Only weeks have passed since the awful news that emerged from Meadow Pointe, but ensuing events in Orlando make it seem like a lifetime. So much atrocity packed into so little time. We hadn’t even crossed the solstice, and already it was the summer of sorrow.
But for many in our community, it began here, with the dark bathroom, the blocked door, the oozing blood, and the pure, inexpugnable horror beyond.
And after that, the revelations and the conjecture, the grief and the fury. Tovonna Holton murmured she “owed them.” But surely she didn’t owe them this, the ultimate self-sacrifice. Surely not this. The life of a 15-year-old, so vibrant and full of possibility, in exchange — if the early narrative proves out — for cruel, brainless shaming?
It is too late for Tovonna, whose photographs reveal her beauty and outward joy, but fail to detect her brittle vulnerabilities. But, if there are young people in your household, or your neighborhood, or in your greater village where you work, play, worship, attend school or volunteer, now — yes, literally, now (tonight might be too late) — is the time to tell them: There is nothing so awful in your life that we cannot sort it out together.
I’m talking to adults, of course, but not just to adults. This is on teens and ‘tweens, too. This next is for them.
Guys, you know, oftentimes better than parents or the other adults in your lives, when your friends are aching, when they think they’ve been done wrong.
Nobody expects you to fix the hurt. But, you can be the key to helping make sure the hurt doesn’t explode. You can be the one who gives permission to seeking the grownup who can defuse the bomb ticking inside your friend.
Your elementary school training about stumbling upon mislaid weapons applies. Whether it’s an abandoned gun or your friend’s crisis, it’s not your duty to pick it up and carry it around. Instead, you provide support by getting help. And that help begins by gently introducing a responsible adult.
Sometimes it’s mom and/or dad. Sometimes it’s a pastor or a teacher or a counselor or a coach or a club sponsor or the principal. Maybe it’s one of the moms who’s always working the concession stand, even if her kids don’t run in your circles. Maybe it’s the neighbor with the slightly disheveled yard, or the manager at your favorite night spot.
The thing about grownups is, they’ve usually learned knowing all the answers is less important than knowing whom to ask when they’re stumped. And they — we — would much rather play the role of guide than mourner. We’d rather bring relief than casseroles and flowers.
What allegedly happened to Tovonna Holton — a surreptitious video of her showering, or bathing — posted on the internet, was unspeakable. If the claims survive scrutiny, then every step in the process violated Tovonna’s most precious rights: the right to innocence, the right to privacy, the right not to be exploited, the right not to be subjected to ridicule.
At the time this is being written, a spokesman for the Pasco Sheriff’s Office reports the agency is close to wrapping up its investigation. If the allegations are confirmed, it is difficult to imagine a punishment sufficient for those who conspired to propel Tovonna over the brink.
But, even if the source of ultimate trouble lay elsewhere, the shaming video exists. Did no one stop to think: “What’s the worst that can happen?” And its necessary follow-up: “Can I live with that?” These are always good questions to weigh, in every phase of life, but never more so than when what you’re plotting holds the potential to scar someone for life.
For life? Yes. The internet is forever. If she’d somehow found the courage and counseling to survive her tortured moment on the cliff overlooking oblivion, she’d have had to figure out how to get along knowing the footage was out there, always lurking.
“Explain this video,” says the college gatekeeper. “You want to tell me what was going on here?” says the personnel director between her and her dream job. “How did you wind up naked on YouTube?” asks the man who was almost Tovonna’s fiancé. And on and on and on.
And yet, we would surrender all that is good and reassuring about our species if we imagined even such an unforgivable prank couldn’t have been surmounted.
In the wake of the slaughter in the nightclub popular with Orlando’s LGBT community, people set aside their politics and upbringings to overwhelm blood banks. And, there’s movement on how to keep firearms away from smoldering bad actors tentatively identified by law enforcement.
Because these are things we can do. So is wrapping an arm around a troubled teen and saying, right now, “I am here. You are loved. Things will get better.”
Published June 22,2016