Cruel Cruel Summer

When I was a kid I escaped into a fuzzy box that measured about a foot and a half by a foot and a half called our television.  It was black and white and usually the picture included those reception flurries, but I was young and had imagination on my side.  One particular show that got stuck in my psyche had to do with some bratty kids (older than me at the time I first watched) who played a very mean trick on a girl by locking her in a closet during the only day of that decade that they could go out and play in the sunlight.  Even then I was hypnotized by sci-fi stories.

The story reached into my little heart and squeezed any chance that I would develop a hope for humanity until long into my adult years.  Given that I was often the brunt of childhood bullying and cruelty, I could identify with the theme.  A group of children prepared for the one time they might get to see the sun, play in the warmth of its rays, and soak up its infusion of happy reprieve from a dark and rainy world that enveloped them for every ten years of their lives.  This is how I remember it.  And to the best of my recollection, without provocation these children turned on one little girl and thought it would be funny to lock her in a closet and taunt her.  But in the midst of their cruel joke, a bell or whistle summoned them for their outdoor adventure.  As each child peeled away, the ones left, one-by-one, faced one of those split-second conundrums we find so regular in life.  If they let the girl out, they’d be in trouble.  If they ran, the children left would have to deal with it.  And of of course, the last few children ran faster to avoid making the decision.

100_1616.JPGThey rushed to answer the call, forgetting the girl they had bullied.  They frolicked and had their rings around the rosies, their hide and seek; they had their flower picking tree climbing sport.  Music played in the background as the show transported the viewer into their little hearts and minds, muscles and motivation awakening, depression sloughing off, and a Spring rebirth set of emotions were solicited.

Then the music changed and the sky darkened, as if reminding us (the children and the viewer) of the evil deed we had almost forgotten.  As the rain cried it’s sadness for the condemned little brats, they returned to the building with its fake sun lamps and confining walls.  And, I remember this the most, they suddenly balked at what they had done.  It was as if they had just been joking and meant to let her out before they all went outside, but had been overcome with excitement and forgotten.  I think that is what stuck with me the most.  They regretted what they had done, but my little mind realized for the first time that “sorry” and regret don’t change cruelty and hurt.

The television production of this story tried to end in resolution.  They let the little girl out with timidness and quiet, gathered in a little circle of trepidation and sensitivity … even gave her the treasures they had plundered while outside.  Showered with flowers and such, she smiled and apparently forgave them.  But even at four years old, I didn’t buy any of it.

I grew up, of course.   As often happens, some event or happenstance tripped my mind and I recalled the captivating show in my adulthood.  For years I searched and searched for a title or series, tried to find that show online or for purchase since it had such an impact on me.  I finally discovered it in a Ray Bradbury short called “All Summer in a Day.”   It’s found in Bradbury’s collection “A Medicine for Melancholy” lately published by HarperCollins e-books on pages 88 – 93.  What a treasure.  It was like finding a twenty in a pocket or book you haven’t checked in months!  Frankly, finding the story in print is the only reason I can describe my faint memories of the television show with such clarity.

There it was – the evidence of those little demons and their evil-dripping doings.  I read with passion, dug in and wrapped the words around me like a security blanket.  Now I would be able to dissect my skepticism in human beings.  Now I would be able to start unpacking my lack of trust in my fellow earthlings.   Then it hit me.  The ending.

“Then one of them gave a little cry.
‘Margot!’
‘What?’
‘She’s still in the closet where we locked her.’
‘Margot.’
They stood as if someone had driven them, like so many stakes, into the floor.  They looked at each other and then looked away.  They glanced out at the world that was raining now and raining and raining steadily.  They could not meet each other’s glances.  Their faces were solemn and pale.  They looked at their hands and feet, their faces down.
‘Margot.’
One of the girls said, ‘Well …?’
No one moved.
‘Go on,’ whispered the girl.
They walked slowly down the hall in the sound of cold rain.  They turned through the doorway to the room in the sound of the storm and thunder, lightning on their faces, blue and terrible.  They walked over to the closet door slowly and stood by it.
Behind the closet door was only silence.
They unlocked the door, even more slowly, and let Margot out.”

Bradbury didn’t sugarcoat it.  He didn’t explain it away as a childhood foolishness, a resolvable conflict.  Unlike the producers of the television adaptation, he allowed the full frontal nakedness of the situation to take hold of the reader.  His ending plunged me into the hollow, vacant hole that bullying  and cruelty leave in their wake.  It drew attention to the deadening of the heart and a thickening of the skin, requiring years of positives to undo the single negative done in a child’s development stages.  There is NOTHING after they open the door and let their victim out.

I work with youth, teenagers actually.  And I’m amazed when I see a group of broken, hurting, “struggling to find themselves in others” teenagers begin to form groups and target someone among them.  I don’t care about all I’ve read – touting human nature, the us/them and group-think.  I can appreciate the one time we all fall into that muck, and afterward seeing the fruits of our insecurities and mean spiritedness, resolving to never be the cause of such pain and hurt again.  Yet I still find it hard to understand how a thinking being, having had the chance to see  or analyze their bullying aftermath, can continue with that behavior.

In war, it’s “kill or be killed.”  I get that.  And as a teenager, it can sometimes feel like that in the war on self-esteem and confidence, battling to fit in and/or stand out in a good way.  But I think we’ve devolved when it comes to youth development in this country.  Telling your child to fight back used to be promoted as the best practice for parents, fearfully raising their children to be good people who weren’t taken advantage of by others.  But that didn’t always work with some children.

Those were, and sometimes still are, the children society doesn’t want to acknowledge.  So the “fight back” strategy was deployed full force, and those children that couldn’t were looked upon with pity and, yes, disdain.

Nowadays there are new tactics and different strategies to handle bullying.  Training and educating kids about bullying and it’s components is important.  But when training kids results in a boy claiming he is being bullied because another kid called him a name after he passed gas in the lunch line … I mean really?!

Getting the adults involved is key.  Yes, this detracts from youth developing coping skills in some cases, but it also demands that all children are treated with respect and dignity and raises the seriousness of bullying to a higher level.  Still – we can’t catch them all.

I’m still left with a longing for them to wake-up and GET IT.  Care for your fellow human.  On a microscopic level you are destroying the planet before the next big weapon is even developed.  Photo by inturruptingcowGet over your little developing selves and think about the little developing pal next to you.  Because at the end of the day, I’m still left with an emptiness – wondering, fearing what happens after they let Margot out?

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