(Notice: This may contain spoilers.)
I am such a fan of Netflix, like most people that work nights or suffer from insomnia. I came upon 1HIRTEEN R3ASONS WHY. I needed something new to watch after exhausting my reciting and analyzing of The Twilight Zone or other random Netflix documentaries. I saw this 13 episode show, and I thought that I could kill it in like 2-3 nights. Not so.
As a writer and a mother, it was indeed HARD for me to get through this series of episodes. I found myself wrapped up in what Hannah was feeling, and even turned my head as she committed suicide–yes, the show SHOWED it. They needed to. They needed to.
I was rapt in her voice, in what she was feeling and examined my own high school experiences and the potential awareness of what my children may experience. That was disheartening. As a woman in my 30’s with bigger things that I have come through than that 14-17 year old girl. I was bullied in middle school, and after Freshman year of high school, the bulling continued. I was made fun of because I was awkward, called ugly and fashionably different. I ignored it, yeah, but I found a solace in words, attentive parents and a core group of friends. High school was awkward and I hated it.
I hated it because I was in a new school far from all else I had known in St. Louis Public School District and now I was in Jennings School Disctict. I hated it because I was bored. I hated it because I was–depressed. No one seemed to notice that I was depressed because I went on with life, and tried not to exist. I really, really did. After my father died my Senior year of high school, I wanted to leave school even more. I hated high school because I wanted to a be ANYWHERE else but the high school I was at. Those feelings were deeper than “not being comfortable in your own skin.”
What I saw with Hannah is this consistent abandonment. It’s the kind of abandonment that you see that ends up being learned helplessness. She tries to embrace life, even the dirty parts, ugly parts, but every time she reaches for the better–some new craziness is heaped on her. From Justin liking her, then turning their innocent evening together into a vicious rumor. To her ‘best friend’, Jessica, finding popularity aside from her and then calling her a slut after being upset that their mutual friend, Alex, beginning to date Jessica. But yet Hannah is still a friend to her–consistently. Alex then puts Hannah’s name on a sexist list for best body parts, and her body is put up for public consumption: cat calls, ass grabbing—all under the school’s nose.
I admired Hannah standing up for herself. I admired her for not getting sucked in to the vortex that is high school. I rooted for her, felt bad for her, and all of me that was a mother and once a wounded girl wanted to snatch her back. I wanted to tell her that even though Tyler stalked her with pictures outside her house, Courtney used her as a shield to hide her own sexual identity, I wanted to tell her to hold on. I wanted to tell her not to give up!
When Marcus made her wait for their Valentine’s Day date, tried to paw under her skirt because he thought she was DTF and “easy” was and she pushed him out of her booth? I cheered. I was proud of her. I was horrified when Zack didn’t come to her rescue, because he saw what people where doing to her. I was mad that Clay was afraid to go after her, and was so hung up on avenging her after she was dead. I rooted for him to not be a timid boy like 17 year old boys can be and go after her!
I was upset at the counselor that seemed so focused on the whole forest that he could never see the trees and couldn’t reassure her that she wasn’t alone or crazy after her rape. As an adult, I understand his predicament-the icy way responsibility gives you tunnel vision in the wrong direction.
When Brian published her poem? I celebrated. I wanted her to see she had talent. But I understand and understood the need for privacy as a writer. I am familiar with the cocoons we make to create and can become horrified when those walls are breeched. On top of what she was living through, I get WHY it hurt so much. In times of pain, you really don’t want people to bust out your genius thinking they did you a favor.
I was horrified when she sat in the rub of water, with clothes, and razors and cut horizontally up her arm. I was a hopeless voyeur as she contemplated whether or not she wanted her heart to still beat. I wanted to stop her, I wanted to tell her that she would get through it. I wanted to grab her arm and tell her this:
“Hannah, stop! You do not need to kill yourself over people that you won’t even remember after graduation. Hold on, Hannah. You don’t have to give any more of you away. I promise you that it sucks right now, it hurts right now, and I know you can’t see any light anywhere…and I know you want it to stop hurting. But in order for it to stop hurting you have to see where this ends up. There are things you can do. Think of what you’re leaving…think of the story you have left to write. Don’t quit in the middle! Don’t quit! Wait! We can make it, let me help you! Just– put the razor down, shug! If you want this life, if you want better, you are going to have to rage against the dying of the light. You gotta fight. You are gonna have to fight. Death does not revel in the reaping of the young. Get out the tub and we can talk…”
At the last few minutes at end of the series, I looked off past the screen I was watching, and thought. I was mad she was dead.
I was mad at Clay.
I wanted to slap Jessica and Justin until I GOT TIRED. I wanted Marcus and Zack not to be so arrogant and smug. I wanted Courtney’s iron crisp life wrinkled!
I wanted Jessica to realize that real friends, real friendship, is forged toughest when both people recognize they are needed.
Then I thought of that quiet, shy, wallflower that had my name. I wanted so much to even reassure the portion of my 16-17 year old self not to give up. I wanted to remind myself that even though it was dark and horrible and my father was dying…I didn’t have to die with him.
My dreams, my heart where not to be buried with him. I was going to be okay. In the diligence of living, I had to be able to LIVE. I had to remind myself of what my anchors were, where they were, and how to drop them and not to drop them on drifting people.
The reason why I chose to live, and remind myself to keep living is because I want to see where this life ends up. I want to see how my story ends. I want to own every part of me that is wounded, impaired and secret. I refuse to give my happiness, power and autonomy to another person. This meant that I was going to have to remember the rock that I had been given to stand on in my soul. The part of me that stands up for herself, no matter what and who is able to withstand bullsh!t because I recognize it as bullsh!t.
I wanted to tell Hannah that she had something to hold on to, that it’s beyond what she thought and that if she just hangs on…if she just hung on…she could have joy again, and Clay would be an awesome and doting boyfriend and Bryce will get what’s coming to him because Clay was brave enough to go in a lion’s den came out with his head.
What you have to do in the mean time, she may ask? LIVE. You live because that is the goal of life…and that gift is yours.
Make no mistake, I am a proponent of therapy, prayer, faith communities and coping strategies; and if need be, medication.
I believe that mental health is a real crisis, an important issue and I believe there are pains and wounds that people cannot see that are deeper than anything that will bleed.
I believe there are people that suffer on this spectrum in silence and there are some that shout at the ends of guns, inside cars or razors in tubs. We have to take stock of those whom walk wounded around us. We can’t ignore them. We can’t ignore the Hannah’s. They need to know it’ll be better. They need to know life still belongs to them.
The gift of voice and words is that you have to right to edit, record and honor what you feel. You can’t let all the noise stop your heart from beating. You have to be strong enough to realize this is…hard.
This is why it’s important to have people that know when your swag is off, when your mood is changing, when your eyes no longer shine…there has to be one that is willing to through you a life preserver or even go out in your rowboat, and reach out.
I’ve decided to be a Life Preserver. I have a boat, and my lifeguard walks on water.