That Must Be Italian

[Mr. Parker reads a side of the box with the prize that he won]
Mr. Parker: Fra-gee-lay. That must be Italian.
Mrs. Parker: Uh, I think that says FRAGILE, dear.
Mr. Parker: Oh, yeah.
~ Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story

We were driving home from the afterparty of the speech and debate tournament, my boy, his friend, and I. Talking about the neighborhood in which he lived.  My son mentioned a mutual friend who lived a couple blocks away, and I mentioned a boy I knew, the son of a friend of mine.  That's when he said it.

"I hate that kid.  He's a real douchebag."

I was shocked; my son's friend had not struck me as the sort of person who hated anyone.  Yet upon further reflection, it didn't surprise me.  My friend, the hated boy's mother, had told me her son felt alienated from his classmates, that they all seemed to him to judge him harshly because he had made some missteps.  He had told her he had no friends.  And she had been frightened that in that state of mind, he might do what another boy at the high school had done the previous year.  Kill himself.

I debated with myself for a second what to say.  I did not want to reveal a confidence, yet I wanted to help this boy out.

It's a tough time, one's teen years.  Troubles can seem insurmountable.  That's the basis of that whole "It gets better" campaign, designed to help LGBT youth comprehend that even though things seem awful to them now, as they get older and meet other people outside their high school, they will find happiness.  Really, that's true for straight youth as well.  It gets better.

For now, though, it can be harsh.  And when I heard this statement from my son's friend, I decided to speak up.  "You know....I've heard he can be a jerk.  But his mother is a friend of mine.  And she has told me he is very fragile."  I paused, hoping the words were sinking in.  "I know you wouldn't want to make him feel he was truly hated, because it could tip him over.   We don't want another situation like _________ to happen."  I named the boy who'd committed suicide.

"No," said my friend's son slowly.  "He is a douchebag, though."

"Be that as it may," I said, "please don't hate him."

"He's fra-gee-lay," said my son, trying to lighten the mood.  "That must be Italian."  We all laughed a bit, recognizing the reference.  It's funny how some words have popular culture connotations. 

As we pulled into his driveway to drop off my son's friend, he thanked me for the ride, and then said something that made me realize I had done the right thing in telling him about his neighbor.  "I'll remember what you said," he told me. 

Then my son and I drove home.  And I resolved to call my friend in the morning to find out how her boy was doing, and perhaps invite him out for coffee.  I've found that sometimes talking with another adult helps my own son, and figure I can provide an ear for my pal's son.  If he shows douchebag tendencies, I can tell him to knock 'em off without making him feel unloved.  That's what mums are for.  We keep kids in line.  At least, we try.
milkynips milkynips
46-50, F
3 Responses Dec 2, 2012

Well told story. Those teen years can be such a crucible for kids. Not only do they have hormones raging through their bodies for the first time, so does everyone else around them. Everybody is desperate to become popular or at least fit in. I've also noticed that they take the "running from a bear" approach. If you and your friends are running from a bear, you don't have to be the fastest... just don't be the slowest. In that regard, if someone has a perceived weakness... often kids will take the low road and push that person in front of the mob to deflect negative attention away from themselves. The fact that you've seen some warning signs and have taken positive steps to make a difference in your own (and the teen's) life speaks volumes about you. More than just another pretty avatar...

Great story Milky and I think you did the right thing. There is a lot of the suicide stuff going on among teens who are bullied for some reason or another. Just this past year, an old friend of mines son did just that. Apparently he was being beat up pretty regularly for being gay. More parents need to communicate with their kids in the way you did.

Great story well told as usual milky. Sometimes the young ones don't like us to tell them "stuff" but you definitely did the right thing on this occasion. Hopefully the douchebag will behave less like one as time goes on and he can resolve or at least come to terms with some of his issues.