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.
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.