• thewhitehatter

The Kid From The Other Side Of The Tracks

I want to introduce you all to DAL, a young teen boy who, by all accounts, was well adjusted, smart for this age, and athletic. While in junior high school, a teacher, who all the kids called Mr. C, recognized that DAL (and a couple of his friends) had a real talent for basketball. Mr. C, being the school’s basketball coach, decided that he would take DAL under his wing, and work with him to develop his skills in the game. Mr. C worked with DAL before and after classes, and even on weekends where he would open the school gym to allow DAL and his friends to shoot hoops to their hearts’ content. When in his senior year at junior high school, DAL was voted captain of his basketball team by his peers and he enjoyed a very positive and engaged school life.

While in his last year as a junior, a basketball coach from a neighboring high school outside of DAL’s school district became very interested in having DAL and two of his teammates, who were also brothers, play for him at his school. There were two problems though:

  1. Crossing school boundaries to play a sport for a school outside of district was not allowed, and

  2. recruiting for a school outside of district was also prohibited.

Although faced with these challenges, DAL and his two friends really wanted to play basketball at this other school. Through more research, DAL’s family, Mr. C, and school counselors found an exception to the prohibition clause: if a school outside of district offered an academic program that was not offered in the district that the student lived in then, and only then, would a student be allowed to cross district lines. The school that DAL wanted to play at had such a program. DAL and his two team mates were now allowed to cross school district lines using the “academic exception” clause to hide their real reason for their transfers… to play basketball.

DAL and his two friends lived in a part of the city that was known to be poorer than most. DAL’s junior high school had the reputation of being one in which students loved to drink, use drugs, and fight. Although this was the perception that many students from all the other schools had, DAL knew that it was not the reality. Really, DAL’s school culture was no different from any other school inside or outside of the district.

The school that DAL was now going to attend was located in the richest part of town. Many of the students who attended this school lived a lifestyle that DAL admits, in hindsight, were very different from those he and his friends had experienced. Unfortunately, this fact would not be realized by DAL and his two teammates, until the first day of classes at their new school.

It was now the first week of September, and DAL and his friends were excited about attending the first day of class at their new school. All three hopped a city bus, given there were no school busses that went to their new school, and after a 45 minutes bus ride, they ended up at their new school.

DAL was dressed in a new pair of pants and shirt that his mom and dad bought at Sears, and so too were his two friends and teammates. All three boys also sported the newest hairstyle trend that all their friends were wearing. With basketball under arm, DAL and his two friends walked into their new school looking forward to the adventures ahead. Unknown to DAL however, these adventures would become what in basketball speak is known as a “game changer.”

As soon as DAL walked through the school doors, he could sense that something wasn’t right. Rather than the welcome feeling that DAL was expecting, he had a sense that he just landed in a different world. Other than the basketball coach and his two friends, DAL knew no one and everyone was now looking at him. As DAL walked to his homeroom, he could hear the laughing and comments being made about how he was dressed and his goofy hairstyle. At first, DAL just blew off these comments believing that being the “new kid” brings a certain amount of criticism or jesting by others. DAL was confident, however, that once his new set of peers got to know him, things would be like they were at his old school.

At end of the first school day, DAL met up with his two friends at the bus stop where he could sense something was off. Once on the bus, all three boys started to talk about what happened to them. His two friends also experienced the negative comments that DAL had heard about his clothes and hair. This was not something that DAL and his friends were expecting. Even though all three were now starting to have second thoughts about their school choice, DAL was the first to say that things would change once the other students got to know them.

It was week two, and the situation at school with DAL and his friends were now getting worse. Negative comments that were once whispered, were now being said openly. DAL’s locker, as well as his two friends’ locker, were being vandalized and spit on and written messages were being left on desks that stated things like, “Stoners go back home” or “Your type does not belong at this school.” It got so bad, that one of the brothers found himself in a physical fight given that he did not know what else to do. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for DAL’s two friends, because the very next day they both withdrew from this school and returned back to the high school in their district. DAL however, decided to stick it out. When DAL’s mom and dad asked him how things were going at his new school, he would say “great.” This was a statement that was far from the truth.

After getting a hair cut and pleading with his parents to buy him some jeans and shirts from anywhere other than Sears, DAL started week three at his new school. Basketball tryouts were just starting, and DAL was getting to know some of his new teammates. One of these new teammates was very popular at the school, and DAL’s first instinct was to befriend this student. Given what had happened thus far, however, DAL was very hesitant to do so and for good reason.

As the basketball tryouts progressed, DAL was in the locker room getting changed after practice when this teammate, his friend, confronted DAL about why he came to their school. DAL attempted to explain his reasons, but these two students didn’t care. In fact, each took one of DAL’s arms and dragged him, now fully clothed, into the showers and soaked him to the bone. Both advised DAL that he should “return to his side of the tracks” given that he “did not belong at their school” and then they both left laughing.

DAL had no change of clothes, and even though he attempted to dry off the best he could, he still had to take a 45-minute bus ride home wet and cold. Once DAL got home, he immediately went to his room, closed the door and started to cry. All DAL could think about was that his dreams of playing basketball and getting a scholarship to play in college were lost; that which he had worked so hard for was now slipping away and he was losing control. DAL began thinking about options: should he stand up to his tormentors? Should he go to the coach? Should he transfer schools like his friends did? For the first time in his young life, DAL was now thinking the unthinkable… The thought of suicide crept into his psyche. How and why did these thoughts of suicide appear? DAL to this day cannot answer that question. What is important for readers to understand is that they still did.

DAL surrounded himself with pictures of his past accomplishments, friends, and family and thought long and hard about how his actions to this personal crisis could and would have an impact on others. DAL thought about how taking his life would have a hugely negative impact on his parents, his brother, his sister, and his real friends. You see, DAL and his family had faced the after-effects of suicide in the recent past, given that a very close cousin had lost his life to suicide a couple of years previous. DAL remembered how he felt when he heard the news of his cousin’s passing, and he remembered the legacy of grief and despair that now haunts his cousin’s family even to this day.

DAL was hurting and hurting bad. It would be so easy to make the pain go away by taking his life, but DAL was also a competitor, and basketball had taught him to face all opponents no matter the challenge - a learned skill that Mr. C, a teacher, coach and mentor, had nurtured in DAL. Over the next several days, the suicidal ideations that DAL had been experiencing began to disappear, but what to do about his situation was still an unanswered question.

Mr. C had always said that if any of his players had personal problems at school they could reach out to him for help. Mr. C, however, wasn’t at DAL’s new school, but Mr. H was. DAL decided to reach out to Mr. H for help fearing what may happen. He had questions like would things get worse because he was now “ratting” out other students? These fears however, did not materialize. Working with his coach and school counselors, things got better as time passed. Although the bullying stopped, and DAL did make some good friends at this new school, he knew that he would never really fit in, but that was ok.

DAL graduated from high school and was recruited to play college basketball but surprise, he didn’t follow his earlier dreams; DAL took a different path. While in his grade 12 year, DAL decided he wanted to become a police officer, and focused his post secondary education on that goal. You see, DAL is an acronym for me, “Darren Adam Laur.” I was that kid from the other side of the tracks. Like 20-25 percent of youth today, I was tormented, bullied, and assaulted at school all because I was seen to be different, an outsider, the square peg that was trying to fit into a round hole. I became the unwanted target. I, too, had thoughts about suicide when I was a teenager. Yup, me, Darren Adam Laur.

I have never shared this story with anyone else, other than my wife Beth. It’s not easy sharing this part of my life with you, the reader, because I believed it would show a sense of vulnerability that most in my profession are hesitant to expose, but yet it is a part of who I am. I also believe that by sharing my story of bullying, it will provide a sense of hope to those who are suffering from similar types of experiences. Like I share in my presentations on this topic, “IT GETS BETTER” and it really does. I am proof of that. “I’ve been there, done that,” as some would say. I personally know that it is always darkest before the dawn, but there is always guaranteed to be a dawn. Reaching out for help, much like I did with Mr. H, is a sign of strength; it is not a sign of weakness. Talking makes it better, it really does, and I am living proof of this fact.

To this day I still keep in touch with my two friends who “returned to the other side of the tracks.” One has been in and out of jail for most of his life and credits me for saving his life (that’s another story), the other brother is now addicted to hard drugs and living a very difficult life. Today, as I write this posting I wonder… “If I had not reached out for help, and returned to the other side of the tracks, would I be who I am today? Would my fate be so different than those of my two friends?” Who really knows. Bullying and suicide have all kinds of consequences; some short-term, some long-term, and some that we could never imagine or predict.

Stay strong. IT GETS BETTER!!!

Digital Food For Thought

Darren Laur AKA “The White Hatter”