I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a little — OK, downright — embarrassing for me to have gone the last five years without once ever talking to you. It had been a state of indefinable limbo, of daily face-to-face run-ins and silent recognition, but no verbal acknowledgement. Absolutely not.
When I first saw you all these years ago, I thought you looked like Zac Efron. Don’t ask me why — I think it was something about your hair. As soon as I told my disbelieving friends, however, they stared at me, horrified. They then immediately proceeded to slap my head –—lightly — and to tell me to get a grip on myself.
I remember once walking into homeroom to find you sitting all alone in a sea of empty chairs. You had your head bent fixedly over your notebook, pretending that nothing out of the ordinary was going on, but your face was heated and red, and the truth was that no one had wanted to go within a five chair radius of you. I tried my best to pretend like I knew nothing of what was happening and took a chair two seats away from you, but my ever-concerned friends immediately dragged me far away.
And me? I did nothing. I said nothing. I allowed myself be led away, passive and unresisting. And after that day, I don’t think I’ve ever sat near you again.
It broke my heart then, and it breaks my heart all over again now to think of the torment our grade had put you through and the pain you must have suffered every day at our hands. My classmates, my executioners.
Were you there, all those times when our teachers repeatedly told us, over and over, that they had never yet encountered a grade as tight-knit as ours? Or so caring and kind? So accepting and understanding?
Our grade was cruel. The girls gossiped about you without even having the decency of whispering behind your back. No, they waved around their scathing opinions like Independence Day flags. They paraded and marched and flaunted every biting remark. Oh, they made sure you saw and they made sure you knew. And you silently took it all.
The boys, discontent with simply marching in the parade of flags and rampant rumors, decided to take things up a notch. When the dust cleared, they said you just sat there in the unsettled sand, silent and dazed, blood quietly seeping out of your nose and tears forcing a trail out of your rapidly swelling eyes.
This sounds like the plot line of a bad high school movie. But the truth is that this really did happen. And I think it's time to stop pretending like it never did.
Our cruelty went on relentlessly, endlessly. If we weren’t pushing you around, then we were pushing out rumors. And if we weren’t pushing out rumors, then we were pushing out ignorance. Nonchalance. Pretenses at innocence.
It was fake. All of it. Of course, we knew exactly what was happening. How could we not? But we chose to be deaf and blind to what was happening before us every single day.
I think the ones who stayed quiet, the ones who knew what was happening, the ones who knew how wrong it was, how horribly, terribly wrong, yet still chose to do absolutely nothing — I think those were the worst ones of all.
I was one of the worst ones of all.
I watched, silent and indifferent, as the years and months and weeks went agonizingly by. I watched, mute and uncaring, as you slowly began to withdraw, as you slowly became quieter and quieter, until finally, one day, on the day of our graduation, I could barely even recognize you as the boy I first saw all these years ago.
I wonder who you could have become if our grade had simply let you be. I wonder what would have happened if one girl had had the courage to sit beside you, to offer you a smile and a kind word — to be your friend.
Had we been the executioners of the person you could have been?
What I really want to say is this: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for allowing myself to be so passively led away and for never sitting anywhere near you again. I’m sorry for never standing up for you. I’m sorry for being a bystander to your pain and never having the courage to do anything about it. There were so many things I could have done and should have done, and I don't know why I never did. I’m sorry.
I heard that you want to stay close to home next year and that you’re going to our local university in the fall. I hope you can learn to begin anew this September. I hope you can put away your memories of high school in some dark place behind you and push past it into a bright college future. I hope you can meet friends who will have the courage to stand up for you. And I hope you can finally become the person you were meant to become.
Most of all, I hope you can one day find it in your heart to forgive us.
I wish you all the best.
Lead Image Credit: Green Chameleon via Unsplash