We are the dead. Short days agoThis week, I am teaching a book in my Honors English class titled Under the Bridge.
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.
The book's cover suggests what darkness lurks within: "In 1997, a fourteen-year-old girl was discovered floating in the waters bordering an idyllic suburb on the West Coast. Her death was no accident. Her killer was no stranger." In Under the Bridge, Rebecca Godfrey traces the circumstances surrounding the murder of a young girl named Reena Virk, an East Indian teen from Vancouver, British Columbia who idolized the wrong people and wound up dead as a result. The waters Godfrey enters are filled with the relics of a Gen-X adolescence: Polo Sport, Calvin Klein jean jackets, Snoop Dogg and Warren G CDs, black platform sandals, and Tommy Hilfiger jeans. If you came of age in the mid- to late-90s, especially in a lower- to middle-class town where your social status depended on owning at least one of the above, the perimeter of Reena's world can become a little claustrophobic - and all the more haunting.
Reena's face has been hovering at the borders of my consciousness all day. Her story is one of terrible, almost unfathomable, cruelty. Godfrey, in my opinion, doesn't have to do much work to make the book affecting. Who hasn't, in middle school, been so desperate to be liked that we were willing to sacrifice our own integrity, our self-respect? Who didn't, at some point, want to be like the "cool" kids who ruled the school, even though their morals and their goals were highly suspect? For most of us, these childish mistakes didn't result in much more than a queasy feeling in our stomachs, some soul-searching, and a few years of wandering in a social abyss, Leviathans in pursuit. For Reena, the consequences were much, much worse.
What is so shocking about this book, this event, is that not one kid .... not ONE ... saw fit to call an authority, 911, a parent, even though they had all seen a swarm of other girls and one boy viciously beat another girl to the brink of death. The majority of these kids backed off. Two didn't. Three people went over the bridge; two came back.
Reena's story, as awful as it is, should be required reading for anyone around the age she was when she died. The book shows that the border between bullying and murder can be easily crossed, especially when a mob mentality holds sway over a group of kids who care a great deal about what their friends think.
I keep coming back to that one simple "what if." If one kid had stepped up, said no, called off the dogs - just one, Reena might still be alive. Who knows if there isn't another Reena out there who could be saved by some kid who had to read Under the Bridge in his or her English Class? I bet there is. ~Alice