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In BEFORE, AFTER, AND SOMEBODY IN BETWEEN, Martha, the victim—after being harassed, threatened, and assaulted on a near-daily basis—turns into the aggressor. She wrangles a knife away from the bully, jumps on her, holds the blade to her face, and confesses to a teacher who tries to break up the fight: “I just want her to stop.”

When I wrote that scene, I remembered how I’d wished I, at fourteen, had possessed that kind of courage. How I'd wanted my tormentors to be afraid of ME for a change. How I'd wanted to hurt them the way they hurt me. Yet I was too afraid to stick up for myself.

Like Martha, all I wanted was for them to leave me alone.

I wasn’t raised in a family where you “talked things out.” Nor was I raised in a family that fought back against injustices. In a family with substance abuse issues, you learn to suck it up, keep quiet, and ignore your problems.  Supposedly that's easier than facing them and then having to deal.

When I wrote that scene, in my heart I was Martha--same age, similar circumstances. I felt her confusion, her thirst for revenge, and her incredible pain. I understood her rage more completely than I’d ever admit to anyone. Till now, that is.

I remember what it's like to want to be left alone. To be able to survive a simple bus ride without insults and ridicule. To not have to hide out in the library at lunchtime. To be able to walk through the school halls without burying my face in my books, praying no one will notice me. To sit through a class without suffering abuse that, more often than not, was ignored by the teachers.

Only years later did I realize that being ignored, left alone, cloaked in a miserable cloud of non-existence, really wasn't what I craved after all.

I  wanted one other thing, one far more important thing: I wanted people to like me.

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Jeannine Garsee
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