjoyed.  I was a burden, a loner, and … and …
I had nothing to live for.
I deserved to die.
I realized this one sunny day after school.  Class was let out and many of the kids went to the playground equipment to play before heading home.  I ran with them, hoping to have fun as well.
They yelled at me when I came close, told me to go away, that they didn’t want me here.  I wasn’t even playing with them; I was just nearby.  I could see the hatred on their faces, how much the mere presence of me angered them, and I turned away.  I walked over to a nearby tree (a tree I still remember), and sat on the ground, leaning against it.
My life was horrible, I realized.  There was no way around it.  All my life, I would be picked on, excluded, neglected, and hated.  There was nothing for me here among the living.  I could not change it.  I could not change me.  Every day would be like this, and there was no way to fix it.  There was only one way to escape this hellhole.
I had to die.
No one was going to do it for me of course.  That responsibility would be my own.  I had to commit suicide by any means necessary, and there could be no coming back from this.  I knew enough at 8 years old that if someone tried to kill themselves and didn’t succeed, their life only got worse.  So, I couldn’t be one of those people; I had to succeed.
While my classmates laughed and chased each other on the playground, I thought about which method of death would be most effective.  I knew swallowing chemicals was bad for you, so maybe I would try to drink an entire bottle of glass cleaner.  But then I thought that my chances of coming back from that would be too high, so I tried to think of something else.
Maybe my dad had a gun.  That would kill me for sure, and it would be quick.  But then, if he did have a gun, I didn’t know where it would be, or even how to use it.  I tried to think if any other parent I knew had a gun, but then I realized there would be no way to use it.  There was no way anyone I knew would give me a loaded gun.  No – I’d have to find another way to die.
I thought of hanging next.  It sounded painful and slow, but all I needed was rope and something to tie it to.  We had a tree in our backyard, but that was out in the open and I would likely be seen before I was completely dead.  I’d have a better chance of tying it to something in my room, like my ceiling fan.  But would it hold me?  I didn’t want it to break and then have to explain to my parents why a rope around my neck was tied to the ceiling fan.  I’d have to test it first, just to be sure.
Wait a second, I thought.  If I did this, if I truly killed myself, there would be no coming back from it.  Death was permanent.  If I was going to go through with this, then I had better be damn sure it was the best option.  I needed to think this all the way through.
The next thing I did is probably why I’m still here today.
I thought, what will happen when I die?
My first thought was about my tormentors, the bullies.  I wanted my death to hurt them, to make them feel bad for what they’d done to me.  Once I was dead, maybe then they would finally care about my feelings.
But in an instant, I knew that would not be the case.  They might feel bad, slightly, but they wouldn't care much.  They likely wouldn't change their ways.  They might even be happy to know that I was gone forever and would never be there to annoy them with my presence.  They would not be at my funeral.
Then I thought about whom would be at my funeral: my mother.  She would be there, and she would be crying.  Her and my father, my grandparents, my sister, and so many others would be there.  I thought about what friends I did have, two friends named Robert and Kenny.  I knew both of them because they were children of my parents' friends.  They knew me, and they would miss me, too.
My cousins as well would be there.  True, I wasn't that close to them, but they would never understand if I chose to kill myself.  They would only be hurt as well.  In fact, everyone I ever cared about and who cared about me would be hurt deeply and emotionally.  They would remember my death for all their lives with nothing but sadness and regret for not being able to stop me.
My death would bring only pain and suffering to anyone who had ever been kind to me.  I realized that killing myself would not fix my problems, it would only pass my suffering along to them.  How could I do that to them?
I pictured my mother weeping in tears for all the days to come as they lowered her only son, her 8-year-old son into a grave.  I could hear her sobbing, see my father holding her, and the thought of it shattered my already broken heart.
I saw all the pain and sadness I would bring to everyone who had ever cared about me.
I … I couldn't do that to them.
The people in my life who I truly cared about, and who I felt were the only people who cared about me, could be counted in the single digits: My mother, father, sister, grandmother, grandfather, Kenny and Robert.  That brought the total to seven.  There were only seven people in the entire world who I thought would miss me when I was gone.
And yet, they meant the world to me.  They were the only world I had.
They would be the only people who would mourn my passing.  Ha! I thought, what a truly said life I led.  But, the truth was that it was the only one I would ever get, and these were the only friends I thought I was ever going to have.
I knew it then.  I knew that I could not kill myself.  The only thing it would do would be to bring deep sorrow to those who I loved, and happiness to my enemies.
I couldn't let that happen.  I had to gone on living.  Not for myself, but for the people I loved.
My mother would not cry again because of me.
Well, I thought, standing up from the tree.  If I was going to stay here in this tormenting hellhole of depression and sadness, then I was going to need the tools to fight back.  Sure, my life sucked horribly right now, but I was going to do everything in my power to change that fact.  I would not be in school forever; all I had to do was make it out alive, just make it out in one piece, and then I could be happy.
All I needed was a plan.

Chapter 5
The Birth of the 40-year-old, Married Man

In the years to come, around the age of 16, my friend Robert would give me the nickname, "The 40-year-old, Married Man."  This was in reference to how I acted, avoided trouble, and from his perspective, was entirely too cautious.  I did not inherit this nickname easily.  It was built with dedication and constant looking toward the future.
At 8 years old, when I decided that I would go on living, I made an agreement with myself that I would do everything in my power to be happy when I finally finished school.  It was going to be the most difficult thing I had ever done.  My chances of success were not high, but I would give it my all.  I would spend all my time learning how to be happy so that, one day, I could be.
In order to accomplish this, I needed examples.
My parents were the most obvious choice.  They were happy, fun, and most of all … happy.  I looked at their life, how they did things, and tried to mimic their actions.
My mother was easiest.  She always received good grades when she was in school (as she was found of reminding me) and she had a steadfast strategy of work first, play later.  I did as she told me, and turned my focus to my schooling and my work.  Good grades meant a good job, and a good job meant good money, and good money meant no money problems.  This was important because, when I looked around at people with money problems, I saw that they were often unhappy in life, and so I did not want to be like them.
The harder person to imitate was my father.  My father, at this stage in my life, was like a god in my mind.  He was and still is the type of man everyone loves to hang around.  Nearly everyone had a huge amount of respect for him, and he was as humble as he could be about it.  As one of my father's friends put it, my father was the type of man who, if he punched you, you would have to resist the strong urge to thank him.
In comparison to my father, I felt like an insignificant peon.  I was a hated failure in life, and I would never be worthy of the love he freely gave me every day.  I actually avoided my father to some extent as a child, especially in social circumstances.  I never wanted my taint to hurt his image, as if my mere presence was a burden to his reputation.
This sounds horribly degrading, I know.  But, you have to understand, being bullied makes you feel this way.  It makes you think that you are a person who others, by default, do not like or want to hang out with it.  At this point in my life, I didn't realize I thought like this.  I would not realize it for a long, long time.
So, until that time, I continued to search for guidelines to happiness and poor decisions to avoid.  Whenever I encountered anything in life, anything at all, my first reaction was to see what it did to people in the future.  When I was introduced to drugs, I looked at what it did to people twenty years down the road, and I saw that it was bad.  Drugs destroyed people, made them addicted and dependant on the drug for happiness.
I looked into fighting and saw that people who fought only ended up in jail, trouble, or prison.  When sex came up, I saw that people who had sex early got pregnant and those early children made their lives a burden.  Even alcohol, which my dad did drink at parties, I noticed that some people got addicted to it and that it destroyed their lives.  Sure, that didn't happen to everyone, but there was a chance and so I avoided that, too.
I kept a solid, unswerving path of dedicated behavior to avoid future pain and suffering.  I already had enough of that right now, with taunts every day, all day long.  There was no room for anymore torture if I was going to come out of this life as a happy person.
Instead, I focused on the things that did make me happy, and made other people happy.  My parents were first up.  They were married, had been married right out of high school, and they were as happy as could be.  I looked at divorced people next, and I saw they were not happy.  Then, I looked at single people, and I saw they were not nearly as happy as my parents.  No, I realized, marriage was the only way to go; marriage and a steady job, just like my parents.
Less than six months after I had narrowly avoided suicide, I had yet another winning strategy for the future.  I needed good grades to get a good job.  I needed to find a wife to have a happy, everlasting marriage.  And, I needed to avoid drugs and bad behavior of all kind.
This was the birth of the 40-year-old, married man.

* * *

I want you to know that I do not expect anyone to follow this exact pattern of determination.  Everyone should find their own way in life, and you should choose the role models you want to be like.  Mine were respectable people who led very happy, independent, yet simple lives.  If this is not enough to make you happy, then by all means, look for that way.  I would expect nothing less.
But for me, this was my path.  I did not know how to be happy so I chose mentors who were, and I studied them.  Until then, I bided my time and found ways to get on with life until I could break free of the prison called "school."  I did this several different ways.
The first thing I did was to focus on the things that currently made me happy.  Thanks to my grandmother, I found out how much I loved to read books, so I read tons and tons of books.  While the other kids went out to play, I sat by the classroom and got lost in stories.  Among my favorite authors was R.L. Stine, who provided me with book after book of gripping tales.  I used these stories as an escape from my current life, as a window into a world where I did not exist and, therefore, neither did my bullies.
Next, I spent every moment I could with those who cared about me.  I went camping with my family, grocery shopping with my mom, and used every weekend possible to spend time with friends outside of school, who were the only friends I had.  I spent the night at their homes, or otherwise got them to spend the night at mine, and had as much fun as I could with them.  This was mainly just Kenny and Robert, the only two people in the world who I felt I could be myself around and not feel embarrassed about it.
Along the way, I distracted myself at every opportunity possible.  I played with toys, wrote stories, or played video games.  These all helped to transport me away to a whole world of opportunity where I was not hated, not despised, and not degraded at every waking moment.
I did more than distract myself though.  If I was going to stay alive, I wasn't going to spend my entire life at school just taking insults.  There had to be a way to fight back.
And there was.

Chapter 6
Learning to Fight Back

I never told my parents how bad the bullying was at school.  I believed the pain that I felt was this sort of burden that I was destined to carry, and I didn’t want any of it to be shouldered by them.  So, when I asked my parents how to deal with the bullies at my school, they gave me the best advice they could with what limited information I provided.  They told me the best thing to do was just ignore them.  They told me that the bullies only wanted to hurt my feelings, and that if I reacted to their taunts, the taunts would keep coming.
So, I did that.  Well, I tried to do that.  I tried to ignore them, but at that age, I didn't fully understand the "ignore" technique.  Ignoring bullies is like ignoring children.  Take this for example.
A mother is walking through the store with her child.  Her child begins to cry and beg for a toy.  The mother refuses and listens for ten solid minutes as the child cries.  Finally, at the end of it, she relents and gives the child the toy.  What has she done?  The child has just been taught that if it cries for ten straight minutes, it will get what it wants.
If the mother tries again and fails at 11 minutes, the child has been taught to cry for 11 minutes.  If she fails at 12, then 12 is taught, and so on and so forth until the child eventually is taught to cry for what seems like an eternity.
This is what I did to my bullies.  When I tried to ignore them for a day, I eventually broke down and got angry.  When I tried to ignore them for two days, I lost it on the second day.  When I tried to ignore them for a week, I broke down and got angry only a few days in.  Things went on and on until eventually I would go an entire month of teasing before I finally broke down into tears and anger.  My skin grew incredibly thick, but so I made the error of training my bullies to keep picking on me no matter what, because eventually I would break down, and they would get what they wanted.
This of course, was almost exclusively verbal attacks.  If you're being physically assaulted, DO NOT sit there and take it in the hopes that it will end.  Please, get help immediately.
But for verbal attacks in school, the ignoring method does work only if you completely, 100% do not crack.  Bullies need to be ignored as if they don't even exist.  Any sort of acknowledgement will only fuel their efforts.  I did not know this, and so the taunts continued.
Eventually, the taunting would go on for months.  It became so regular, that it hinged on comical.  By the fifth grade, my self-image had been degraded so badly that I was very difficult to pick on.  Had I not trained my bullies to continue harassing me no matter what, they might have given up.
One time during lunch break, Robby came over to my table (where I always ate alone) and proceeded to spend the entire time insulting me, telling me how worthless I was, how no one would miss me if I died, and that I should stop breathing altogether because it was a horrible waste of air to keep me alive.
I proceeded to spend the entire lunch period laughing.  I laughed along with his friends, and with him, as they took turns thinking up new ways in which to de-humanize me.  These insults had been everyday occurrences for years by now, and though I would eventually break down and cry, the ridiculing was actually expected more than feared.
The truly, absolutely most surprising thing in my childhood was when anyone from my class showed me any sort of kindness at all.  Not everyone was like Jake and Robby.  Some saw my day to day torment, and eventually worked up enough courage to say something.  They weren't extremely open about it, of course.  They just did little things, like invite me to play a game with them at recess.
The first time someone did this to me, I didn't go.  I was shocked, surprised, and instantly skeptical.  They didn't really want me to come and play, I thought.  They only wanted me along so they could pick on me.  So, I denied them, and I stayed leaning up against the classroom wall, reading.
This was probably the wrong thing to do.  Likely, I offended those first few brave and kind souls.  Unfortunately, I had no idea they were actually trying to be nice to me.  At that age, I thought such a concept was impossible.  No one would ever be nice to me at school, I thought, so I would interact with no one.
When it happened again though, my curiosity (or hope) was perked.  Maybe, just maybe, they were being honest.  These people never showed me attention, so maybe they were actually trying to invite me.  So, I went with them, and we went to play soccer.
I was picked last.  This was no surprise though, and neither was the laughing and taunting from Jake and Robby at anything I did.  They rallied groups together to laugh whenever I tried to kick the ball, and always hunted me down to instantly take the ball away.  It hurt, of course, and part of me wanted to go back and just sit and read.
However, there was one slight little problem: I was having fun.
Playing with the others and kicking the soccer ball around; it was a lot of fun.  It was so much fun in fact, that I decided to bite the bullet, take the insults and the punishments, and come back the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Eventually, the taunts slowed down a bit, and the insults backed down to their normal, everyday run.  I didn't realize it at first, but I had actually just won one very small victory using the "ignore" method.
This method would actually be the most effective tool at my disposal for years and years to come.

* * *

The other way I chose to fight back was by taking control of who I was and how I acted.  I thoroughly believed I was a hated person, and so steps would need to be taken to alter who I was.  I needed to stop doing things other people thought were annoying, change my humor so that I was funny, and learn to be that social person that everyone loved.
To do this, I studied other people.  I looked in others for attributes I thought were cool and/or admirable and tried to imitate them as best I could.
For my role-models, there were two people who I looked to most often.  The first, best, and most obvious person was my father.  My father proved to be an inexhaustible source for how to be cool and respectable.  He treated everyone fair, never took offence, and always stood up for what he could prove was right.  I listened intently to his jokes at parties, dissecting them in my mind to determine how to be funny, and followed his moves so much that I now walk like him, even to this day.
I know that it is the rare and lucky individual who gets such a father.  But, even for someone whose father is the bully in their life, hope can be found.  The world is filled with fantastic role-models, and they are often easy to find.
The other role-model I chose was a friend of mine named William.  I had known him in elementary school and he had been a part of the few people to socialize with me.  His other friends hated me deeply, but yet William hung out with me whenever he felt like it, and he would even tell his own friends they were wrong if they tried to pick on me.
Yet, still, those people wanted to be his friend.
William, to me, was the icon of social clout.  He was immensely independent, and never let anyone influence his thoughts.  I was constantly amazed at his striking aura of confidence and envied it greatly.  He was not my friend and my bullies’ friend because he was a nice person; he was friends with us because he chose to be.
I wanted to be like William.  I wanted to look people in the face, tell them what I thought, and not care either way whether they agreed or not.  Like William, I wanted total control over my destiny and who I counted as a friend.
From these two, I drew traits and attributes, molding myself into the person I always wanted to be.  This would have worked perfectly, except I fell into an unforeseen trap.  A trap I will warn you about right now.
No person, no matter how great, is without flaws.  In mimicking these two people, I inherited their flaws as well as their virtues.  From my father, I received a short temper when trying to fix objects.  From William, I received an over-bearing confidence that comes off as cocky and blunt.  It would take me a while to acknowledge these flaws, but I am currently trying to curb their presence.  Like everyone else, I am not perfect.
However, all of this would not come about for years.  I first had to make it out of elementary school alive.

Chapter 7
The Gift of Invincibility

During 5th and 6th grade, a great deal of very interesting changes occurred.  First, I apparently weathered so much oppression that people in my class eventually felt sorry enough for me that they tried to make me feel better.  I do not know if this was simply because people were beginning to mature, but at some point in time, a few of the classmates broke off from their group to eat lunch with me.
I did not talk to them.  I think I actually moved away from them the first time they did it, mostly because their kind actions made me nervous (ah, what a terrible mentality is that? To be afraid of those who are kind to you).  Fortunately, I quickly realized this would not help my situation, and so I eventually let them eat their lunch next to me.  I did not speak or otherwise acknowledge them unless they spoke to me, but those first few encounters were a strange experience for me.
Secondly, I was bestowed a number of very, very powerful "gifts" from the relentless bullying I had received.
One of them was that I was no longer shy.  Most people are shy because they are worried about what others will think of them.  I simply assumed I was a loser at heart, no matter what, and so when I met and talked with people, I didn't even bother being shy.  In my mind, everyone knew the despicable person I was, so there was no need to hide it.  I was not afraid whether I was in room by myself or in a room of hundreds.  I never worried that someone wasn’t going to like me; I already knew they didn't.
Another interesting gift was incredibly thick skin.  After having received more insults than any one person could remember in a lifetime, it was nearly impossible to offend me.  People could say things about me, my mother, the way I looked, dressed, or acted, and I would not react, unless it was to laugh.  Their taunts were expected.  I believed their accusations were true and therefore was not hurt by them.
I already knew what a worthless person I was, but had long stopped letting that affect me.
On the inside though, it still hurt to be me.  Just because a few people showed me kindness, Jake and Robby did not stop their attacks.  They found new friends to join with them; even people who I had long thought would never make fun of me.
When I accidently let it slip that I had a crush on a girl, she was picked on and taunted by others.  I felt bad and tried to apologize to her, telling her I was sorry and that I didn't mean to hurt her.  Her friend overheard me and threatened me, telling me I had better be sorry.
As a degrading dare, one of the girls was forced to give me a hug.  I wanted to deny her, but it felt so good to receive a hug from another human being in my class, even if it was a fake one.  The others laughed at her when she did it, but I have to thank her for going through with it anyway.  I hugged her back, even though I knew she wasn't doing it out of free will, and let the little small flakes of pretend kindness penetrate my tiny, tattered heart.
It was times like that which really reminded me of how alone I was.
Those years in elementary school were harsh, long, horrible years.  I endured a total of five of them (almost half my total lifetime), before a surprising turn of events would once again change the entire course of my life.
At least this time, it would be for the better.

* * *

I grew up in a small town that was getting just a little too big.  There were many elementary schools, but only one junior high school and one high school.  At the exact year I was promoted, a new, smaller junior high school was opened up just a few blocks away from my house.  The school would be small, only taking on a couple hundred students, with its only real goal being to minimize the overcrowding that was occurring at the main Junior High.  Of those couple hundred students, only me and two other people from my class went to the new school.  Those two people were part of the group that had ignored me and never saw any reason to taunt me or be nice to me either.
So, I went to a new school full of people who had never met me before.  It was a school full of people who had no idea what a loser I had been or what a loser I thought I was.
I did not know this of course.  I just continued to do things the way I normally did them.  I ignored people, said what I thought without fear, and never even flinched at any insult that was ever directed my way.
I was instantly popular.
To the women, they thought I was playing hard to get.  In the first few days at school, the hottest girl there revealed she had a crush on me.  Another girl even wrote my name on her ankle in pen.  Groups of girls would ask me to come eat with them and giggle when I did.
For the men, I was a beacon of confidence and a chick-magnet.  I didn't care what anyone thought about me and I was dating the hottest girl in school.  When in class, I actually had to decide where to sit because several people wanted me to sit by them.
It was so strange and odd, and I didn't understand a single thing that was going on.  This flare of popularity was not to last though, especially when my first-ever girlfriend quickly discovered I was not the Mr. Cool she thought I was.  She dumped me in three days, and it only took a few weeks for mostly everyone to figure out I was not a stud at all; I was just a guy who didn't say a whole lot.
So, my popularity dwindled quickly until I was just a normal, average, everyday guy who went to school, did his homework, and went home at the end of the day.
I loved it.  I loved it so much.
People still tried to harass me of course, but their attempts were short lived and very unsuccessful.  My "ignore" method was damn near bullet proof by now and not a single bully stood a chance.  One of the best examples of this is one of my favorite stories to tell.
I was sitting in gym class one day, just minding my own business like I did every day, leaning up against a wall.  One my classmates, a short guy who had two very large friends, had his eye on me from across the gym.  He and his two friends walked very calmly towards me with huge grins on their faces.
Now, I knew this guy.  I'd seen him, and his friends, taunt and tease others throughout the day.  So, when he came walking toward me, I had a feeling it wasn't to ask me about the weather.
He walked all the way up to me, got in my face with his huge grin, chest puffed out and stomach sucked in.  He had just recently learned something about me that he thought was very embarrassing and he just couldn't wait to tease me about it.
I waited, calm and unmoving, looking at him with a bored expression.
He smiled at me, looked at his two big friends who grinned back, and then pointed an accusing finger at me.
"You're a Boy Scout!" he yelled, making sure his voice was loud enough for all to hear.
I never looked away from him and replied, "Yes."
It was a quick, affirmative "yes."  Not a moment of hesitation, not an ounce of regret or shame, and all without the slightest twitch of any muscle.  I continued to look straight at him with a bored expression.
The bully paused.  I could see it on his face: confusion.  He'd just exposed me, he thought.  In his mind, he had just insulted me, but yet here I was, completely unmoved.
With a look of bewilderment on his face, he quickly tried to gather himself up and assault me again.
"But, you're a Boy Scout," he said again.
"Yes," I nodded.  "Yes I am."
I responded to his question as if he had asked me, "is the grass green?"  I was so completely neutral, neither attempting to defend my stance nor attack his, that he had absolutely nothing to fuel his fire.
He looked at me with still yet more confusion, opened his mouth to try to say something, but then thought better and closed it.  I was a wall of calm with an unbreakable core.  I was not embarrassed, angry, or shy.  My reaction made it seem like he hadn’t even tried to insult me at all, merely asked me what time of the day it was.
He only sighed in frustration when he realized all of this and walked off with his two ogre-like friends in tow.
I smiled when he left.
That's it? I thought.  Was that really his best shot?  I laughed about it later.  He would have to insult me constantly for months and months, maybe years, in order to get anything, anything at all, out of me.  No one stood a chance, I realized.
I was invincible!
I loved those two years at junior high school.  I was given the chance to reinvent myself, to break off the shackles of oppressions and experience freedom once again.  It's true what they say.  Everyone deserves a fresh start, and it was exactly what I needed.  Even though I still hated myself, deep down, I had at least finally found a way to beat bullies.  I could finally begin to live … almost.

Chapter 8
Realizing That I Hated Myself

Now, you’d think that after those years at junior high school, I would have figured out that there was nothing wrong with me.  But, that wasn’t the case.  I actually, literally, decided to owe my popularity to a new hair style.  Just before I went to junior high school, I started spiking my hair, and I thought that was why everyone liked me.
So, when I graduated to high school, I was not shocked when I was bullied all over again.  It was actually in high school where I found true bullying.  I can understand why suicide is a leading cause of death among teenagers.  While children are mean, young adults can be downright evil.
Had I not been quick to diffuse and avoid bullies in high school, I might very well have been the target of physical bullying.  I was not an appealing target though, thanks to my almost completely neutral reaction to any insult thrown my way.  Even still, there were a few times when I had to run home quickly or with a friend, in order to avoid conflict with others.
When situations like this came up, it also helped when I threatened to tell the teachers and principal.  Most kids think that doing this will make them a "snitch" or make them appear weak.  I must say that it honestly does not matter.  I would rather appear weak by threatening to call authorities than appear weak when I'm getting beat-up.  The first option, at least, doesn't hurt or require healing time.
It was tough to ignore some of the insults I received at high school.  As bullies age, they learn how better to twist the knife.  But, even though I had to bite my lip a few times, I still maintained enough strength to walk out of a locker room as everyone laughed at me.
I sort of brought it on myself, unfortunately.  Up until this event, I had been just some random guy who came in, ran his laps at P.E. class and then went about his day.  At some point, some of the bullies in the school thought it was funny to throw heavy garbage cans over the top of the lockers so that they would fall on top of someone's head.  It was dangerous and, as expected, some people were hit.
One day, it was me who was hit.
The trashcan came over the top of the locker and landed right on my head.  I yelled in anger and screamed out a swear word.  The whole locker room went quite as they saw this normally very quiet kid burst into sudden rage.
"What are you going to do now?" one of the bullies asked.
"Now," I replied, slinging my backpack over my shoulder. "I'm going to leave."
The whole locker room erupted into laughter.  The bullies shed tears they were laughing so hard and pointed fingers as I walked, calmly with my head held high, out of the door.
To be honest, I probably would have laughed too.  The response I gave was definitely unexpected and could prove humorous to just about anyone.  It did hurt a bit, almost reminding me of elementary school, to have an entire locker room in a chorus of laughter, but I remained calm.
The next day, I changed clothes away from the lockers.  As expected, a trashcan came over the side where I normally changed, though it hit nothing but air.  As I walked out of the locker room that day, and for several days to come, some shouted "I’m going to leave!" in a whining, mocking voice.
I ignored it, and the taunts died out within a week.  Only one guy tried to keep it going, but without a reaction from me, the joke got old quickly.  He would have to find another victim.
Interestingly enough, I overheard a very strange comment one day when I walked out of the locker room.  Two guys, people I'd never met, were talking about me.
"That's the guy who was hit with the trashcan," one said.
"Yeah?" his friend replied.
"Yeah, and he just walked out, everyone laughing,” the first one said.  “He didn't even care; I was like daammnn."
"Shit, I don't think I could do that," his friend agreed.
The conversion they shared blew me away.  They were actually revering my actions.  I was being admired.
I didn't say anything to those two people, though I would remember their conversation forever.  I realized then that my level of confidence in the face of insults was an uncommon thing.  I started noticing all the people around me who got angry so quickly at things I thought were trivial.  They were being silly, I thought.  The way I reacted was a much better way.
As I made that connection, I did something that I had never done before in my entire life.
I gave myself a complement.

* * *

It's a long process to learn to hate one's self, and it is an even longer process to undo the damage done.  It is not easy either, and requires great effort and good friends.
And that’s just the effort to cure it; it’s even harder to detect.  I might have missed it altogether if it had not been for two very similar events.
When I entered high school, I made friends with the drug addicts.  It wasn’t for the drugs, because that was against my sworn rules.  I made friends with them because they would be friends with anyone.  They were too stoned to care that I was a social outcast, and I never felt like they lied to me.  Also, when around them, I felt better about my own life.  I watched as their drug filled lives caused massive dramas and dysfunctional families, and I could smile, knowing that I had chosen the right path.  It helped me realize that I didn’t have it so bad.
But, mainly, I hung around them to be accepted.  They didn’t care that I didn’t do drugs (more for them), that I got good grades, that I couldn’t tell a joke, or that I never said anything.  They didn’t bully me, and that was all I ever wanted.
I never counted them as real “friends” either.  They were more like people I knew at school, and this was how I thought they viewed me too.  That was until one strange morning.
I just started to hang out with this group, and only spoke to two of the ten or more that migrated in and out.  I was not a social butterfly yet, so I just watched and observed like I always did.  I was, and still am, on the constant look-out for admirable traits that I would like to have.  Although I didn’t see anything worth noting in most of them, there was one man who sparked my curiosity.
He was a very social person, loud, animated, and very “hands on.”  He would be so “hands on” that he would openly grab women (those in the group) by their breasts or roughly smack them on the ass.  The women would laugh, apparently loving it, and even their boyfriends would laugh too.
Had he been homosexual, that might have explained it, but he wasn’t.  I was amazed.  This guy here was so trusted by all the others that they were completely unmoved by these openly sexual comments and grabs.
Now, I did not envy him.  I had no desire to grab the breasts of multiple women (the idea scared me as a freshmen; I still hadn’t dated any one girl for more than a month), but there could be no denying the great deal of social status he was given in the group.  Everyone was vying for his attention.
So, you can imagine my shock when one day, he approached me.  I was walking to class, not even interacting with the group, just trying to mind my own business, when this guy literally shouted my name.
“Travis!” he yelled.
I looked over to see him surrounded by women, as per normal, and jumping up and down waving at me.
“Travis!” he yelled.
What the hell is he doing? I thought.  Didn’t he know that his reputation would be ruined if anyone even thought that the two of us might be friends?
I didn’t stop walking, and so this guy had to run to catch up to me.  I looked at him, stunned and completely baffled as he asked me how my day was, and many other questions that most people would think of as normal conversation.
For me, this was unheard of.  All my replies were short, blunt, and I couldn’t even muster up to ask him any normal questions in return.  All the way to class, all I could think about was how crazy this guy was to commit social suicide by being seen with me.
This is how damaging bullying can be.  Victims will actually believe that they are saving others by not being around them.
That event stuck out as strange to me for years to come, and I would not figure out what had happened until I was almost 21 years old, nearly 7 years later.
I had graduated from high school and moved on to a state university.  I had acquired another friend by now, a man my age named Frank.  The two of us shared a dorm room during my first year there and, naturally, Frank introduced me to his friends.  I ate with them at lunch time, went to parties with them, and generally had a good time with them.
By this time, I had figured out how to engage in normal conversation.  I had experience with humor, and had developed the “confidence aura” that I envied in William.  So, I blended in well with others.  At lunch and at parties, I told jokes, joined in the conversations, and shared my opinions on topics.  I was, by all regards, just as normal as anyone else.
But still, even as the others hung out with me, I did not truly believe they liked me.  Subconsciously, I still thought I was a person people did not like by default.  So, when I was walking to class one day, I was shocked when one of Frank’s friends, a man named Jared, shouted my name.
“Travis!” he yelled.
I looked up from the ground, completely confused.
“Travis!” Jared yelled.
My eyes swept around until I saw him, across the way, waving his arm in the air and yelling at me.
What the hell is he doing? I thought.  I just stared at him with a surprised look for a few moments, frozen in place.  He waved at me one more time and I finally got a hold of myself and waved back, though it was a faint wave.
I instantly remembered an event very similar to this, 7 years earlier, and I had a very peculiar thought.
Why was I surprised when people called my name?  I thought about most normal people, how they reacted when others waved at them, and I realized that me being surprised was not normal.  People shouldn’t be shocked when others wave at them.
What was wrong with me?
I walked to class, thinking about it intently.  It was so difficult for me to realize the problem that I didn’t solve this puzzle until I left class.
It occurred to me that, I was surprised because, by him waving at me, it meant that he actually liked who I was.  Jared had actually wanted me to notice him.
Now, wait a second, I thought.  Was why I surprised that he liked me?  Why would I automatically assume that Jared didn’t like me…
And then it hit me.  It hit me like a flood.  It all made sense now.  I hated me.  I thought everyone hated me.  Even Frank, even Frank, I thought wasn’t truly my friend because he seemed to like me.  And, anyone who seemed to like me must not know me, because if they knew me, they would not like me, so I didn’t think Frank was a true friend because he liked me and that meant he didn’t know me, because if he knew, he would not like me … and round and round my circular logic went.
I examined my subconscious and made the startling realization that I thought nearly everyone I had ever met did not actually want me around.
The first person I told about this was my girlfriend at the time, Jennifer.  I explained to her what I had realized and asked if I was wrong.  Did people really actually like me?  She told me they did, but I did not believe her.  She was one of the very few that had penetrated my icy heart, so I could not trust her to know the cold me.  No, I would have to ask someone on the outside.  Someone I thought was only pretending to be my friend.
I waited for Frank, patiently.
When he did finally return to the dorm room, I quickly interrogated him.  I told him what I had realized and then demanded he be honest with me: did he truly consider me a friend, or did he just tolerate me?  He said we were friends.  I asked for specific examples, particular attributes about me that he liked, just to be sure he wasn’t making this up on the spot.
Poor Frank; he did not deserve to be hounded in such a way.  But, he was a champ (or a true friend), and he stuck it out as I melted down.
I questioned him about his friends next, and I saw a surprised look on his face when I told him I only thought they were hanging out with me because I tagged along with him.  He took great care to inform me about how wrong I was, and then he issued a challenge to me.
He told me, “Call them.  Ask them to hang out.”
I blinked a few times when he said that.  Admittedly, I was scared to accept his challenge.  But, he was right.  The truth had to be known.
I held him in the room like a hostage as I dialed one of his friend’s numbers.  The friend answered.  I asked him if he wanted to hang out.  He said sure and told me to come over.  I made it clear that Frank was not with me and wouldn’t be coming.
He said, “Uuuhhh, ok, whatever.  Just come over.”
I hung up the phone.  Frank asked me what happened.  I told him, reeling in shock, that they had invited me over.  Frank smiled and patted me on the back.
“I told you so,” he said.
So I left to hang out with Frank’s friends.
No.  I went to hang out with my friends.

Chapter 9
Reaping the Rewards

That moment with Frank in that dorm room was when I finally kicked the last cold, grasping clutches of bullying into the grave.  It had taken me nearly fourteen years from the time of my almost-suicide, but I had done it.  I had climbed an impossible mountain and never saw the top until I was standing on it.  At 21 years-old, I could look out on the horizon and see a whole world in front of me, one I never would have known if I had killed myself at 8 years old.  It was even more obvious how right I was to keep living when I turned around and looked at all I had accomplished.
I had never done drugs.  Thanks to my steadfast determination, I had avoided the plague of addiction that ruins the lives of countless people.  Had it not been for that decision in my life, I likely would have tried drugs.  I would have turned to them for happiness, or tried them out of rebellion.  In return, I would have received years of physical oppression that would drain my life of money, good times, and the will to achieve anything beyond sobriety.
I had grown incredibly thick skin.  I could not be provoked to anger easily, or bullied, or otherwise harassed.  I had conquered that part of my life thoroughly, passionately, and beyond doubt.  I had survived a blight of sadness so dark that death seemed the only logical action.  From that point on, the wonders of life were tasted with a sweet tongue that enjoyed the simple things in life.  I can be mesmerized by the sunset, captured by a mountain, or be moved by simple words.  Every moment in my life is something to cherish now, and I feel more alive than I have ever been before.
I know true friendship.  I have seen the lies in others, can see the fickleness of a fake, and I know how to be a true friend.  I do not count my friends lightly, though I can tell you that I have more now than I ever thought I would.  They are good friends, and I do not treat them with the neglect I see others do.  The value of friendship is something I am aware of.
I have become the man I always wanted to be.  I sometimes laugh and wish I could go back in time to show my poor, neglected, childhood-self that all his efforts will not be wasted.  I am amazed at how well I engineered my own personality at such a young age.  I am an immaculate product of careful design, even with all of my flaws.  Although I will never be perfect, I am still living proof that people have the power to change who they are.  These are the traits I wanted, and these are the traits I have acquired.
I am a planner.  After having seen all my plans come successfully to fruition, I know now the magnitude of force that a plan can provide.  Given proper research, I feel there is nothing I can’t accomplish with time.  I have set new goals for myself; bold and daring ones that I mean to accomplish.  And every time I do succeed, I push the bar even higher, so that I may grow to reach it.
I am observant.  I look into the future, pay attention to detail, and avoid the short-sighted mistakes that many people seem to make.  I work tirelessly to free myself from vices that hold me back and try to be constantly aware of my own shortcomings.  I need to be aware of them, you see, so that I may fix them.
But most of all, beyond anything else I have ever done, I want you to know this.
I am happy, truly happy.
I started feeling the first dredges of happiness when people began sticking up for me in elementary school.  But, they were nothing but slight trickles; just enough for me to notice them, but not feel their warmth.  I followed them though, drew myself a map, marked the traps, avoided the enemies, made allies, and I dug up the source.  I found my own way in life, and I can tell you now that the end is worth it.  Even the journey itself is worth it, if only to taste the waters of a happy, content life.  After a pitiless beginning, your chances of success are much, much higher than anyone else, for only the humble beginner can see the leaves change color.

* * *

I wrote this book because I wanted to help others.  A lot of pain is dealt to those who are victims of bullying (trust me, I know) and the success rate of those who survive the trouble is unknown.  Often, at times, victims feel they are the only ones suffering, or that the problem is them.  This can become so overbearing sometimes that it blocks out the future of what could be, of what might be.
No one ever told me it would get better when I was kid.  I had to find that out on my own.  Perhaps, maybe, if someone could have shown me how they beat bullying or warned me of what was to come, I could have beaten it sooner.  This is what I hope to do for you.
If I have failed you, then the regret is all mine.  You have my deepest sympathy, and I cannot explain to you in words the amount of guilt I will feel if you let the bullies win and take your own life.  I will tell those who loved you that I am sorry, and that I should have tried harder.  They will cry, they will be angry, and there will be no way to cure their sadness, because there will be no way to bring back their friend, their son or their daughter.
If I have done my duty, then the bullied victim who picks up this book will go on living as I did, will find happiness as I did, and turn around to show others the way.  Hopefully, they will be better prepared than I was too.  I want this book to serve as a compass that can point the way toward a better life.  I have made no effort to shroud the path though; it will be a long and lonely journey.  But, I can only hope that I have showed you that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The choice is yours.  Choose your destiny.  Plan your future.
And, whatever you do, do not give up.