Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for ... Jeremy

At home
Drawing pictures
Of mountain tops
With him on top...

A school is a microcosm; generally, it is the first sustained experience a child has of social interactions outside the family. School is the environment in which the values and relations developed within the family unit are put on trial in the court of public opinion - the environment in which the sweater your mom finds adorable becomes the reason you get pushed into a puddle when you get off the school bus.

Daddy didn't give attention
To the fact that mommy didn't care
King Jeremy the wicked
Ruled his world...

The phrase "child abuse" conjures vile images of pederasts, kidnappers, warped individuals with a twisted set of values - after all, you'd have to be a monster to want to hurt a child, right? Sadly, ordinary people with nothing more sinister than paint thinner in their cellars can, and do, hurt children all the time. Maybe they get drunk, or transfer aggression at a spouse or a workplace that stifles them; maybe they make themselves feel better by belittling their child; maybe they misunderstand the function of discipline and wear their child down; maybe they just don't take the time to notice, to understand, to hear the cries the child can't express - or those the child has learned to keep inside.

Clearly I remember
Pickin' on the boy
Seemed a harmless little fuck
But we unleashed a lion...

"It builds character," we assure ourselves. "All kids go in for a bit of rough and tumble, it's part of growing up." We remind ourselves that we, too, were picked on - or knew somebody who was. Maybe we're honest enough to remember the kid we ostracized, teased, gossiped about, lied about, laughed at, taunted, made miserable. Maybe we rationalize that it's how children become adults - as though adults stop doing these things to each other whenever they can get away with it. Maybe we feel like what we suffered is invalidated if children today don't suffer it too. "I went through it," we tell ourselves from the safe vantage point of fifteen, twenty, thirty years later, "and I turned out okay." Maybe we feel threatened by our children's pain - maybe that's why we tell them they need to toughen up, take it on the chin, take their lumps, get in the game. Like it's a game. Like they're playing. Like it's not serious.

How could I forget
He hit me with a surprise left
My jaw left hurtin
Dropped wide open...

Of course, some kids know it's not a game - or, if it is, the stakes are impossibly high and the only rule is that the winner is the one who goes furthest. These kids understand that authority is the mask hate wears when it beats you down; that all the rules, the politeness, the please and the thankyou and the can-i-have-another - all of that is part of the fabric that ties you down, the cotton in your mouth when you're trying to scream. These kids know that there is no cavalry over the hill, no light at the end of the tunnel. They know that, if there is a God, all He has for them is themselves. And they work on themselves. They do it in whatever private place they can find - maybe in a bedroom, playing angry music; maybe in a garage, practicing on action figures, on posters, on neighbor's pets; maybe just in the space behind the eyes that won't cry any more, won't give anybody that satisfaction. They work on themselves, and they work themselves up to a sticking place. And they stick there, balanced at the acme of themselves, until something tips the balance, and finally, precipitately, they fall.

Jeremy spoke in class today...

Pearl Jam's controversial song - and video - was inspired, tragically, by a real Jeremy: Jeremy Wade Delle, who shot himself to death in front of his classmates a month before his 17th birthday in 1991. He came to school late that day, and was sent to get an admission slip from the office. Instead of collecting the slip, he brought back a .357 Magnum. His last words were "Miss, I got what I really went for."

One of his classmates, Lisa Moore, recounted how they'd pass notes to one another during in-school suspension. His would always be signed "write back"; just before he found expression for what was inside him, his last note was signed "later days."

It came from a small paragraph in a paper which means you kill yourself and you make a big old sacrifice and try to get your revenge. That all you're gonna end up with is a paragraph in a newspaper. Sixty-three degrees and cloudy in a suburban neighborhood. That's the beginning of the video and that's the same thing is that in the end, it does nothing … nothing changes. The world goes on and you're gone. The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger than those people. And then you can come back. ~ Eddie Vedder


Heather Henry said...

Wow!! So many thoughts going through my mind right now. Great song, great band! It's sad how cruel people can be to each other. I've never really understood it. Even if I was truly angry, I still feel compassion for others. I was picked on a lot in school, it was never my idea of a good time. Living a good life, is a much better way to go.

Lynn said...

I love this post! I've given you an award! You can stop by my blog to pick it up :D

Laurie Peel said...

A powerful and thought provoking post - something I think each and every one of us can relate to.