Bullying and me;

By John H. Cross Jr. | Mar 08, 2018

I grew up in Rockland during the '70s and '80s. I attended South School, Rockland District Junior High School and graduated from Rockland District High School in 1989, nearly 30 years ago.

My family loved me. My parents were hardworking providers. We had a nice house in a decent neighborhood. I experienced riding my bike in the street, walking to school by myself, playing kickball and Wiffle ball in my yard and having disputes and making amends with neighborhood friends. During my childhood I could walk down Main Street or across town for a youth group event at church. I lived in a world where fear did not dominate my every waking hour ... at least that's how it appeared to the world around me.

I had experienced what could be considered normal childhood bullying in elementary school and junior high. Though I was big enough to fend for myself, I did not like confrontation or fighting. It scared me and I really didn't know how to effectively defend myself against it. As the years went on, I came to accept that it was what it was.

My freshman year of high school started off great. New school, new friends and a fresh start, but it didn't last long. At age 14, on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 1985, my life changed forever.

We had marching band practice at the football field to prepare for the upcoming football season. While on the bus back to school and following, I underwent one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. One of the older students was teasing me and about to sit down next to me when another student shouted, “Don't sit with him, he's a queer!”

The student doing the teasing jumped up and reacted in such a way that he managed to get the entire bus, or so it seemed, laughing at me.

When we returned to the high school auditorium, I was putting my trombone away when, out of nowhere, the student who had teased me on the bus kicked me in the middle of my back so hard I crashed into chairs, music stands and to the floor. No one stepped in to defend me. No one challenged his behavior. No one stopped him. That experience, combined with other incidents up to this point, was the moment I decided my life was not worth living. The decision was made to take my own life ... that day ... putting an end to the pain and suffering.

I was in a fog riding home on the bus. I couldn't speak to anyone, wouldn't tell anyone what had happened. There would be no reasoning, no self-control, no other option. I knew where my father kept his handgun, but, try as I might, I couldn't figure out how to use it. Instead, I ran to the barn, found rope and attempted to hang myself, but failed. I still wanted to die, so I took an overdose of whatever medicine I could find in our house. My suicide attempt was not a plea for attention, it was a direct response to bullying and other abuses that I had experienced. The attempt was real, and I wanted my life to end.

I'd been told to get a haircut that day and, silly as it may seem, I was afraid I would get in trouble for not getting one. I walked to a barbershop on Limerock Street in a daze. I'd been there before and never had to wait more than a few minutes. On this day customers occupied every seat. As I sat there watching the clock tick away, the drugs started to take effect. I was nauseous and scared.

I started to question if I really wanted it to end this way. I walked to the post office next door and called my mom. She immediately came to get me and took me to Pen Bay Medical Center. I was given ipecac syrup to force me to vomit the remaining drugs, as they were at a toxic level in my system.

Once I made the call, it was out of my hands. Many tried to help, including doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, therapists, my guidance counselor, Hank Lunn, my pastor, Dr. J. Wesley Rafter, and youth pastor Tom Davis, my family. My parents had no insurance. Counseling was difficult, because I didn't have the support of my entire family to walk through it with me.

At some point I made an unconscious choice to survive. I made the decision to return to school and get on with things. I continued to experience bullying, but resolved that it was temporary, high school would not last forever.

My senior year I made the decision to go to Central Maine Technical College (now Central Maine Community College) and learn a trade that interested me and would support me. I graduated with honors. I moved to Portland. I got married, had two amazing, strong, talented, intelligent and beautiful daughters. I work hard for everything I have and I'd do nearly anything for those I love. As soon as I learned that I would be a father, I chose to break the cycle of abuse ... starting with me. Ask my kids, they'll tell you I am a pretty great dad.

Life is hard and often hurts, but life also has beauty and joy. Choose to learn from every experience, good or bad. Love is sometimes misplaced, yet it has the ability to heal the deepest wounds. Family is everything and friends are a gift, but faith will carry you through.

You may have noticed the semicolon in the headline. “[A] semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” Since its beginning in 2013, Project Semicolon has gained worldwide attention and support, with the semicolon tattoo spreading in solidarity.

John H. Cross Jr. lives in Warren. He is a designer for Courier Publications.

Comments (7)
Posted by: Gwen D Fraser | Mar 12, 2018 06:34

Research shows that being vulnerable, however scary that may sound, may be the greatest gift you give to yourself and others.

Posted by: Valli Genevieve Geiger | Mar 11, 2018 19:30

John,  Thank you for having the bravery to speak out about your experience of bullying, even after all these years, your story will ring true with the middle school and high school youth who, today, may face similar threats to their safety.  Much of my work is focused on suicide prevention and helping school and healthcare professionals to be better prepared to step in early and often to support kids and to intervene and support kids at risk. Stories like yours also let everyone know that things get better.  Keep spreading the hope,  Greg Marley


Posted by: Ragna Weaver | Mar 09, 2018 18:49

God Bless you.


Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 09, 2018 14:26

You are my HERO! God Bless you.

Posted by: Deborah A McKenney | Mar 09, 2018 08:16

This makes my heart so sad. Thank you for speaking out. If your voice is heard by only one other person and saves them from despair, you have done your job. Bless you for having the courage it took to move on.

Posted by: Penelope Ray | Mar 09, 2018 06:27

Thank you for this amazing story of courage and survival.   You bring attention to the difference just one person can make when you emphasize no one many times in your story.    May we all chose to be one person who can make a difference.  I am sadly aware that grown ups of that era believed in 'letting the kids work it out between themselves" and used that to rationalize their refusal to intervene and help.   We all need to move beyond that shameful belief, stop blaming the victim, and take responsibility for acting kind and compassionate in all ways.   Bless you!   The world is better for your being here - I am glad you chose to survive.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Mar 08, 2018 18:19

Am glad someone had the courage to step forward and share what bullying does to people.  This story is repeated more often than you might think; not always with such a positive outcome.

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