Breaking Point: #4

I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain.  My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone.  Thank you all for your bravery.  You are helping the world to heal.  To participate and for more info go here.

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Elizabeth Gaucher at Esse Diem

“The Regret Story”

Alice was a beautiful young girl at a 4-H camp where I was a counselor one summer. She and her brother were both campers that week, and even back then I recognized in them a fragility under their good looks and strong sibling bond. Alice was needy, and shy, and desperately wanted to be liked, but she did weird things. She clung to her brother when other kids wanted her to socialize with them, and she carried a baby doll everywhere she went. She slept with the doll, changed the doll’s clothes, even introduced the doll as her friend.
The other girls were snickering about Alice’s insecurity and rolling their eyes over the baby doll, but I didn’t think there was trouble brewing.
I was wrong.

One morning I heard peals of laughter coming from the community bathroom. “Come in here, Elizabeth, you have to see this. Oh my God, this is hilarious!” I can still see it. My heart is pounding right now as I write this, and I feel sick to my stomach.

I walked into to bathroom to see Alice standing alone, crying, with a circle of girls around her laughing. She was trying to reach something, and the others would not help her. The others had hanged her baby doll naked from a shower curtain, noose around its neck. They tortured and killed the only friend Alice had at camp with the exception of her brother, and then they laughed in her face as she cried for help.

I remember being frozen. It was one of those terrible moments when your mind and your body refuse to connect. It felt like an eternity before I could move or speak. I told everyone but Alice to get out. I reached up to save the doll, and then put it in her arms. I think I told her I was sorry that happened, but I don’t know that I did. My memory is that I wanted the whole thing to go away as quickly as possible.

I could have done more to prevent it from happening. I could have done more to reprimand the girls who did this awful thing. I could have done more to comfort Alice, but I didn’t. I moved on. I wanted it to never have happened, and I acted like it never did.

How I failed Alice is the only thing I define as regret in my life. I knew she needed a friend, someone who would do more than just take the doll down, and that those other girls needed to be held accountable for what they did. When I read about bullying episodes nationwide, I see that others are there, others are aware, but they do not get involved. Why? It is terrifying to witness this kind of psychological violence against another person. If you have never seen it in action, it is hard to understand its power. It isolates and harms the direct victim, and it paralyzes the witness in a cloud of desperation. Talking about it seems to keep it alive.
That’s how it seems, but how it is is that not talking about it keeps it alive. It would be convenient to say, “I know that now,” but I knew that then. I didn’t do what I should have done, and what I knew was required.

I don’t know why this event out of hundreds of life events haunts me the way it does. If there is an afterlife, my vision is that I will encounter a healed and whole Alice, and that she will forgive me.


Filed under Breaking Point, My Posts

8 Responses to Breaking Point: #4

  1. Laura, thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story as part of this series.

    Your consistent emphasis on vulnerability as a key element of genuine storytelling has had a lasting impact on my writing. Thank you for reaching out to other writers the way that you do, and for all of your support.

  2. Anne Barnhill

    OH Elizabeth, you made me cry witht this beautiful story of regret. I want to tell you to forgive yourself–you were not much more than the child in question. You did the best you could at the time–we have all done things we regret. This reminds me of a story I’ll tell you some time–for what it’s worth, I still do NOT regret what I did–Thanks for sharing this!

    • Thank you so much, Ann. It’s an interesting feeling over the years. I don’t hate myself over it, I just remember it and I’ve come to think that remembering it and honoring it as a time I should have done better is my way of atoning. I see so many news stories connected now to incidents like this, and I wanted to put this experience “out there” as a way of maybe opening up dialogue about the need for those of us who witness this kind of assault on another person to do better, to do more.

      I think the key is to honor the event without becoming obsessed with it. Maybe that is the forgiveness piece, but not the forgetting. I won’t ever forget it.

  3. And for the record, my regret is that I do not believe I did the best I could have done.

  4. Lisa Smith

    Powerful. I once met a headmaster of a Va. boarding school at a friend’s wedding who said he had “zero tolerance” for bullying. Booze, drugs, and fighting carried less stigma than bullying in his eyes. Both the gentleman and the school immediately rose higher on my likability scale. That conversation, ten years ago, gave me hope then and still does today.

    • Thank you for sharing that. It does give me some encouragement as well. Those other infractions you mention are often tied to bad judgement, but not to cruelty. We need to do more to make those distinctions in a whole host of environments. What a difference we could make in the world……

  5. Oh goodness…the guilt-inducing and heart-wrenching power of the word “should” is so hard to rid ourselves of, isn’t it? Is it possible to keep the memory alive without torturing yourself with your own version of psychological violence? Please forgive me if I’ve gone too far…I mean no tone to that question other than one of sincere kindness. I do believe that sharing these stories, allowing others to bear witness, is what prevents other children from going down this road. Is there any way that I could share this with my students? If not, I will completely understand and respect your decision.

    Thank you so much for sharing this –

    • Natasha, please share it with whomever you think could benefit. I wrote it down in the hope that it might have a positive influence in the future.

      It is almost a spiritual albatross for me over all these years. I know what you mean and I will give that some thought, am I perpetuating some violence by hanging on to this. You make a good point. All I can say is that I do not feel like I am doing that internally so much as just touching an event on regular basis and honoring the lesson it taught me.

      I don’t know if that makes sense. I hope it does! Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate it!

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