I had a dream some years ago.
I walked up the hillside road beside our house in the early morning light, before the sun had risen. The stones and dust were still cold with night. At the top stood the schoolyard where I spent my formative years – 1969-1977 – and the little tile-roofed building with its classrooms smelling of floor wax and chalkboard dust and some indefinable astringency which I associated with adult rules and regulations.
Through the gray light, I saw sitting on the stone wall that bordered the grassy area a young boy, his face turned away from me. I approached him and realized that he was looking down the hill, to the house below the dirt road and half cloaked by an elderly oak tree. I knew that tree because it was the place to which I had often retreated to escape the unhappy world on the ground. And I knew the boy, because when he turned to look at me, I saw that he was me.
I remember the shock of recognition and then the stab of some pain the location of which I could not define, except to say it seemed to pierce my heart completely through. And I remember the anger, because with the recognition came a flood of memories of what this child endured each day in that school yard. I looked in his little face and saw all the times he was called names, was threatened, was singled out as being different, weird, the proverbial square peg. And I looked down the years as he progressed through school. I saw few friends. I saw him become withdrawn, saw him learn the tactics of evasion and escape, saw him devise ways to miss school so that for at least one blessed day he could be at home among his books, his music, his pets, and the security of knowing that who he was would not be called into question there. And I saw darker times, when the boy was sleepless, weeping, unable to tell his parents about the abuse, unable to imagine living life if this was what it amounted to. I knew he had thought not once but many times of a way out—thought of his father’s gun, of the pills in the medicine cabinet, of sharp knives in the kitchen. He shuddered at the pain he knew this could cause himself and others. But he also envisioned an existence which, bought with that pain, would free him from it at last.
I remember how, in this dream, I knelt and held the hand of the boy who was me. Why did no adult at his school ever reach out this way and ask him what was wrong? Why, when it was clear that bullying was making his life hell, was threatening not just his education but his sanity, was he left to deal with it all on his own, or his testimony doubted by school officials when he finally erupted with the truth? A child whose agonies are not taken seriously begins to doubt his own existence, and thus begins to lose a sense that he is really alive. Snipping the thread connecting him to life becomes an incredibly easy solution. This boy came close to doing so.
As I held the boy’s hand, I told him what the world is now hearing, from many survivors of the same torture on similar schoolyards in similar towns small and large: it will get better. In fact it will get so much better than you can comprehend. You will finally get out of the prison of bullying. You will meet a man you love, who loves you, and live with him in a beautiful place surrounded by water, where sailboats heave on gilded tides and blue skies stretch into infinity. Where you have your music and your books, and where you write books yourself. Where love is around every corner. What could be better than that?
Little one, this is your homework for life. Study for the test of survival, the passing grade of which is a lifetime of creativity and of love. Memorize the most important words you will ever need to know. It does get better. And it will.