This is a guest post by Karenna Colcroft, a fiction author who has explored bullying in several of her stories. Bullying is a pretty important topic to me; I, and so many others, have been harmed by bullying. I’m glad to see fiction writers who deal with bullying because it raises awareness.
Who hasn’t dealt with bullies?
Unfortunately, it seems as if everyone who’s ever been in school has been bullied in one way or another. As a young adult author, I’ve done school visits where I’ve asked the students to raise their hands if they’ve ever been bullied. In every single group, every single hand—including those of any adults in the room—has gone up.
And sadly, sometimes bullying doesn’t end when you’re out of school, as the recent news story about a professional NFL football player has shown.
I was bullied pretty severely from elementary school right on through, and I can say from experience that the effects of bullying don’t go away when one leaves school. I can’t say I’ve forgiven the people who bullied me, but I have accepted that I didn’t deserve to be treated that way and their actions were their problem, not mine.
It’s been a quarter-century since I graduated high school, and letting go of the beliefs my bullies drummed into me, that I wasn’t good enough, was ugly, was worthless, etc., has taken nearly all that time. But I have done it. Even in school, I chose to try to hide how badly their words hurt, because I knew they were wrong even if I couldn’t entirely believe it. Now, I’m the person I want to be, and I can truthfully say that other people’s opinions don’t affect me. Especially not the negative ones.
Because of my own experiences, bullying has always been a theme in the young adult novels I’ve written, but it hadn’t played much of a role in the romances I write. But a country song, “Dancing Away With My Heart,” spawned a plot bunny that led me to wonder what might happen if a former bully tracked someone down to apologize.
One of the sad things about bullying is that sometimes the bully doesn’t even realize they’re doing it. That was the case with Cole Dellany, one of the heroes of my novella Dancing Away (Jupiter Gardens Press, August 2012) and its sequel With My Heart (Jupiter Gardens, November 2013). In high school, Cole never picked on his classmate Merit Hartwick, one of the only openly gay students at their school. He even went so far as to dance with Merit at their senior prom.
But Cole stood by silently while his teammates teased, swore at, and even pushed Merit around. And the dance at their prom happened because some of Cole’s pals dared him to dance with Merit as a cruel joke. A joke Cole wasn’t truly in on; he wanted to dance with Merit. But being deeply in the closet, Cole couldn’t admit that to anyone, and he had to pretend it was only a prank.
Not stopping his friends from treating Merit poorly and letting them—and Merit—believe the dance was just a joke were forms of bullying. And after graduation, Cole realized what he had done. It took him ten years to find Merit and work up the nerve to try to make amends. But he finally went to Merit and apologized, and admitted that all those years, he’d had a crush on Merit that he hadn’t dared to let anyone find out about.
Since Dancing Away is a romance novella, Merit and Cole end up happy. But Merit doesn’t just magically accept Cole’s apology. Most of the story is about Cole trying to convince Merit he’s sincere, and Merit working through his lingering emotions about the bullying and trying to learn to trust Cole. Although by the end of the story they’re getting there, in the sequel, With My Heart, they’re still working through their past so they can move on to their future.
Overcoming any negative past takes work. Those who say “Just let go of it and be happy, why are you wallowing?” may not understand how difficult it is, even if they’ve been there themselves.
But it is worth the work. We are worth the work.
Karenna Colcroft is the alter ego of a shy, sedate wife and mother who started writing erotic romance when a friend challenged her to use her skills to show herself how sex could be positive. Her first erotic romance title was published in 2009. Karenna lives in the northeastern United States with her two children, her real-life romance hero husband, a pet mouse, and two cats. And no partridges in pear trees, though it sounds like there should be one. You can find out more about Karenna and her books on her website, http://www.karennacolcroft.com.
Her latest release from Jupiter Gardens Press is the male/male contemporary novella With My Heart. Merit Hartwick and Cole Dellany have worked to build a relationship in the months since Cole’s apology for bullying Merit in high school led to love. But Cole is having a hard time adjusting to city life after the small town in which he and Merit grew up, and Merit’s responsibilities to his ballet troupe and the classes he teaches are taking time away from Cole. After an argument the two agree to see other people, but will their relationship survive?