Over three days this week, we watched and completed 13 Reasons Why on Netflix.
At first, I kind of thought it was going to be a more cheeky version of Pretty Little Liars, in the sense that the person leads all these kids on a I know what you did last summer sort of exposé through the events leading to her death. However I did actually believe, unlike the former, that she actually did commit suicide. So I was not expecting this to be blasé take on suicide per se, but more like a murder mystery in a way, like “Who Killed Hannah Baker?”
By halfway through, to be cemented in the end, I was quite wrong. It was quite real within the context of the story, and there were additional layers to this that I knew connected with everything else, but would not have guessed would happen. I know this was based on a book, and I’m not under the impression that this isn’t suitable for television, because it is, and should be, but I suppose I didn’t expect it to hit you in the feels like a ton of bricks.
High school was and will always be a tough thing for me to unpack. I honestly don’t really remember all that much about high school in detail because it was barely memorable. I was a nerd, and nerds did not belong. I also went to high school in 1998-2002 in two different towns. One an average town filled with average people, and another with rich upper-middle class kids with a lot of preconceptions about life. This was all before social media, before cell phones, and before it was more socially acceptable to be different. To me, watching this show brought back a lot of those memories, many of them not good ones.TLDR: My High School Life
But towards the end of the year, things went south with just about everything. I actually don’t fully remember what had happened, but I believe it started when I tried to go to a party event at the school with one of my girlfriend’s friends, and even though I only saw her briefly before she went elsewhere and I ultimately went home, I think some rumor went to another mutual friend who went to another mutual friend and everything just sort of fell apart. Compound that with another mutual friend who was going through family shit, the “group” sort of dissolved. I finished that school year skipped the final day to hang out at a friend’s house and play Pokemon, like a true nerd.
When I moved to the northeast and started my sophomore year at my new school, I was immediately picked on for having lived in the midwest. “Did you live on a farm?” “Were there cows?” It was bad enough I knew no one, but it was even worse that despite that kind of verbal abuse, not one person felt it was wrong and said something. So it became my goal to get out of high school as quickly as possible with minimal interaction. My goal was to minimize my presence, become invisible. Surprisingly, it worked fairly well for most of that year, until I met a short pudgy girl in my history class who seemed to like my off-brand of humor. There was no friend group in tow this time, just us. I’d visit her in her homeroom most mornings, we hung out at her house a few times, she loved Gauntlet and Final Fantasy 6 on the NES, and she was my first kiss. But because she was fat, both of us were subject to harassment and ridicule. I can still remember the words of a guy, whom I don’t remember and I don’t think he even knew me, asking how it felt to “stick my dick in-between those fat rolls”. But I did nothing to defend myself or her. Sure, a few girls in her class thought it was sweet I came by every morning, but when she ultimately broke up with me at lunch one day, she said it was because I wasn’t paying attention to her enough, or I did something, I actually don’t remember clearly because it just sort of happened. I was alone again.
I went to a meeting with my guidance counselor, and she asked me about how I was fitting in. I don’t recall much, but I recall telling her that it was hard. I don’t think I told her about the time some kids invited me to their lunch table, only to ridicule me into leaving. I sat alone in the cafeteria for lunch. She suggested I go to the Audio-Visual department, and join them. She thought that maybe having similarly-minded people might help. So I walked in and proceeded to meet a man who described himself and his department as “an ex-rock-and-roller and a bunch of high school students”. I joined what would be jokingly called “Team Dickhead”, and it really was the thing that saved my high school experience. In it, I got to be friends with a lot of great people, and had a lot of good times working with the computer systems, helping set up and break down stage equipment, and getting advice from both male and female seniors who actually felt like mentors in a way. It also connected me to the next chapter of my life, starting with my senior year.
My senior year was interesting. Besides the events unfolding outside those walls, 9/11 and the middle east war, one that would see one of my best friends who graduated my junior year go off to fight (and change him forever) my life inside school started to proverbially heat up. I was still a nerd, but I became a rather semi-respected nerd for helping a friend run a website where we took the notes from the morning lecture class and posted them for everyone else. I also helped run the school website, and the projector equipment for that lecture class. I drew super-weeb-shit wallpapers often depicting the teachers in a slightly negative way for the laptop connected to the projector. But the most important part was I didn’t give a shit anymore what anyone thought of me. I was a nerd, and I was a weeb by that time, having had friends show me late 90’s anime. but most importantly, I got tangled up with a new high school friend group, starting with a girl I met when I joined AV. She in turn got me into the Japanese Club she ran, along with a score of her friends that went to the school via the VoAg program. Almost all of them were from outside of the town, which meant most of them were not stuck-up rich kids. I made a lot of real friends that year, a number of them female. So I drove my 1990 S-10 truck, the worst-looking car in the school by far, without ever caring what anyone thought. I barely graduated, by the grace of my English teacher, partly due to me ignoring my grades for this newfound social acceptance. I remember going to the afterparty with said AV friend and had one of the best nights of my life.
But high school as a whole was never something I cared for. Despite those late successes, I never looked back. I never went to the five-year reunion. Nor the tenth. I’m not even sure when the next one is. I kept with that friend group after high school, dated a girl in it, lost my virginity to her, and ultimately was cheated on. I liked many of the other girls, even thought about dating them. But like the first friend group in my first high school, a few events, some shady rumors, gossip, or hearsay, set off a chain of events that ultimately led to the complete destruction of almost every friendship and the end of the second friend group of high school, years after high school.
A lot of that was my fault. Maybe some of it was their fault. Watching this show put a lot of what I just wrote out in these previous paragraphs into perspective. Because I won’t lie, I saw the character of Clay Jensen and I knew that was me. Every awkward pause, every fumbled attempt to come up with the words. I was no jock, no bro-dude, no alpha-male. I still am not. Sure, I type a lot of screeds on social media and this blog and sound like I know what I am doing, but if I know what I am doing, I probably don’t, or it comes from having made a shit ton of mistakes, especially with women. Half of the friendships I have lost was because I said something stupid. The other half are from not saying anything at all. I had one girl whom I am pretty sure liked me, but I was completely oblivious and did nothing despite always going out of my way to see her, or help her with moving into college. Why did I do that? Did I not like her? Did I think she wasn’t smart or cute? Was I just trying to respect her boundaries? I don’t know. Another girl was funny and attractive. Someone pretty much handed me the opportunity once, and I chickened out. Another was in an abusive relationship, and I did nothing and even hurt her further when she tried to open up to me. The entire reason my roster of girlfriends, and by virtue of sex partners is so low, is because I have always been too shy to just say what needed to be said, or make the move, or kiss the girl. I could be rejected. I could be kicked in the balls. But at least I would have tried. At least I would have learned. I think this is kind of what the show tried to say both concerning suicide, and rape. But it applies to so much more beyond those topics. We’re at that age where we haven’t had these experiences, and we’re trying to figure out how to best navigate through them, but we’re not fully aware of what might happen if we make that decision, or do nothing.
I cannot imagine what I would feel if any of these people suddenly committed suicide. It’d probably fuck me up further than I already am. And I think that was the point of this show, to get people to understand that life is far more complex and complicated than we think it is, and that even though it is a person’s decision to either live, or not, the actions, or inactions, of those closest to them has the potential to impact that at every turn. I can breathe a sigh of relief that I’ve never had to experience this, but I know many, many others out there have had to. Even still, plenty of people have to deal with the loss of a family member, or a friend. I’ve lost many friends, and every time I ask myself what could I have done differently that might’ve enabled them to still be here? Sure, accidents, like car accidents, are not exactly in my control, but could I have said something before? Like “Hey dude, you drive too fast, that’s not okay.” and maybe that would have helped? Certainly, I will never, ever, understand any of this with absolute clarity.
But I know for me, suicide has never been an option for dealing with my life. I’ve had a lot of shit happen in my life, but for me, I fear death so intensely that I could never bring myself to carry out anything, no matter how bullied, beaten, or broken. But, that is based on a lot of factors that don’t see me in the same situations as many other people. Certainly, the test of a human being’s will can break even the most steadfast. I say this now, but if I were put into a different situation, would I change my mind? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that because I have control, because I have the ability to change, correct mistakes, and be a better person, I cling on to life if only because I believe it will get better, for as long as I can. But that does not mean I can’t empathize with others, or try to understand what they’re going through. All this social justice stuff, all the hate and hostility. I try to run down the middle and be the person asking tough questions because I know what it is like to want to fit in, to be part of something, and to be part of nothing. I might be awkward, and unable to articulate things when it matters the most, but I feel it is important to try. That’s why I keep a high social media and blog presence. That is why I choose here to communicate often above talking, or telephones. I feel here I can best construct what I feel. Had this been a thing when I was in high school, maybe things might’ve been different. Maybe not.
Of course, as I finish writing this, it is 1:48AM in the morning, and my wife will probably be mad for the next two days at me. But then these are the decisions we made, and the consequences we live with.