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Bullycide at ??? High

My High School alma mater has become famous in recent months. Earlier today, the actor from that new show on NBC I can’t be bothered to watch, The Event, Scott Patterson, posted the address, location and phone number of the guidance office of Mentor High School on his Facebook page. It was wrong of him to do that. Posting addresses online is low, and Scott Patterson knows little about the town he refers to.

I lived in Mentor from the time I was seven to the time I was seventeen. It is typical of suburbia across the country in it’s conformity, simplicity and repression. It is a beach front town, located on the shore of Lake Erie, and sometimes my friends and I would go to the Headlands and climb the rocks near a lighthouse, brushing cottonwood seeds off of our clothes from the trees in the parking lot, hopping over dead fish and cigarette butts.

At times Mentor can be not entirely unpleasant. I still have fond memories of some of my teachers. Mr. Wolski, my history teacher from Sophomore year, was a lefty clown (not unlike myiq) and he and I had a running commentary with each other. When I was a junior and passed him in the halls, I would mutter “Mr. Wolski is a loser,” and pretend not to have noticed him when he turned around. Mr. Raiff,  from AP Government, told me I was an anarchist. The Hopkins Airport once had an air show and a few people were photographed protesting the War in Iraq, and he wrote my name above one of the girls carrying the signs. Because of  my old English teacher, Mrs. Stucky I can write a three page research paper in ten minutes or so in perfect MLA format.  I feel privileged to have been taught by them and others. If it hadn’t been for them I wouldn’t be writing this post right now and I would never know my right to search for my own opinion and stand by my convictions, to always learn and never stop, because you can never really know everything.

But those fond memories, I’m sorry to say, pale in comparison to others. Lately, the media seems particularly interested in Mentor’s secret little world of shit. Out of all the schools we’ve heard about where teens have taken there own lives due to “bullycide,” Mentor has been singled out. In Mentor, four suicides have occurred in the past couple of years, and almost all of them were due to bullying. Here’s an article about it from the AP, it gets most of the facts right, and I recommend reading the whole thing:

Eric Mohat was flamboyant and loud and preferred to wear pink most of the time. When he didn’t get the lead soprano part in the choir his freshman year, he was indignant, his mother says.

He wore a stuffed animal strapped to his arm, a lemur named Georges that was given its own seat in class.

“It was a gag,” says Mohat’s father, Bill. “And all the girls would come up to pet his monkey. And in his Spanish class they would write stories about Georges.”

Mohat’s family and friends say he wasn’t gay, but people thought he was.

“They called him fag, homo, queer,” says his mother, Jan. “He told us that.”

Bullies once knocked a pile of books out of his hands on the stairs, saying, “‘Pick up your books, faggot,'” says Dan Hughes, a friend of Eric’s.

Kids would flick him in the head or call him names, says 20-year-old Drew Juratovac, a former student. One time, a boy called Mohat a “homo,” and Juratovac told him to leave Mohat alone.

“I got up and said, ‘Listen, you better leave this kid alone. Just walk away,'” he says. “And I just hit him in the face. And I got suspended for it.”

Eric Mohat shot himself on March 29, 2007, two weeks before a choir trip to Hawaii.

His parents asked the coroner to call it “bullicide.” At Eric’s funeral and after his death, other kids told the Mohats that they had seen the teen relentlessly bullied in math class. The Mohats demanded that police investigate, but no criminal activity was found.

I can’t remember when it was that I first met Eric. But I can say that he started getting bullied even before he went to Mentor High. I recall us first becoming friends because we both were in choir together, and he would sometimes help me with my Algebra homework. He was one of the smartest kids I knew, and one of the most musically talented. I stood next to him once when a druggie in English called him a “faggot.”  I told the guy to knock it off, but a few weeks later another person threw an anti gay slur at him in Choir. “Don’t call him that,” I told the douche bag. I remember exactly who it was, but I won’t say his name, in order to protect his privacy, and also because he really regrets the way he acted now.

Anyway, Eric turned to me and grinned–he had a really silly, squinty grin that was super cute, and said, “I don’t mind if people call me gay. Gay means ‘Happy.’ Of course I’m happy!” That was what Eric was always like. He always let it roll off of his shoulders. He was never weak or self pitying, never once complained about how he was being treated–at least not to me. And his parents loved him; his mother was so proud of him. He had a good home life. His father would sometimes help me with my breathing during Solo and Ensamble Contests, and later that year Eric and I had a duet in the school band assembly. We sang part of this corny Christmas Hymn together, but it was a special moment, because we did it together and we both got compliments for it all day.

I didn’t see Eric as much when we transferred over to Mentor High, but we still caught up a lot, and not long before he passed away, I saw him in the Student Center, looking unusually sad and not at all like Eric. I tried to talk to him but he was mostly unresponsive, and I mentioned to my friend Pixie, who nicknamed him “Twiggy” that he seemed unusually sad. Not long afterwards I came to school one morning and everyone was crying. Someone held a sign up to me. It said, “Eric killed himself.”

I cannot describe to you how horrible the next couple of months were in that school. My friend Meredith Rezak, whom I’d known for years, had recently come out to her friends and family as a lesbian. “I can’t stop thinking about him,” she told me. When Meredith shot herself in her room three weeks later, her cell phone was found next her and there was a text that said “RIP Twiggy.” Meredith didn’t take her own life because of bullying, though. She had a lot of problems at home and it was really impossible to be mean to her anyway. For one thing because she was so kind, and for another because she really didn’t take shit from anyone. She told me once that her Dad wouldn’t speak to her for months after he found out she was Gay, and that for Christmas all he got her was a Bible with all the verses condemning homosexuality highlighted. She was a devout Christian and I’m pretty sure she took it to heart, so in my opinion her death was still a “bullycide.”

MHS students are currently swarming Scott Patterson’s facebook page. “Come spend a day in Mentor. Go Cards!” They tell him. “I went there for three years and I never saw any bullying” says another. “Faggot” says another, shooting himself in the foot.

I also went to Mentor High for three years. It is a very big school, with something like a thousand students in each graduating class. Gods only know why every student in a town of 50,000 people is put in one High School, but isn’t that another problem? There was, at times, an atmosphere of violence. Fights would break out and spectators would gather around like it was a show. Once a girl in a Biology class I had with Meredith talked about her witness to a particularly big fight between two girls. “It was awesome. The one girl had blood streaming down her face!”

“How is that awesome?” I asked her.

She turned and gave me a particularly psychotic look. “Because she talked shit and she paid for it,” she replied, as though this was the most obvious justification. And then she added, “You’re talking shit,” and gave me another look that could make small children cry.

I ALWAYS felt safe at Mentor High.

And I did happen to see a lot of bullying. I sat with a girl who had a tampon thrown at her and I was friends with a guy who had a chair thrown on him. There was one kid who was gay and had been sexually abused, from what I heard, and he endured a lot of bullying from people I knew. Another girl who had also been sexually abused (again, this is just what I heard so take it with a grain of salt) was bullied by someone I considered a friend. People would call her “masterbates” and beat her up.

The MHS alumni who now swarm Scott’s Facebook page insist that Mentor High has the safety of it’s students as a number one priority and cite anti-bullying programs I knew nothing about and whose existence I doubt. They claimed to have implemented such programs after Eric died, but you can observe their effectiveness here in the case of my friend’s cousin, Sladjana:

Sladjana Vidovic, whose family had moved to northeast Ohio from Bosnia when she was a little girl, was pretty, vivacious and charming. She loved to dance. She would turn on the stereo and drag her father out of his chair, dance him in circles around the living room.

“Nonstop smile. Nonstop music,” says her father, Dragan, who speaks only a little English.

At school, life was very different. She was ridiculed for her thick accent. Classmates tossed insults like “Slutty Jana” or “Slut-Jana-Vagina.” A boy pushed her down the stairs. A girl smacked her in the face with a water bottle.

Phone callers in the dead of night would tell her to go back to Croatia, that she’d be dead in the morning, that they’d find her after school, says Suzana Vidovic.

“Sladjana did stand up for herself, but toward the end she just kind of stopped,” says her best friend, Jelena Jandric. “Because she couldn’t handle it. She didn’t have enough strength.”

Vidovic’s parents say they begged the school to intervene many times. They say the school promised to take care of her.

She had already withdrawn from Mentor and enrolled in an online school about a week before she killed herself.

When the family tried to retrieve records about their reports of bullying, school officials told them the records were destroyed during a switch to computers. The family sued in August.

Two years after her death, Dragan Vidovic waves his hand over the family living room, where a vase of pink flowers stands next to a photograph of Sladjana.

“Today, no music,” he says sadly. “No smile.”

No bullying problem, huh? And yes, it is the administration’s fault. Yes, they do need to take action. Some people with a real pair on them claim that the heartbroken Mohats and Vidovics are only trying to get money out of the school with the lawsuit they have filed against the administration. I would like to ask their parents if they wouldn’t want to tax the f*ck out of a High School after they begged it’s administrators repeatedly to intervene and stop students from calling their daughter “Sladjana- Vagina.”

Which isn’t to say this is about money. The Mohats want something to be done and something to change and this is the best way to do it. Some of the bullies have no real regret.  I remember the day Eric died, another friend of mine was in the computer lab with someone who found his profile picture on myspace and photoshopped a gun next to his head. Hilarious!

If there has been soul-searching among the bullies in Mentor — a pleasant beachfront community that was voted one of the “100 Best Places to Live” by CNN and Money magazine this year — Sladjana’s family saw too little of it at her wake in October 2008.

Suzana Vidovic found her sister’s body hanging over the front lawn. The family watched, she said, as the girls who had tormented Sladjana for months walked up to the casket — and laughed.

“They were laughing at the way she looked,” Suzana says, crying. “Even though she died.”

As I said before, there were many people in Mentor and a lot of them were wonderful. Hell, most of them were wonderful. I can see how some would be angry with Scott Patterson and say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that he’s never been to Mentor, but this isn’t just about Mentor. We all know this is a nationwide problem. Furthermore, I can see how many people might not have noticed the bullying. It was a crowded school. Security consisted of three women we called “The Triforce.” We would sometimes hum punk rock music when they walked by because they were obviously overwhelmed and instead of stopping girls from smoking in the bathroom stalls they would stop couples from snuggling and shout at people who put their feet on chairs. In retrospect I don’t blame them. The only help they had was a kind old man named Bill who was once knocked over when he was trying to break up a fight. When Mr. Wolski brought it up at a school assembly the whole auditorium laughed. (Like I said, no bullying problem at my alumni!)

But either way, the people who didn’t notice didn’t notice because they probably weren’t different enough from everyone else to be bullied themselves. My friend Pixie gave the Mohats a picture of Eric floating around in pink clouds with a halo around his head at his wake. Mrs. Mohat cried.

You would think that after three years I wouldn’t still think about him and especially Meredith, who was one of the funniest, most decent, most courageous people I had ever known all of the time, but I do. I think of them and what their lives could be like if they were still alive. I picture Meredith in her choir dress, driving in a car with the windows down, smoking a cigarette. And Eric, writing a song in a pink pen. Funny how I haven’t been singing much anymore since they died, but I like to think that they are doing that, somewhere. I could always sing in tune when they were around.

I can’t go back and tell them it didn’t have to be that way. I can’t go back and say, “It gets better.” It does get better. I can’t say that to them but I can say that to any teenager in High School, from Mentor or anywhere else who is thinking about taking their own life. “Don’t do it,” I can say. “You have so much waiting for you. So much love, so much happiness. Don’t give up now because if you do you won’t know how sweet it is when you really get there.”

Adults can pay more attention. They can put a stop to it. And it shouldn’t take two lawsuits for them to figure that out.

Mentor was on the Today Show too. Go here and here and take a look, if you like.

52 Responses

  1. Little I, I want to read your post properly but right now I’m distracted by the rescue of the Chilean miners…

    the first miner is going up!!!

  2. Isis, this is an amazing post! I’m so sorry that you and your friends had to go through so much hell. I witnessed bullying when I was in school too. It was horrible, and I don’t understand why teachers and administrators allow it to go on. I actually think things are worse now than when I was in school, which is very depressing to me.

  3. ((((Little Isis))))
    this must have been so hard for you to write, but I am glad you shared.

    • I didn’t think I ever would be able to. Thank God for TC. (((Wonk)))

      • This post is so beautifully written.

      • bullying is very hard to talk about but thrives because of the silence surrounding it. It is very important for strong and vivid voices like yours to speak up and put a human face on everything. Your remembrance of your friends and what they would be doing right now–very poignant and salient. These tragedies always bring about lots of people wanting to shirk responsibility and making it about themselves and defending themselves, but the human costs here are so great. This shouldn’t be about blame but about what we can do to stop the senselessness of losing our young people to bullying. What you said at the end…

        I can’t go back and tell them it didn’t have to be that way. I can’t go back and say, “It gets better.” It does get better. I can’t say that to them but I can say that to any teenager in High School, from Mentor or anywhere else who is thinking about taking their own life. “Don’t do it,” I can say. “You have so much waiting for you. So much love, so much happiness. Don’t give up now because if you do you won’t know how sweet it is when you really get there.”

        *tears* keep talking, LI. Please keep talking. more young people need to hear this.

        • *wipes eyes* thanks, wonk

          • Little One I didn’t know this was your former High School and I did tweet about it, as it concerned me and mainly the message of ‘Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem’ because it does get better, and hopefully teens will reach out and call the teen lines available 24/7 365 days a year.

            #Teens bullied 4 being #gay, having a #learningdisability, wearing pink & an accent commit #suicide http://tiny.cc/0fsnb #LGBT #HumanRights

            (((Big HUG Little One)))

  4. Heartbreaking.
    Why is cruelty in children/the young prized so much in this country?
    I never heard of such intense acts elsewhere.

    • It is actually a worldwide problem. There are studies showing that suicide and bullying are correlated in every country that has been studied.

      • I hope to write a post about the research soon.

        • They even have it at the North Pole.

          “All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names”

          Not to make light of a serious problem but it even shows up in children’s songs.

          • That’s true. Some evolutionary psychologists think there is an inborn fear of “the other.” It would stem from the days when humans were hunter-gatherers traveling in small nomadic bands and had to watch out for strangers. But we can overcome our baser instincts–we just need to be motivated to do so.

          • Anyone who is “different.” To me it’s more about hierarchy. Our society teaches us to prey on those we perceive as being weaker than us, in some ways.

        • Are there profiles that exist on bullies and their victims? Are there any particular characteristics that suggest some one would be more like to bully or be bullied?

  5. Live coverage of miners being rescued on BBC


  6. From the AP story:

    Suzana Vidovic found her sister’s body hanging over the front lawn. The family watched, she said, as the girls who had tormented Sladjana for months walked up to the casket — and laughed.

    “They were laughing at the way she looked,” Suzana says, crying. “Even though she died.”

    Are we growing a generation of psychopaths?

    • Dunno, but I can’t forget the look on that girl’s face, “You’re talking shit” and it happened when I was fifteen.

    • Someone was sexually assaulted in like, homeroom in a town near me, and it got almost no coverage except a little in the tiny hometown paper, and a big deal was not made of it, at all. Even the victim was kind of like, well, it was wrong, but I don’t think he meant anything by it, or whatever. (And it wasn’t groping, which would be bad enough, it was a sexual assault). It just makes you think–you know she was under pressure to not “persecute” him, from the other students, and the school, and the town, because it’s always about circling the wagons and why are we being singled out, and it happens everywhere, which it does, but that’s not an excuse when it’s happening here. It makes you wonder how far we haven’t come, when all of this horrible &&@& happens and we’re almost supposed to accept it and get used to it and nobody in a position of power cares enough about stopping it as they do about keeping it quiet. It’s scary.

      I feel weird saying this is an amazing post, but I hope you know what I mean. You’re so amazing and so gifted. And I know how gut wrenching it was to write this. Thank you.

      • Funny you should mention that because I didn’t get into the sexual assault charges and incidences and drug busts in Mentor. I don’t want to, though. Thanks everyone, for reading this. It means a lot.

  7. I hope everyone will read the other story that is linked on the AP page. It’s wonderful.

    School-Yard Bullying: A Survivor’s Tale

    There is an immense, soul-quaking shame in being bullied. I was ashamed of who I was, how I let these children attack me, gave them power over me, and allowed them to make me feel less than nothing. I was ashamed that I was too weak to stand up to them. At an early age I was made unmistakably aware that I was very different from the other boys, that I was “wrong.” Somehow I knew that if I dared repeat these school yard taunts to those I loved and respected I would be allowing these words to define me. If I told my family I was being cursed at for being a “dirty faggot” than everyone I loved would know my awful secret; that I was indeed everything these children said I was.

    So I, like many others, shouldered the embarrassment of my bullying alone.

    And as I fumbled my way home that fateful day, determined that it would be my last, feeling as though I could barely hold my head up from the sheer pressure of my existence, I remember being startled by a car that began to slow down as it drove past me.

    “Hey,” said a man I had never seen before “Are you alright?”

    I remember stuttering through a quick reply, something noncommittal that informed him that I was indeed alright.

    “Are you sure? Do you need anything? You look pretty sad.” He persisted as he fully stopped his car to gaze at me through his driver’s side window, his faced filled with obvious concern.

    Again, I told him I was fine and he slowly, reluctantly drove off. As I watched this person drive away I was overcome with a sudden, incredible warmth so strong and brilliant that to this day I can still clearly remember the feeling as it washed over me.

    Someone actually noticed me.

    Someone I had never seen before, someone I would never see again, noticed me and cared enough about me – this gay, faggot, girlie-boy, nobody – to take twenty seconds out of his day to ask me if I was alright. I mattered; I would never be the same.

    My suicidal plans ended there and then and I never considered the notion again, even when the bullying continued…

    One adult really can make a difference to a kid.

    • So true. One smile from a stranger can make a difference.

      • Alice Miller wrote that just one incident of a stranger intervening for an abused child can change his/her life. Even if the parent punishes the child later, just knowing that one adult thinks the child doesn’t deserve to be beaten or belittled sends a message that the child has value and give him/her strength.

        That is what happened to that young man who wrote the article. I’m so glad he shared his experience.

    • “One adult really can make a difference to a kid.”

      It’s so true. You may not be around to see it, or you may not appreciate the impact you’ve had, but I truly think this is the case. And so often, it’s just one, life-changing interaction that doesn’t even seem very significant. I try to remember this every day at work.

      LI, this was a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Thank you for taking the time to write it, and for being brave enough to share it with us.

  8. Thank you for writing this. I don’t understand how teachers and administrators can continue to ignore or minimize this sort of behavior. BB, the research you mention is probably about right, but can’t we move past that? Anyway, thanks littleisis.

  9. Ruh-roh!

    Somebody better check on Jeralyn.

    Bristol Palin didn’t get eliminated from DWTS

  10. Suicide.org – Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support

    Suicide.org is a 501c3 NON-PROFIT Organization and Website
    Need Help Now?
    Call 911
    1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK

    If you or someone you know is in immediate danger
    because of thoughts of suicide
    Please call 911 now

    If you are not in the U.S., please call your local emergency number.

    There is help for you. Stay on the phone with the operator and wait for help to arrive. Do not hesitate to call. Your life is extremely valuable, and people care about you. Please reach out for help. Never act on your thoughts of suicide. Never.

    If you are not in immediate danger because of thoughts of suicide, but need someone to talk with about your suicidal feelings, please do not hesitate to call one of the following national suicide prevention lines:
    1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

  11. LI – what a heartbreakingly poignant post. You have amazed me many times with your depth. I grew up in Ohio many decades before you, in a small historic(first settlement in the NW territory) college town. There was great cruelty then too but I also had heros enough to survive. I truly was different in ways no child would want to be – the “secret” everyone knew but me – but I sensed it.

    bb – Are we growing a generation of psychopaths?

    Rhetorical question right? I look forward to your post on this subject. I have rised children – 2 born 17 years before this last issue. The difference in what passes as socially acceptable behavior, educational approaches, what society values has been scary. But the level of hate has risen dramatically in just the last decade. The unprincipled behavior of our govmt, our false heros – the acceptance of known liars and criminal behavior in stars rather they be sports figures or media contributes greatly. Our value system is screwed up.

    It’s a given – psychopaths indeed. Look no further than the kool aid fueled Obots. It’s hate driven or greed or lust for power.

  12. Addendum – not all succumb – obviously. I have a theory but don’t care to share it. I applaud every young person was has the fortitude to think independently – they have a hard path to walk.

  13. When the bullying isn’t addressed at a young age, they bullies grow up and continue the theme, against the disabled and even bullying/taunting little disabled children.

    So Sad: Dying 7 Year Old Girl Taunted By Neighbors In New Jersey h/t SYD @Uppitywoman

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