My High School alumni 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. 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 Sophmore year, was a leftie 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 “bullyside.”
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.
Filed under: Bullycide |