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.
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.