After that meeting in Principal Nickerson’s office, I left school with my parents. My dad had to check in quickly at his surf shop and on our way home he pulled into the Smoothie Shack. I said I wanted to stay in the car, but he made me get out. Once we got our shakes, we walked outside and sat at the farthest picnic table, away from other people.
Mom started. “Jonah, you know this is really serious. You can’t threaten to jump out of a window and expect us to do nothing.”
“I wasn’t going to jump!”
Dad chimed in, “Look, I believe you. But you have to understand, it’s clear that you’ve been lying to us for months now. How can we trust you?”
“I wasn’t going to jump! I just needed to get away!”
“Well, I don’t believe you,” Mom said, with hurt and anger in her voice. “You have lied and faked and clearly don’t trust us. How can I believe you right now? Now that you’ve been caught?”
I couldn’t believe that Mom said that. But it was true. I had lied to them. Didn’t they understand why?
“Jonah, we are going to have to start over,” she said.
“Start over with what?”
“Start our relationships over. We will have to build our trust again. And that will require honesty on all our parts. So, I’m going to be honest with you right now. I’m calling your friends’ mothers tomorrow and having chats with them about what’s going on.”
“No!! You can’t do that!” I shouted.
“Yes. Yes I can,” Mom replied calmly. “And I will. This cannot stay secret anymore.
Dad jumped in. "Jonah, do you understand that this isn’t something you can deal with on your own? Your school has a responsibility to intervene. It’s the only way to…”
I cut him off. “Do you have any idea how embarrassing that was? Telling everyone about the abuse I’ve been taking? And now the parents of these boys will all be called into school for a meeting. And so will lots of students. And the kids who used to be my friends. Everyone is going to hate me! And they’re going to think I’m weak! And a crybaby!”
A couple walking to their car turned and looked at us. I was getting very angry and loud. Dad put his arm around me and tried to pull me closer. I pushed him away.
“Maybe we should go home,” said Mom, lowering her voice.
“What’s the difference? Pretty soon everyone will know,” I sneered.
Mom tried to remain calm. Even though I knew she was terribly upset, she had always been good at staying composed in difficult situations. But apparently not everyone has practice at having their only kid consider suicide.
She wasn’t done. “Jonah, honey, this is serious. You were ready to end your life over this.” Her voice cracked. She took a deep breath. She wiped her eyes and took another deep breath. “For you to have been pushed this far…you are obviously suffering a great deal. You heard Mrs. Peters, in most situations like this, the school contacts the authorities and the student is hospitalized. Maybe that's what you need...I don't know..."
My dad took her hand. "Grace, honey, the therapist will advise us what to do. He's going to talk with Mrs. Peters some more, then us, and then Jonah. He's the school's best guy for this sort of thing, he's helped a lot of kids. It will be okay, Grace."
My dad looked at me. "I think it's a good idea for your mother to call these other moms, Jonah. You heard your principal, she agreed with you. These bullies may deny everything, so the only way to corroborate what you have told your principal is to question the other kids at school."
“But they will just lie too,” I objected. “No one will rat on Brian Pullman and his friends. Don’t you get it? Then they become targets too.”
“Jonah,” my dad kept going, “you don’t know that for sure. And besides, there is safety in numbers. Perhaps if only two or three students give up the bullies, then the bullies may retaliate, but if a dozen kids identify them, what are these bullies going to do? Beat up everyone?”
I exhaled loudly. “Whatever Dad. Here’s what I 'm sure of. No one stands up for me. Least of all, my ex-friends. No one has reported anything to a teacher or anyone in charge. So I’m sorry if I don’t have much faith in my peers. Mr. Chipchaw, Mr. Slater and I have already given the principal the names of the bullies, that should be good enough.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Mom. “Because they can only discipline these boys for what they have done at school. They can’t really address anything that has happened on social media or off school grounds. We need to shut it all down. This is why it’s important that your principal talk to the other students and that I call your friends' moms.”
"Ex-friends," I muttered. I turned my head and looked off into the distance, wishing I was a million miles away.
“Let’s go.” I heard my dad say quietly.
In the car on the way home my parents repeated what I already knew from the meeting. That I would not be going back to school for the rest of the week and that I would have to meet with the therapist starting tomorrow. I just wanted them to shut up and leave me alone.
When we got home, I went to my room, slammed my door and fell into my bean bag chair. I grabbed a book. I needed to escape this day. After a little while my Dad came in.
“How you doing, J-man?” he asked, sitting at my desk.
I shrugged and looked down, flipping through pages.
“Do you want to talk about anything?”
I shook my head no.
“Well, we’re sorry about the meeting at school, we know that was difficult.”
I said nothing. I rubbed my temples and shut my eyes. I couldn’t believe this was all out in the open.
“Jonah, do you think if you could defend yourself, things would be better?”
I wanted to scream at him, but I took a deep breath and held it together. “Dad, are you seriously asking me this? I’m the size of a sixth grader. Do I look like I can defend myself?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that…but if you could out maneuver these kids, wouldn’t that make a difference? I’m not suggesting you fight them directly, just get in a swift kick in the right place. I think standing up for yourself is important in these situations.”
Mom had obviously been listening outside. She walked into the room and interrupted. “Sam, Mr. Chipchaw said these boys are a lot bigger than Jonah. So I don’t want him fighting them. He could get really hurt. No fighting…violence isn’t the solution here. The point of talking with the other teachers and parents and students is to get this to stop, not to give Jonah martial art instruction to fight his way through it.”
My dad disagreed. “Everyone fights their way through life, honey. It’s never going to be a cake walk. If there aren’t bullies, there will be some other obstacle. Things we can’t control. But we can control how we respond to it.”
I looked up at my dad. He had actually said something that made sense.
My mother relented a little. “Okay, I see what you mean. Even if the school tries to get this situation under control, it probably won’t happen overnight…and so Jonah probably needs to learn how to defend himself. I guess it’s important to know some self-defense.”
Dad smiled at her and grabbed her hand.
“What about homeschooling?” she suggested. “We don’t have to send him back…or we could look for another school?”
"I’m just afraid for you, honey. What if something else happens…and you are pushed to…what if no one finds you in time?”
My dad stepped in to stop the conversation from going around in circles. “Alright, let’s not…look, the therapist will help us sort this out. It'll be fine.” Dad got up. “We’ll let you know when dinner’s ready.”
This whole mess was exactly why I never wanted my parents to know. I knew they would be sick with worry and make a federal case out of it. And even have bad arguments over it. I could see my mother going into full on hovering mode while my dad got fired up to help me fight the bad guys. One protecting me from my fears while the other pushed me to face them.
My dad turned before leaving my room, “Oh, don’t forget, you need to bring a board game to your therapy session tomorrow with Dr. Evans, so please find something tonight.”
“I don’t need to see a therapist. This is so stupid.”
“Unfortunately, you don’t have a choice, J-man. If you don’t meet with a therapist every day after school for the next two weeks, you aren’t allowed back in. It’s either that or the psychiatric ward.”
“Every day?” I asked, annoyed.
“Yes!” my mother practically shouted, exasperated. “Every single day, Jonah! And then once a week, for months, after these initial two weeks. That’s what happens when someone is suicidal. We can’t just pretend this didn’t happen or forget about it, you need help, Jonah. Treatment.”
She sounded mad again. I didn’t expect this.
“I wasn’t going to jump,” I mumbled, not really knowing if that was true.
My mother started to cry again. Dad hugged her. And I suddenly forgot about the pounding headache I'd had since the meeting at school because of the lump growing in my stomach. It was the same sick knot that the bullies gave me. But this time it was triggered by the fear I saw on my dad’s face. He looked as scared as I was.