Haunting From The Past

By Cameron Kirton (originally published at his blog http://bgm-britishgaymormon.blogspot.co.uk/)

A few nights ago I was watching a documentary on TV with my housemates, The focus of the documentary was depression and suicide, particular amongst professional footballers and the elite youth that are trying to be professionals. The documentary put it out there that a number of players have at least suffered with depression and some had attempted, and succeeded, with suicide. As the presenter of the show, Clark Carlisle, a professional player stood in the park in which he had attempted to take his own life and cried as he remembered the circumstances. I started to think of a girl that I went to Primary school with. During the summer between primary school and high school she took her own life. She was just 11 years old.

Shit man, she was just 11 years old. How is it possible for a child to reach such an age and believe that they have nothing left to live for? Why did an 11 year old girl decide that to exist no longer would be the best course of action for her to take? Why didn’t I do something to stop it?

Even in death I feel I should protect her identity, and for the purposes of the blog I’ll call her Annie (she had bright red hair, like the girl from the musical). Annie wasn’t popular. Whatever it is that makes a child at school popular, Annie didn’t have it. She’d had a tough up bringing, I can’t speculate too much on her home life, but I can tell you the things that I observed. She often came into school dirty. Her skin, her hair, under her finger nails, constantly had a grey tint to them. There was a smell as well. A smell that i recognised as one that turns up after several days of not showering. I know that smell because as a kid I’d do whatever it took to defy my mother, and if that meant not bathing when she told me too that’s what I’d do. So after several days of being boisterous in the woods, playing football and general rough and tumble of being a young a boy, I would stink. The choice to bathe or not was then taken out of my hands and I would find myself naked in the bath with my mother scrubbing away at my unwashed skin. How mortifying and embarrassing. How thankful I am for a mother who cared enough to give me the opportunity to make my own decisions, but willing to do the right thing when I inevitably made the wrong ones.

Annie didn’t seem to have this in her life. That makes and made me sad.

She came to my school in her final year of Primary education aged 10-11. She had left her previous school because she had been bullied. I hadn’t known anybody leave a school for being bullied. My Primary school was pretty small. I had just 18 kids in my class. About half of the number in classes today. There was bullying in the school, but it was never particularly malicious. Or maybe I’m just simply oblivious to it, as I was one of the ‘popular’ kids. Either way, nobody had ever left the school because of it. And here was this young girl with bright red hair, grey skin and dirty finger nails joining our school because she couldn’t take the bullying anymore.

I don’t think we were ever told that she had been bullied. Some how the word gets around on these kind of things. Somebodies, cousins, friends, sisters, nephew went to her previous school and from there the stories began. I don’t remember much about her to be honest. I remember that she was good at rounders (a bit like soft ball). It’s weird that I can’t remember much more. On a few occasions, my sisters and I would play in the street, out side of school hours, with Annie and her brother and sister. We weren’t friends, but as children it doesn’t really matter how well you know somebody. If they want to play the same game as you, you let them and you enjoy it, and you have no prejudice or preconceptions as to who they are. In that moment you are the best of friends.

One day, during the lunch time break, something happened that when I think about it now makes me cry. I don’t recall the incidents leading up to it so we have to jump straight into the closing stages of the action.

A herd of rabid children are racing down the school playground. Pretty much ever child in the juniour school is charging at full pelt across the tarmac. Whenever I picture it in my mind, I am stood off to one side of the yard observing it happen. However, I can’t be sure whether that was actually the reality of it or not. I could have been part of the mass, and my brain has chosen to distance me from it as a way of coping. The vicious gang of blood thirsty hounds are in pursuit of the scared fox. A school full of children chasing Annie. Chasing her through the school yard all the way to the railings where she had no more place to go. What were we/they doing? What were we/they going to do to her once we/they had caught her? I don’t think anybody knew. I dread to think when looking back at it. Annie reaches the railings with something close to 40 kids in pursuit of her. I’m pretty certain that I never saw her face in real life, but i see it now. She has tears running down her face, she shakes uncontrollably, and fears that she is about to be ripped apart by savage children. She does the only thing she can do in this moment to save herself. She climbs the railings and escapes from the school grounds and escapes from the angry mob. What the heck just happened? In my head I’m nowhere near any of this action. But I can’t be certain.

My next memory of that day is sat in the school hall. Every child in the juniour school (7-11) sat on the floor with the teach of the year 6 class, my class, Annie’s class, stood at the front of the hall crying. saying such things as; “This is not who we are”, “I am appalled and ashamed of all of you”, “Hang your heads in shame”. The whole of the juniour school was on detention. We didn’t do detentions in primary school. This was the first ever, not only that it included half of the school. At the time it was all a little surreal. Right now, I couldn’t be prouder of those teachers. Teachers that took a whole school to task for their treatment of another human being. I remember the teacher condemning every child in that school hall. Whether part of the mob or not. Those that stood by and watched were just as much to blame as those that took an active part. The image of my teacher in tears in school in front of everyone is a sight that is etched in my mind. She wanted us all to see those tears. I hope that her tears are in the minds of every child that was in the hall that day.

I can’t remember if Annie came back to school after that. It’s weird. I genuinely cannot remember if she finished the school year with us or not. I can go around my class and picture every other face and where they sat in the class. But I cannot locate Annie’s face.

The summer comes and goes and my class mates and I take that step from being in Primary School to being in High School. Taking our first steps into young adulthood. We’re all at least 11 years old and we are sat on the floor of the assembly hall of our high school. The head teacher is leading the assembly and he talks about the tragic death of a local girl who took her life during the summer. A girl who was going to be starting high school this year, but chose to take her own life instead of facing the bullying that she had thought inevitable at high school. The headteacher mentions the girls name, It’s Annie. I had known Annie, the people sat around me had known Annie, and now there was no Annie to know.

After watching this documentary this evening, I messaged my sister:

“Hey, I’m watching a documentary about footballers and suicide. And Annie popped into my head. Do you think we could have done anything to have changed what happened?”

“I do think about her, I think I could have been a better friend to (Annie’s sister)…and I was afterwards. I don’t think I knew what was going on at the time. If it was now and she was a child and we were the adults I know in my heart I would reach out and do something. Without blame – I think her family needed to invest more into their children. We all grew up with the same start in life – yet we were always well turned out and that took us off the radar for most bullies x”
“I never bullied her. But I never stopped others from doing it. Sometimes I do feel guilty. I kind of hope that my whole class feels some guilt. I think she’s forgotten by the people in my class. I know I shouldn’t take it on my shoulders but I wish I had done more”
“You can do more each day of your life by being who you are, you too felt like taking your own life at one point. Live it. Don’t take it for granted and be the person you wish you could be then – now. Stand up for what you know is right. You are a good man who cares enough to remember those less fortunate – don’t feel blame, feel a need to do something” 
Wise and inspiring words from my sister. I’d like to think that through out my high school life, I did what I could to help others. I was one of the popular kids and I did my best to use that popularity to help. In my final year I was made head boy of the school. In some ways (in hindsight) it was in memorial to Annie. I served in that position at school, constantly trying to help those who couldn’t fight their own corners, I’d come out swinging on their behalf.
I’m sorry Annie that I didn’t do more, I was a child then. We were all children. Children can be so mean. I am now an adult, my actions are my own, no excuses. I will do what I can to never be part of that mob, that crowd, that gang of rabid dogs. Where I can, I shall stand against them. I will come out swinging for those that can’t.
R.I.P. Annie x

I was born in the Northwest of England before venturing to London in search of streets paved with gold. Instead, what I’ve found is the highs and lows and in-betweens that life as a British, Gay Mormon has to offer and every step along the way trying to find happiness.

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