Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mickey's Story

My brother, Mickey, is a year younger than me and two grades behind me. I graduated from high school in 2004, but was there for half of my brother's high school career. We're pictured on the right, displaying brotherly love, at his graduation in 2006. Mickey had everything going for him - he was a budding basketball player, inquisitive, and charming. The summer before my senior year and his sophomore year, he became paralyzed from the chest down overnight. He literally went to sleep, feeling a little dizzy, and woke up the next morning unable to move his legs. This sort of thing doesn't just happen randomly - but somehow, someway, it did. Mickey spent the rest of that summer in hospitals in Charlotte and Winston-Salem trying to figure out what triggered this odd and tragic occurrence.

While doctors attempted to figure out what exactly had happened, my brother dutifully learned how to live life confined to a wheelchair. As his brother, I spent many days and nights in a state of grief for him and all that he would miss out on - especially basketball, at which he was only beginning to flourish.

It wasn't long until school started and Mickey would have to face all of his peers who knew him as a spry, quick little guy, transformed to this seemingly changed incarnation. The only thing is - Mickey hadn't changed. If anything, his changes were for the better. Through the entire process, he was brave, humble and had a sense of humor.

It didn't take long, though, to see that just because of his new physical handicap, others saw him differently. You never realize how much folks stare at physically handicapped people until your brother is one of them. You never realize how obviously people whisper and wonder about him until you're walking down the halls beside him.

Mickey would never share his story. He'd never let others know the pain he felt when those who he thought were his friends became bullies. They, like most bullies, were just kids who couldn't understand his predicament, so instead, they made fun of it. I know it's too painful for Mickey to have to recall what he experienced... Which is why I'm sharing it as someone who saw firsthand the destruction of self that bullying can cause.

When Mickey - against all odds - started moving his toes, and then his feet, and his legs, and his whole body again, our family rejoiced. We couldn't believe it, but he was actually recovering. Now, he was forced to walk with the aid of arm crutches, and eventually a walker until his muscles gained enough mass for him to be stable. If you can believe it - the bullying became worse the more elevated he got. It wasn't until he was walking without any aid that it stopped, and that he was able to see who his true friends were and carry on with his life.

What happened to Mickey physically, albeit interesting, is too long and complicated for this story - and it's beside the point. The point is that the essence of my brother never changed throughout his ordeal, but the attitudes towards him changed drastically. It made an almost unimaginable situation all the more overwhelming and unbearable for him and it was all unnecessary. It just didn't have to be that way.

We must first place protections, like the School Violence Prevention Act, in schools that prohibit bullying of any type. Then, we can only hope that when a bully is stopped for laughing at another kid in a wheelchair, or with red hair, or with a lisp, that the bully will then be forced to ask themselves, or someone else, why they were stopped. It can't take long for that child to see that the reason they were stopped from bullying another kid is because it is just plain wrong.

We can only hope that the legislators who oppose this bill will stop and ask themselves why they are against protecting all students from bullying - especially those most susceptible. And if they foolishly choose to continue their opposition of keeping schools safe for all students, well, then they too, are just plain wrong.