Tuesday, December 18, 2012

“He seemed so happy.”

On Dec. 15, 2006 seventeen year old Chad Huggins walked into the McGuffey High School locker room. He took his .22 caliber rifle—standard issue for anyone on the rifle team—with him, and he never came out.

Bullying is all too commonplace, with one study estimating that 1 in 6 children are bullied. Based on the fan mail that I’ve received, many of my readers were bullied themselves, and I’ve made no secret of my bullying experiences. Elementary and middle school spent in a Pentecostal private school with class sizes rarely exceeding 12 is a special kind of hell for the kid that doesn’t fit. High school was a little bit better, but I still had to run the third of a mile from my bus stop to my doorstep on more than one occasion, and I spent countless bus rides pretending the Linkin Park in my headphones was loud enough to drown out the abuse spewing from the backseats.

I made it out though, and I owe a lot of that to jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu helped me to reconcile those memories and empowered me with a sort of self-confidence that was never within reach when I was younger. Jiu-jitsu answered a lot of my internal questions about self-worth and potential, and it gave me a suit of armor that can never be taken away from me.

One of my high school bullies actually ended up at the police academy with one of my instructors. When the bully found out that my instructor knew me, the bully started to laugh and tell stories about how he tormented me on the bus.

My instructor, confused as to why he should find these stories funny, replied, “I don’t know if Marshal is riding school buses any more, but if he is, I wouldn’t mess with him.”

And that’s when I knew I wasn’t the same helpless kid anymore.

Chad, however, didn’t have a suit of armor, and he never got to leave high school behind.

My little brother went to school with Chad and knew him well. They had a lot of classes together and shared the same friends. I got to know Chad even though he was two grades below me because he was one of the regulars at our 16 man all-night Halo sessions. And there, on many occasions, I witnessed just how relentlessly he was picked on. He was the butt of every other joke and the source of endless entertainment for even his closest friends.

When I drove my little brother to Chad’s funeral, the parking lot was full and spilling over into the streets. Inside, swarms of high school girls separated into clusters to comfort each other. The prettiest, most popular girls cried the hardest and the loudest, the same girls that would never give a kid like Chad the time of day. The line for the viewing wrapped around and doubled back over itself three times over. Chad had more friends in death than he ever had in life.

Six years later, I still think about Chad. No one knows for sure why Chad killed himself, but I think about him on long drives and on quiet nights, sometimes with a sense of survivor’s guilt and at times with a sense of duty, like I should be doing everything I can to keep another person like Chad from sinking that deep into despair. I’m sure that Chad has a lot more to teach me, but he gave me one lesson that I’ll never forget: you never know what’s hiding beneath even the biggest smiles, so be nice to everyone.

1 comment:

  1. You are a wonderful man. You have more than once kept me from sinking that far into despair and I am forever grateful that you are in my life.

    Very well written, M.