December 7, 2001 was a dark, wet afternoon. It is a date that will follow me like a shadow all of my life. As I hung around school after the final bell, I was viciously attacked by six upperclassmen who were bored, self-loathing and carrying out the lame hazing tradition on a randomly selected freshman. I was reduced to a piece of meat as they took their turns kicking me in the back while the school watched. Doesn’t it make you sick?
Well, back then, I was scared for my life. How could this happen to me? I was the freshman football team captain, nominated homecoming royalty and a straight-A student, so how had my hot streak run short? Why had my friends left me out to dry during the fight? But it only got worse from there - I became the school “narc” when those six goons got tossed out of school and I roamed the halls with my head down to avoid angry stares. I was abandoned by my friends, and my Fridays went from evenings at basketball games to midnights by myself and my Nirvana CDs.
I couldn’t spend any more time in public than was absolutely necessary during school. The punches left me with a gash on the side of my head and a bruised knee, but that healed. The two years that followed, however, were an emotional holocaust. I would have taken 50 more beatings if it meant that nobody at school knew it had happened.
After this experience, I found that my friends were of little help. My parents could not understand what was going on, and only a few teachers tried (unsuccessfully) to reach out to me. I realized that it had to come from within me, and only then could I begin to make a change from the downward spiral that had become my life. Yes, it was a tough and unfortunate situation, but that alone would not make it go away. Hard work on my part would be necessary. I turned my fear into drive, my pessimism into determination, and the darkness of my life into rays of hope.
My angst turned into training harder for football, hitting the textbooks with more focus, and playing the guitar more creatively. I learned that a stranger’s view of me should not have any effect on my image. Individuality would be the higher road I would take. I made a pact that I would never use violence to solve a problem, but rather would help change the macho atmosphere at my school. I would also extend an open hand to underclassmen when I became a senior instead of a clenched fist.
This event was and is a test of my character that will never end. It will make me stronger spiritually and more loving of myself and my community. Three years ago, I saw a side of the school, the world and humanity that I have pledged never to become part of. Deep down, what those punks really wanted were more people like them - more stoners, more dropouts and more losers. Most likely, they all had similar experiences when they were freshmen.
While many fold under the pressure of fitting in, I have actively resisted. I never felt the need to pass on this hackneyed hazing tradition and have resisted other destructive habits. Instead of sulking over what I hated in my life, I used what I loved most as an outlet for my angst - sports and music. Because of this, I made myself into a two-year starter, a three-year letterman, co-captain of the football team, a member of a state champion baseball team, the president of the senior class and an avid punk-poet in my rock and roll bands.
Lying on the wet pavement, beaten and bloody, sad and defeated - I never thought that beating would bring out the best in me. Little could those upperclassmen have guessed that their attacks would only proliferate strength. I am proud to say that I surmounted an assault that would have left others trembling; I am confident that I will always rise above.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.