Stark white lines on gray asphalt. My shoes slap against the hot pavement as I make my way across the street. I’m completely visible; my skin burning under the harsh rays of the sun. My umbrella — blood-red and colossal — could be seen even from miles away. But you rush to me, your wheels practically on fire; your car glinting, probably along with your dark eyes and your mad intentions.
Your windows are tinted — you are anonymous to me. You aren’t afraid of running me over.
A friendly, blue Twitter icon. A familiar Facebook page. An inviting Instagram camera. My fingers hit the keys as I make my thoughts heard and my day known. I’m utterly exposed; I’m in my zone — my vulnerable state. These words — blood-red and colossal — can be seen by everyone. But you come after me and you are so full of spite and loathing.
You are on the other side of the screen of your laptop; behind the safety of your phone screen; inside the folds of your warm blanket. You are incognito to me. Is that why you aren’t scared of beating me with your unspeakable resentments?
Social media used to be easy. It used to be innocent, untainted with malicious intent. Or perhaps little me was just too doe-eyed to read between the lines. It doesn’t matter. Now, social media people treat each other like trash and call one another names. Just because they can.
We have the now — an unfamiliar territory we have to come to terms with, to fit into for entertainment, and a crosswalk to bravely traverse, because we need an outlet — somebody to listen; somebody to talk to.
Social media — a time-consumer, an attention-seeker, an unsafe crosswalk.
All these people follow me and my every update; their eyes rolling behind dark sunglasses; jet-black hair flipped over bare shoulders after unamused scoffs. They are the adjudicators, and I am the meat under the spotlight. They treat me with injection after painful injection of the truth that, even in the freest of places, you can never have freedom to be yourself.
Social media — a judge, a tightrope, an unsafe crosswalk.
As I steady my shaking hands and calm my beating heart, I stare at the computer screen for what seems like hours. Another chime comes through and wakes me up from my short reverie.
Who are you?
Who are you and why? Why me? Have I done something to offend you? Have I said something to trigger you? Have I opposed one of your unchallenged opinions?
Do you even know me?
Because I beg to know you. Night after night your words haunt me. Day after day, the question burns through my mind.
Do you speak the truth?
Social media — the ever-uncrossable road. The thing that scares me the most.
So I resort to changing all my identities to blank; I resort to hiding and getting swept away by a single comment; I resort to letting the same judgment eat my meager self-esteem whole and change it into what you would accept, like changing dresses
because I have to impress.
But your words are just words. And as I grow day by day, I know you will always be in the same place, wearing the same chip on your shoulder, nitpicking about my every move. You will always hate me and there’s nothing I can do about that but try and live my own life.
Because you are not my reflection. Your words do not define me. Your eyes will never see who I am behind these screens or through these platforms. You do not know me — you only get to glimpse a fourth of my life, the parts that don’t show who I really am, the pages I try so hard to color for the world to think I’m perfect.
Cyberbullying is one tough enemy. We can slap these people back and forth with antibullying laws or penalties, but these can only do so much unless we actually speak up and be strong. Be the voice for change. Be the voice that saves you from the glinting eyes of your predator. Be brave enough to stand up for yourself, because nobody knows you better than you know yourself. Don’t let their words sway you. Or change you.
You have to cross the unsafe crosswalk.
* * *
Samantha G. Gutierrez, 19, is a communication freshman at Angeles University Foundation.
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