Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why,” has been out for over two months now and I finally gained the ability to watch it.
Having read the book, multiple reviews, press coverage and more on the show prior to watching the first season, I wasn’t thrilled. I wasn’t excited and was hesitant to become another viewer after reading all the mixed feelings.
But as someone who was bullied throughout her entire youth until she moved to Ithaca after the 7th grade, I didn’t want to admit that I could possibly connect to the show, even at 23 years old. In a few short paragraphs, here’s a synopsis of my youth.
I had only two friends growing up while I had to live through a series of name calling, death wishes on then hit social media site Myspace (R.I.P), had a fake Myspace account made of me, Twinkies thrown in my face, ridiculed for being another awkward pubescent teenager, fat-shamed, sexual harassed and was hated by a lot of people for no concrete reason. I was lonely, depressed and didn’t want to live anymore because of everything that was happening in my youth.
It will be 10 years this month, June 17 to be precise, when it all finally ended. I became free of all the negativity, the name-calling, sexual harassment and hate. I remember it all but I don’t hold grudges or hate anyone who did anything. There’s no point. It’s in the past and for one reason or another, it happened for a reason.
But it still happened. It’s in my box of memories that I can never forget. Its shaped who I’ve become as a young adult. And that’s why I connect with the character, Hannah Baker, for many of these reasons.
Watching the first season took me back to that time when I tried to make friends or tried to do the right thing and it backfired on me. I remember being touched by my male classmates and saying no to their gestures, feeling so violated I couldn’t even stop them.
I remember the rumors spread about me that went out to the whole school within a class period, out to people I didn’t even know or interacted with. I remember vividly being suspended out of school for defending myself as someone instigated a fight with me, and then having the blame for the bullying and fighting on me from all my teachers and administrators.
Day in and day out I would watch people stare and talk as I stood in my faded and worn out top red locker for two years in the 6th and 7th grade wings at Woodbury, confused as I tried to find the right words to say. Something to make it all stop so I didn’t have to cry myself to sleep each night.
It might be over 10 years ago by now but I still remember: faces and names and moments. No matter how hard I try I can’t change my narrative. I can’t make up what I have lived through.
I didn’t lie and Hannah Baker didn’t lie about what she went through either. I believed every tape she made when I read the book and watched the series. You can’t make events; like being bullied, ridiculed, sexual harassed, and for Hannah and Jessica, being raped, up. It was her narrative to tell.
I connect with Hannah and I understand her motives. I understand why she wanted to kill herself. I understand why she made the tapes; in order for the other students to truly understand exactly what they did, how it stuck with Hannah and how those moments shaped her perception of the world and people in her tiny town.
Some people, in the show and some in real-life, think that making the tapes were all for attention. I don’t agree with the approach of what became of the tapes in the show but the motives are clear. There is nothing than a person who has experienced severe bullying wants is the straightforward, truthful answer to the simple question.
Why was I was the one ridiculed for so many years?
Why was I always touched when I said no?
What did I do that was so horrific that nobody wanted to be seen with me?
Why did you do it?
Why did so many people watch and not say a word?
All Hannah wanted was an answer to the hell she was living in. Heck, that’s all I wanted growing up, too. Some I got, some I didn’t but I don’t need those questions answered anymore. Hannah was never able to receive a reason why but she gave her reasons why.
All I want is for teenagers and young students to not go through the hell and misery I went through or go through what Hannah went through depicted from a book to the screen.
If there is one lesson to take away from this show: words have more power than we recognize or believe they do. Words, hurtful and degrading words, are more powerful than the people who actually say them.
Be kind. Be good. Everyone is going through a battle you know nothing about. And bullying shows the character of the bully, not the bullied.
Part 2 featuring what I found enjoyable and powerful in “13 Reasons Why” will be coming in a few days.