I was diagnosed with Dyslexia when I was in the fourth grade. I don’t think I fully understood what it was but all I knew is that within a month’s time I went from getting straight A’s on my spelling tests to getting F’s. I couldn’t explain to my mother why this was happening because I was memorizing the words I copied down from the chalkboard every week. My mother, also a fourth grade teacher at my school, asked to see my spelling list and saw all of the jumbled letters and immediately knew what the problem was. It also explained the new problems I was having in math which was much harder than my spelling problems.
While I was relieved to know I wasn’t to blame for this sudden change in my life, I certainly didn’t broadcast that I was different. But my classmates would soon notice and make sure that I knew they noticed. My language arts teacher would hand me the list of spelling words on a sheet of paper and I was given special permission to use graph paper to help me line up all of my math problems.
It was that graph paper that really made me stick out. My classmates made fun of me because I needed to use special paper and every once in a while someone would steal my graph paper leaving me with regular paper to do my homework and getting everything wrong.
Then having my own mother as my history and Spanish teach didn’t help that much either. She tried so hard to not show any sort of favoritism that she ended up being tougher on me than she probably would have been otherwise. While she didn’t tolerate any sort of bullying in her classroom she couldn’t stop what she didn’t see and never did anything when I complained to her.
I somehow made it through the rest of elementary school and started junior high school where I played in the school band and met the only other person I would tell about my learning disability. His name was Peter. He was every stereotypical definition of a nerd. He had the glasses, the clothes, and the awkward laugh. He would see me working on my math homework every day before band class and see me getting frustrated with it. One day he offered to help and for some reason I said yes. That’s how our friendship started and that’s how I eventually felt comfortable enough to tell him why I had a hard time with math.
Peter was bullied more than I ever was. People would trip him in the hallway, knock his books out of his hands, call him names, and make fun of him. I was only occasionally included in this taunting because I started playing on the school volleyball and basketball teams in eighth grade. Hit some aces down the line to win a big volleyball game or some big jump shots and things get a bit easier. But they never did for Peter.
One Saturday morning he took his father’s shotgun, went into the backyard, put the barrel of the gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. He didn’t leave a note so we never knew the exact reason, but those of us who knew him had a pretty good idea why. We were all asked by school administrators and the police if we knew anything about it. We didn’t; but told everyone about the bullying. I don’t think they ever believed that could be reason enough to kill yourself. There was never any follow-up counseling and never any lessons on bullying. We were on our own.
Peter’s funeral was standing room only and just about everyone from school went. I think mainly to get out of class. I know that doesn’t say much about my classmates but when 80 percent of the people in attendance made life a living hell for one of your friends you have a hard time believing their sincerity. I still wonder if any of them felt guilty for what they did to him.
I ended up failing math in both eighth and ninth grade and only got passed on because of the kindness of some teachers finding some extra credit work for me to do. I also, would never tell anyone else I was Dyslexic until I was in college.
After my parent’s divorce, my mother had a hard time selling our home and felt that I would be better off if I moved to New York and live with my grandparents until she could join us. In many ways it was great to have a fresh start but that quickly faded. I soon realized that just about everyone in this small Westchester village grew up together, if they were not outright related to each other. I made a few friends in band fairly quickly but I stuck out with my Texas accent, Texas clothes, and Texas way of doing things.
The first week of school someone broke into my locker and stole all of my books, except for my math book. Yup, the one book, I couldn’t understand any way. I later found my books and other belongings in a trash can. On occasion, I would be pushed around and sometimes pushed hard against my locker.
It was during this time that I felt like I just couldn’t take anymore and there were a few moments when I debated the pros and cons of living.
Then one day, that one person that so many of us need found me. She came in the form of a school counselor reaching out to all the new kids in school and even better she was new at the school as well. She really saved my life. For one lunch period a week I had my safe space where I could tell her my problems. I told her about Peter but not about the Dyslexia and never my other question I was starting to deal with — my sexuality. But slowly, things began to improve. She helped get my locker moved closer to my fellow bandmates and the locker theft stopped. Because I was able to open up with Laurie, I was able to make more friends.
She had to move out of state at the end of the school year and I was devastated. But she left me with just enough confidence to get through things. It certainly wasn’t easy all the time even up until my senior year when I was told by some parents they didn’t want me in some pictures because they were only for the group of kids who grew up together. Even parents can be cruel.
Like many people, I finally found my way in college. I was able to utter the words to many people that I was Dyslexic, making friends was easier, and eventually I would even admit to myself that I was gay. It was through this that I would also find my voice in activism for women’s and lgbt equality.
After many year’s of marches and petitions I decided to become a fundraiser for The Trevor Project, the only national organization providing suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth in crisis. It was in 2010 and 2011 after all of those horrible lgbt suicides were in just about every news report.
After not getting into the NYC Half Marathon through their lottery I looked at the list of charity teams and saw that The Trevor Project had a team and one of the greatest experiences of my life began. Aside from raising the money to help Trevor I met some amazing people who gave so much of their time to this incredible organization. Not only were these people raising money for Trevor but these were some of the very people who answer those crisis phone lines. For some teens out there they would be their “Laurie,” their person who would save their lives.
I’ve been thinking about Peter a lot this past year and I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because I’ve got some major life milestones coming up — 15 years at my company this September, 20 years in July when I first uttered the words, “I’m gay” to myself, and 25 years in August that I have been in New York. Or it could just be a reminder that I need to continue to fight against bullying and homophobia.
I had originally planned on waiting until I actually began my marathon training to announce my fund raising plans. But I have recently seen so many hateful, homophobic comments on Twitter, Facebook, and other websites. The ugliness of these posts is incredibly frustrating and I will not stand by and be silent about any of this. I think these have served as those reminders I needed.
I’m already in the NYC Marathon through my guaranteed entry. I didn’t need to sign up for a charity team to run this race and I never will. This doesn’t mean that I can’t make this race count for others. Once again, I will be raising money for The Trevor Project. I’ve set a modest goal of $1,500 to start off and I’ll need your help to get there and beyond.
Please help me make sure that kids like me and my friend Peter can find that one voice that will turn things around for us and save our lives. You can send the message that you won’t tolerate bullying and homophobia either. I think my friend Peter would be proud of us.