I was in 6th grade when this kid, Derek moved to our school.
He was scrawny with buck teeth. He was smaller than most and had random outbursts. He was made fun of a lot because he was so different from the rest of the kids and didn’t fit in with those who had been attending the school since first grade.
He sat alone most days at lunch, which was hard in our small cafeteria. He would get mad a lot and throw things. Derek always tried to get away with things at lunch, like throwing applesauce up on the ceiling. One lunch period, I remember him getting mad and throwing a frozen hot pocket across the room. He always brought hot pockets when he didn’t get hot lunch.
I was lucky enough to be put in a seat arrangement with him and my friends Alex and Jessica. It was hard to focus because Derek was so antsy. Our teacher had a lot of patience. He would just put Derek out in the hallway or send him to the principal’s office to cool down. Derek was a little slower than the rest of us, so it took him longer to catch on to things like spelling and math. But he was one funny kid. And he loved Bob Vila. One day, he tripped on the way to sharpen his pencil and fell into the garbage can. I reply that memory in my mind sometimes and wonder how that exactly happened. I’m still not sure if it was an accident or he did it on purpose, but there he was head in the bottom, feet sticking out of the garbage can and the class laughing.
By 7th grade, we were used to Derek’s antics and he had explained in a chapel that he had OCD plus some other things. It all made sense. Around that time the song, Hero by Superchic[k] came out. The song goes through three separate lives and how they’ve been bullied or treated badly because they were different. The song challenges its listeners to be the hero and stick up for these people and to befriend them.
The song inspired me.
I don’t know what happened, but I found myself sitting with Derek at lunch and becoming his friend. This was one of my earliest memories of being a catalyst to changing someone’s life. All it took was saying hi in the hallway and moved to hanging out at lunch time. I got to know more of who Derek was and it wasn’t that hard.
I was made fun of at first and when that didn’t affect me, the other kids began being nice to him. I understood that being different wasn’t a cause for being treated the way he was.
I lost contact with Derek after I moved schools for high school. Mind you, this was before I had my own cell phone and Facebook hadn’t even been popular. Doubt I was allowed to have MySpace. But I wonder how his life turned out.
I hadn’t thought about that in a long time, but the song reminded me of it.
Bullying is something that happens at any stage of life. It’s easier now too with social media. People are dying because no one is willing to take that step and showing kindness. People are taking their own lives and crying for help, but no one hears them because we’re all so focused on what’s going on in our own lives.
Close your eyes. Take a second. Breathe.
Everyone has secrets. Myself included. We all hide behind something. Too afraid to show each other who we really are. Damage has been done in the past. Words angrily said in the heat of the moment that can never be taken back, yet these words are something that someone can hold on to for life. We all have our stuff that we’re dealing with behind our smiles. I promise you. But please remember that.
The time we have now is precious. We have been given this time in our lives to change those around us. And all it takes is a hello. Don’t over think how you can change the world. Just be. You. But don’t wait until tomorrow. Do it today. It only takes one.
I am a hero.
You can be a hero too.