A better world, too late for Kevin

Pink Shirt Day Feb. 25 a time to reflect on anti-bullying

It was the 8 a.m. concert band class.

I was in Grade 10, or maybe 11.

We were a big group—perhaps 50 of us—and as a bass player I was tucked in the back row with the percussion section. There were three or four guys on things like snare drums, tympani, cymbals and the like.

I don’t remember the song, but Kevin had the cymbals. The song required one of those 1812 Overture-style flourishes—CRASH—and Kevin was having a hard time.

We’d attended elementary school together. His house was just a couple hundred yards from the school.

He was quirky. Not in his behaviour, but his English accent, big ears and a sharp nose set him apart.

He was so painfully shy you had to strain to hear him at times. I also remember him as a kind and gentle kid.

That day in band, all eyes were on him.

The teacher stopped the song and told him to give the cymbals a real crash.

*clink*

“Come on Kevin, a big crash!” the teacher demanded.

*clink*

And so on, until the teacher lost his cool.

“COME ON, KEVIN!”

The room dissolved into laughter. At the teacher’s frustration. But also at Kevin’s inexplicable inability to express himself.

Isn’t smashing cymbals the controlled mayhem all teens love? For some reason, Kevin just couldn’t.

Years later, I wondered what life was like for Kevin at that time.

Did he have many friends? Didn’t seem to.

Was he teased a lot? Did he fit in somewhere?

For an average kid the cymbal thing would just be embarrassing. I wondered if for Kevin it was like another small stone placed upon a set of shoulders already carrying too many.

A couple years earlier, I hung with a group of friends. One guy was obese, and we teased him relentlessly. Silly names I won’t repeat.

He was tough and smart, though, and gave as good as he got. I liked him as well as any of my friends, but we exploited his vulnerability.

At my last high school reunion, we caught up. He apologized—to me!—for how we treated each other. Like I said, he gave as good as he got, but I was an a**hole to him. And he was outnumbered.

Maybe it’s the fact we’ve both grown up. We’re parents now, and consider some of our childhood behaviour not just childish, but cruel.

But it’s a different world now, too.

The hurtful teasing, the names, the bullying—it still happens in schools today, but those who challenge it, those who would stamp it out, are empowered.

Bullying prevention starts the day kids arrive at school. It’s part of the curriculum from kindergarten through Grade 12, in one form or another.

There’s just so much talk and modelling around respectful behaviour and interaction. Next month is Pink Shirt Day, a day of solidarity for all people against bullying of any form.

Children today are subject to pressures that didn’t exist a generation or two ago.

But in terms of bullying, they’re being given the tools to spot it and are more empowered to stop it. And there’s a more open dialogue about what is playful teasing, what is mean, and when and where it becomes bullying and cruelty.

As for Kevin, not long after we graduated from high school he tried to rob a Brinks truck in downtown Vancouver.

He pried open the door, slashed a Brinks guard in the face with a knife and tried to steal a handful of cash before fleeing.

As he ran away, the other guard shot him in the buttocks. Kevin kept running, out by the corner of Howe and Dunsmuir streets.

The next gunshot hit him in the back of the head.

That was it for Kevin.

His parents were shocked. He’d never had a brush with the law before, they said.

But later, investigators found a bullet-proof vest, shotgun, steel-toed boots, ammunition, a small propane tank, firecrackers and an explosive device in his bedroom.

After all these years, Kevin was clearly preparing to express himself.

I have no idea what Kevin’s life was like.

I have no clue the trajectory from that day in band class, from high school, from any of it to that horrible end.

Are the Kevins of today having a better time?

I hope so.

Chris Bryan is editor of the New Westminster NewsLeader.