This is the story of Michael Carnevale, an eighth grader in Woodbridge, Ontario, as told to his parents.
On Ash Wednesday, I got hit really hard. In school.
And I still don't know who did it.
I was walking down the hall at school after mass, when I felt a hard smack in the back of my head. It wasn't unexpected. Kids had been calling me names like "stupid retard," poking, and threatening me for weeks before it happened. But after it happened I was still in shock.
Someone took a blunt object (it felt like a textbook) and whacked me so hard I felt like I had fallen down a flight of stairs.
I'm in martial arts and view that kind of physical contact as cheap and cowardly. Even if I knew who had hit me, I would never respond with violence.
Unfortunately, since I was blindsided, I still have no idea who did it.
Nobody who walked down the hall with me that day will speak up and help identify the bully.
It isn't as though my classmates and I can't identify bullying. We've actually been educated to recognize bullying by the V.I.P. (Values, Influences, Peers) awareness program since grade six and the halls of our school prominently display anti-bullying and zero tolerance posters.
Unfortunately, my tormentors have been effective in scaring everybody into silence.
Anti-bullying education failed me.
But I refuse to be silent. After getting hit, I tried to regain my composure and quietly told a staff member I had been hit in the head because that is what we are taught to do: Report the incident.
Unfortunately the staff on duty interpreted my story as though I was only suffering from a headache, not head injury.
Trained ears failed me.
Since the assault happened at the end of the day, I quickly packed up my bag, walked my two younger brothers home and immediately told my parents what had happened. They were horrified.
A few minutes later, we were in the car going to the doctor's office. Since the incident, I've seen four different doctors and continue to suffer from horrible headaches and pain that I did not experience prior to the assault.
My parents followed up with the school officials, asking for the video recording of the assault because my school is equipped with cameras to catch these incidents. Unfortunately, the bullying was not caught on camera.
Technology failed me.
Word quickly got around that my parents were looking into the bullying. The bullies, afraid of getting in trouble, called me a "rat" and "narc" and continued to sneakily harass me behind the backs of teachers. What felt even worse? My friends ignored me. I don't blame them, though. If they associated with me they would also get picked on. I ate my lunch alone every day for a week. At recess, I read a book instead of socializing with my peers.
My peers failed me.
A few months ago, I would only hint that I was being bullied to my parents, casually mentioning that a few guys were bothering me, downplaying the harassment and verbal abuse I experienced everyday. Now I was ready to tell them everything.
I made it clear that I was not going back to a place where people could emotionally, verbally and physically hurt me. I told them in detail about how the bullying started with name-calling and in a few months, had escalated into a full-blown assault. I expressed the incredible dread I felt every Monday morning when I had to return to a place where I felt unsafe. I explained that I had difficulty paying attention in class over the year because my concentration was constantly broken by verbal harassment. My dad blamed himself for not seeing signs of bullying earlier and my mom cried. But my parents did a lot more than anyone else.
They listened to me. They believed me. And they continue to support me. We made the decision that I would not return to school until my safety could be guaranteed.
My parents are working with the principal, demanding to see a plan for safe re-entry that is an unprecedented action at my school. I have had lunch with my school's principal and we are now working together to make school a safer learning environment for me, and other victims that have been bullied by the same kids.
And despite being failed by the system, I am not going to give up or shut up.
I'm not going to fight back the way the bullies want me to. Instead, I'm going to speak up and not suffer in silence.
My hope is that other victims of bullying will read my story and realize, even if your friends turn their backs on you, even if your classmates deny seeing anything, even if your teachers claim that bullying didn't happen in their halls and classrooms, you are not alone.
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