Don’t tread on me

Molly planted her feet on the bottom of the public pool. The water came up to her shoulders, about four feet deep. She wiped the water from her eyes, squinting in the bright sunlight of early afternoon.

Other swimmers were splashing and squealing around her. She didn’t notice anyone coming up behind her. She wasn’t aware of anyone until hands grabbed her, pushed her underwater and held her there. She gasped a deep breath of air as her head slid under the water. She kicked and fought to get free of the hands that wouldn’t let go, wouldn’t let her rise up for air. Her heart pounded. She was going to die! Didn’t the lifeguard or anyone else see what was happening? Why wasn’t someone helping her? Why was someone doing this to her?

And then she broke free – or the hands just decided to let go. She bobbed above the surface, taking a deep breath of air into her lungs and fumbled her way to the wall of the pool, looking back but the person, whoever it was, was gone. She had no idea who had done this to her. She climbed up and sat on the wall to catch her breath. Then she gathered her belongings and left the pool, headed for home.

Molly had no interest in going back to the pool. She was afraid. If it happened again, she might not be so lucky to get away. She might die. Each sunny day her mother urged her to go and swim with friends. Molly would not. She didn’t tell anyone what had happened. She just knew she couldn’t go back. She stayed at home where she felt safe, with her books and her music.

Bullying was not new to Molly. Coming home from school one day she found a gang of boys had her brother pinned to the ground, another boy sitting on David’s chest, beating his head against the macadam street. That was the day she realized how much other kids hated her brother and her. She knew she always would have to be alert for and aware of the bullies that might prey on them.

The stopbullying.gov website lists the warning signs of bullying.

— Unexplainable injuries.

— Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, jewelry.

— Headaches or stomachaches, feeling sick or faking it, often.

— Suddenly skipping meals or binge-eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they didn’t eat lunch.

— Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares.

— Grades begin to slip, they don’t want to go to school and have no interest in their school work.

— Their friends are nowhere around and they don’t want to be in social situations that may turn ugly.

— They feel helpless or unworthy.

— Self-harm becomes a problem, running away, hurting themselves or talking about suicide.

Why don’t kids who are bullied ask for help? Molly didn’t want to appear to be weak. She wasn’t always going to have someone around to defend her. She needed to be able to handle her problems herself. She wasn’t a “tattletale.” Besides that, who cared anyway? Who was going to understand what she was struggling with?

Molly made up her mind early on that the bullies were not going to defeat her. She was tougher and stronger than they were, and every bit as deserving to live and be as anyone else. Her mother never said life was easy. It’s not. But it is worth the experiences gained.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded, in part, by the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.

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