Sunday, September 04, 2016

Holy Angel

Daniel Fitzpatrick and I had a lot in common.

We both went to the same grammar school, which was called Our Lady of Angels in my day, but is now called Holy Angels Catholic Academy.

And we were both bullied in the seventh grade. The only difference is that I made it out of grammar school alive while Daniel didn’t.

Daniel Fitzpatrick hanged himself last month inside his family’s Staten Island home. His 17-year-old sister found him in the attic with a belt wrapped around his neck.

In a letter documenting his abuse, Daniel said that he was bullied by a group of five boys at the school.

“They did it constantly,” he wrote. “I ended up fighting (one boy) and got a fractured pinkie…I wanted to get out. I begged and pleaded.”

Reading about Daniel’s experiences brought back some ugly memories of my time in Catholic school, which was pretty much a nightmare from beginning to end.

My seventh year was particularly rough as there was this one fat bastard in my class who took an instant dislike to me for reasons I never did understand.

There was always some insult every time I came into class. Maybe he took his self-loathing out on me or maybe he had been bullied because of his weight and he was paying the misery forward.

But to be brutally honest I really don’t give a shit about him or his problems. All I know is that he made my life a living hell.

This was the year I started getting sick, where I would come home from school, collapse in my bed and sleep for hours.

The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and they finally decided to put me in Lutheran Medical Center for 10 days so they could do all sorts of tests under one roof.

Looking back, I realize how frightened my parents must’ve been since my symptoms matched up with a lot of serious diseases.

The children’s ward was a cesspool back then with peeling images of Mickey Mouse and other cartoon characters on the wall and my parents had the hospital put me in a room with three men who seemed ancient to me at the time, though they were probably younger than I am today.

No Exit

In the end the doctors decided I was suffering from what was then called growing pains and I was discharged from the hospital on the first Earth Day, April 22 1970.

But now I have to wonder if my sickness was in any way related to the relentless bullying I had to endure.

I might have been legitimately ill, but then maybe my subconscious mind was making me sick so I wouldn’t have to go to school and face the fat bastard. It’s hard to say.

I’d like to tell you that I had stood up to the bully; that I met up with him after school, beat the living crap out of him and taught him a lesson he would never forget--just like the movies.

But that didn’t happen. I just took all his shit and quite possibly made myself sick.

Daniel Fitzpatrick fought with one of his tormentors and all he got for his trouble was a broken pinkie. And the bullying continued.

And unlike me, he reported his abuse, though his family maintains the school did nothing about it. A spokeswoman for the Brooklyn/Queens Diocese told the New York Daily News that “we take the issue of bullying very seriously and address every incident that is brought to our attention.”

I didn’t tell anyone, even though my father asked me at one point if someone at school was picking on me.

But I said no because I was ashamed and I didn’t want to be called a squealer, or a faggot, or a pussy, or any of those other colorful terms that kids use.

I eventually got through 7th grade and by the next year the fat bastard had lost interest in me.

I try to forgive my tormenter for my own good, but I confess there’s a black corner of my heart that hopes—even after all this time—that someone put him through the same kind of grief that he inflicted upon me.

I’m horrified that someone as young as Daniel was driven to kill himself. But in a child’s mind there is no future, everything is right now and it’s nearly impossible to believe things will ever get better.

I’ve had personal experience with suicidal thoughts and I know that once the self-destruct countdown begins it’s very difficult to abort. You shut off all rational arguments and possibilities as you fixate on ending all your suffering.

I wish I could’ve met Daniel. I would’ve told him to hold on, that childhood may seem long, but it’s really so incredibly brief, and that there are so many good things to be experienced in this life.

I would’ve told him that there are more good people than bad people and that those who loved him are far more important than those few classmates who were talking trash about him.

I never knew Daniel Fitzpatrick but I know the world is a darker place without him. Rest in peace.


Ron said...

Rob, this post broke my heart. I also clicked over to the link you share and watched the video clip. sad.

I too was bullied in school. In fact, I was bullied every single year while in school until I got to 12th grade. That was the only year I had peace.

In all honesty, I don't know how I ever got through those 11 years of my life. Like you, I never told my parents what I was going through, nor did I ever complain to the school principle or teachers because I thought it would only make matters worse. Back then (especially in Catholic school) you were afraid to complain.

Thank you for sharing this because in doing so, it will bring conscious awareness to others going through the same thing - both the bully and those being bullied.

Rest in peace, Daniel.

Rob K said...

Oh, Ron, I am so terribly sorry to learn of this terrible abuse you suffered for all that time.

Yes, we were afraid to complain back then because it would've made things worse. But it's important to get all this out in the open now to free ourselves from this burden and to maybe help the ones coming up behind us.

You take care of yourself, buddy, and, as always, thank you for your support!

Jay said...

Such a terrible tragedy. I'm so sorry .. for you, and for Daniel.

I too was bullied at school, and like you, I didn't tell anyone. Also like you, my tormentor was fat. At one point, a teacher asked me if there was anything wrong, anything I'd like to talk to her about, and I said no, because, like you, I didn't want to be a snitch and I felt ashamed. And also because my brother was also being bullied at his school and I didn't want to worry my parents when they were already worried about him. He had it worse than I did, because I only suffered mental torturing (name calling, and being told I smelled and then having bars of soap left in my desk and so on) whereas he was physically bullied and often came home with bruises and cuts. A classmate of mine had a brother who hanged himself because of bullying - and guess what? Her brother went to the same school as mine. She, poor girl, was a mess - she was only twelve at the time, and used to wet herself in the classroom as a result. Thank God that nobody bullied her because of it. I'd like to say the bullying stopped after that, but I can't.

Such misery is caused by bullying. The schools ALL say that they take it seriously and deal with any incidents, but they don't, and they can't.

Bijoux said...

What a sad story, but it's becoming more common. What angers me most is that the school/teachers do nothing, even after it's reported. They are even more guilty of his death than the bully. They are the adults.

I was similarly angered this week by a news item that kept popping up on my fb feed. It was a photo of a college football player eating lunch at a school with a kid who had autism. This kid sits by himself every day, ignored by the entire cafeteria. While it was nice that the football player happened to be at that school that day and noticed, where the hell are the teachers and cafeteria workers? Why had no adult stepped in and remedied the situation? Just pisses me off!

Rob K said...

I saw that story, too, Bijoux, and you make an excellent point. Why was this kid left to sit by himself all day?

I don't understand how a school administration could let bullying complaints go without investigating them. Lack of action is bound to lead to tragedy.

And today, of course, we have cyber-bullying as well, which, of course, was unheard-of in my day.

Rob K said...

@Jay--I am so sorry for the way you and your brother suffered. What a terrible time for you and your family.

And that story about your classmate's brother is absolutely heartbreaking.

I wish I knew what could be done about this. There seems to be a lot of discussion about bullying--compared with virtually none in my day--and yet these terrible incidents keep happening.

Take care of yourself!