To say that I have always believed that one should stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves would be a lie. More often than not these days people are trampling others to get ahead, and blatantly ignoring people that are in need. Sometimes you do things and you don’t even realize the damage that you are causing to that individual. Those are the times that really jolt you into reality when it does hit you. You then realize that all those “jokes” and all the other things that you do to someone really affect them more deeply than you could imagine.
It was my junior year of high school and I was starting at a new school. Actually everyone was new to the school as it was a vocational school and you couldn’t start the program until you were a junior. At the school I was coming from, I wasn’t the coolest kid in the school, but I also wasn’t an outcast. In this new strange place though, I knew that I wanted to be better accepted and was willing to do whatever it took to be one of the coolest people in the school.
There were around twenty kids taking the same program as I was, and we had all the same classes. They thought that keeping us together would create a special bond and they were partially correct. To this day I am still friends with one of the people from that class; however, it didn’t work exactly as they had planned. There was a kid in the class with the name of Mike Hunt. The poor kid had it rough not only because of his name, but he also weighed about ninety pounds soaking wet, was about six-foot-two, wore glasses, and sounded like Steve Urkel only more nasally. Every one of us started picking on him at the first bell of the first day. We would imitate his voice, knock books out of his hands, and trip him while walking between classes, and the whole time he thought we were just trying to make sure he was one of the guys.
Our junior year went on like this and every day we would find a new way to antagonize him. Then a thought sprung into our minds as spring was breaking through the cold winter. Laughing maniacally, we devised an evil plan but we had to get buy-in from the prettiest girl in the school, Jessica Wilson. We thought it would be really funny to have her ask him to our prom. She agreed and asked him, but to our shock and disbelief he said no. This is when our attacks increased in ferocity. He never gave a reason why he said no, but we didn’t care. We started calling him a homosexual and every other derogatory name of which we could think. The fact that he foiled our plan is what was now fueling this fire. Before it was just fun to pick on him because he didn’t mind so much, but now we were angry and attacking this poor kid because he didn’t fall for our brilliant plan.
Had we realized what our actions were doing to this kid, I am positive that we wouldn’t have continued. With each ruthless verbal assault, he was falling deeper into depression. He went from laughing when we would knock his books out of his hands to almost crying when we would trip him in the hallway. There was a drastic change in this kid. He was already quiet but now seemed almost completely withdrawn. When called upon in class, he would nearly bite the teacher’s head off. Even though we all noticed the difference, we didn’t correlate his behavior change with our actions.
My realization came with just a couple of weeks left in the school year. Mike didn’t show up on that rainy Monday morning, and our class was greeted first thing with a visit from the principal. With sadness in his voice, he informed us that over the weekend Mike had attempted suicide and wouldn’t be returning. He then locked eyes on me for what seemed like an eternity, and then requested four students to follow him to his office. My name was first on the list. Once in his office, he slammed the door shut and asked us how we were feeling. A strange question to ask, I thought, after hearing about what had happened. He didn’t give us time to respond. He picked up a letter that was lying on his desk and began to read. I don’t recall exactly how the letter read, but I do recall that it clearly named my three friends and I as reasons that he couldn’t go on living. After he finished the letter and we were sitting there in silence, he stood up, told us we could leave when we were ready, and left the room. We sat there for at least an hour before anyone moved. Silence has never been louder than it was that day. We didn’t leave that room together. Each of us left one at a time and didn’t interact with each other the rest of the day, and barely spoke the rest of the school year. We didn’t get in trouble, there were not any charges filed, and our parents never found out.
In “A Few Good Men”, there is a scene where two of the lawyers are in a heated argument about why they like or dislike their clients. The question is asked, “why do you hate them so much?” and the answer was “because they picked on a weaker kid.” This scene always takes me back to the principal’s office on that dark rainy day. My realization that day was not “oh, man we almost got in trouble” or “Wow, I can’t believe we got away with this.” My realization in that office as a seventeen-year-old bully was that this kid deserved to be treated better. This kid deserved to be treated with respect. This kid deserved to be treated just like everyone else. It wasn’t his fault he looked different from everyone else. It wasn’t his fault that he sounded like Urkel. He wanted to belong, to fit in, and to just be one of the guys, but we wouldn’t let that happen because we were cooler than him.
That summer, I sought him out and with lots of effort and a lot of apologizing, I forged a friendship with him. We arrived at school on our first day of senior year together and have been almost inseparable since. To this day, we still talk and reminisce about our high school days, but as far as we are concerned, those days started on the first day of our last year. Would we have been friends had we not gone through that controversy? Probably not, but what I learned through that experience is more valuable than almost anything else that I have learned. I do believe, however, that had I done the right thing from the beginning, we could have forged a friendship that would have had a more positive beginning and just as strong a bond. There was no way that this kid could have stood up for himself, and someone should have stood up for him. I can now say with confidence that I believe in standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, because if I don’t, then who will?