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Not In Vain

Bullying: a local tragedy, a national topic



Bullying victim Bart Palosz with sister Beata, parents Anna and Franek, and grandmother Judy Jakubiec

(page 1 of 6)

Bart Palosz was a kind, bright teen with a loving family and a life waiting to be lived. After years of bullying by fellow students and little action from a system that should have protected him, he ended his life. How did we let this happen?

Goodbye forever my good friends, goodbye, I regret nothing. Bart Palosz taps out these words on June 7, 2013, in the solitude of his Greenwich bedroom. He has just turned fifteen. He’s a quiet boy, gentle, sweet. But suicidal thinking has a logic all its own, and it persuades him that he is worthless. Despised. Why else would his schoolmates shove him into the thorn bushes? Why else would they seize his belongings and smash them on the ground? Why else would they tell him to go and kill himself? One imagines gentle Bart, there in his bedroom as season turns to season, wondering why on earth people dislike him so.

He had hoped his freshman year at Greenwich High School, now drawing to a close, would be different. He’d hoped a new start would banish from memory his excruciating years at Western Middle School. On his last day there, in a fitting climax, another boy slammed Bart headfirst into a locker, inflicting a bloody gash that required four stitches at Greenwich Hospital. “I know my mom tried to argue it with the school, and the school didn’t provide her with the [surveillance] tape,” Bart’s eighteen-year-old sister, Beata, tells us. “They said they couldn’t obtain it anymore, even though they said they’d just watched it.” And what, according to Western, did the tape reveal? Beata frowns. “They said it looked like an accident.”

Bart is tall, six-foot-three and counting, but pudgy and awkward too, with an odd, shambling gait and a Polish accent. Then there’s the acne. In the last year or two his skin has run riot, giving his enemies yet another target of ridicule. Now Bart’s taking long walks through his Byram neighborhood and across the Mill Street bridge to Port Chester, all the way to the GameStop on Boston Post Road. He is noticeably leaner. And medication has begun to restore his boyish complexion. Despite these self-improvements, the new Bart is still the old Bart. One morning Beata fixes him hot chocolate in her favorite travel mug and sends him off to catch the bus to Greenwich High. (She too attends GHS, but on this morning is reporting to an internship.) On the bus ride home, a boy, up to now neutral in the matter of Bart, grabs the mug and tosses it out the window. Beata, furious, marches up the street to confront him. “He’s like, ‘Bart’s a weirdo, so it’s OK.’ And he locks the door in my face.”

At lunch Bart sits alone, mostly—not in the de facto freshman section, but at an empty table among anonymous seniors. He eats with his headphones on, listening to Eminem, My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Sometimes Beata spots him there. “I’d be like, ‘Come sit with us,’ and he’d say, ‘No it’s fine, I can sit here alone.’ That’s when I’d move my table and sit with him, with a bunch of my friends.” Why didn’t he sit with the freshman? “I think he was just scared. I don’t know. He felt like no one liked him there. I remember him telling me that once. He’s like, ‘I have no friends there, why am I going to sit there?’”
Where Bart is large and ungainly, Beata is statuesque and graceful, a cheerleader with a mane of bright blond hair hanging down her back. Plus, she’s a senior. She has all the aura of belonging that Bart lacks. From her position high in the social pecking order, she keeps watch over her little brother, the outsider. She’s his protector. But Bart does not make her job easy. It’s in his nature to accept the bullying passively, quietly—secretly if he can. “After he got his head bashed in at Western, my mom said, ‘OK, we’ll keep fighting this,’” Beata says. “But Bart’s like, ‘No, it’s fine, whatever.’ Sometimes I’d find him in bed, with the cover pulled over his head, crying. He wouldn’t tell me about what. Sometimes he’d lock himself in his room, or take like a three-hour bath, and I knew he was upset, I knew something had happened at school. That’s when me and my mom would try to ask him what happened, but most of the time he just wouldn’t talk about it.”

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