Have you seen 13 Reasons Why on Netflix?
Hannah Baker committed suicide a few weeks ago, but before that, she recorded thirteen tapes — thirteen reasons why she did it — thirteen people who made life unbearable. Only those thirteen people know what’s on the tapes, and only they can figure out what to do with their darkest secrets and worst mistakes.
No story has ever made me feel responsible before — responsible to keep watching, responsible to understand, responsible to pay attention, responsible to make this story a priority. But this one did.
I binge-watched it in four days. Four school days, with strict 11 PM curfews that didn’t prevent me from laying awake processing it all. I internalized the story. It kept me up at night. It gave me nightmares. It made me show up to work exhausted and puffy-eyed.
Normally I wouldn’t consider those things signs of a good story. But in this case, it was. I was listening to the tapes for the first time. I was connected to the story. I needed answers just as much as Clay Jensen did.
It’s partly the subject matter — bullying and suicide. I have stayed up until 3 AM on the phone with a friend to make sure she lived through the night. I have driven across states to take someone I love to the ER for suicidal ideation. I have made thousands of little decisions over texts going out to depressed loved ones — what words to use, when to use them, should I pry, should I let it go, should I listen, should I say something, what’s the right tone. I have experienced situations where my advice was a matter of life and death. I have waited through nights wondering if the person I just got to sleep would be alive when I saw them the next morning.
And it’s everywhere. Almost every girl I mentored cut, attempted suicide, and/or wanted to attempt suicide, on top of mental illness of some sort.
Despite it’s prevalence, there are still so many questions surrounding suicide. Who’s to blame? Can we truly save someone? Should we expect a person, stripped of dignity, hope, and friendship, to respond in any other way?
We’re even still debating whether suicidal ideation is serious or a cry for attention.
Then there’s bullying. I’m already living 13 Reasons Why in the kindergarten classroom. Mean girls tearing each other down. Students scared of standing up for the victim lest they get teased too. Six-year-olds coming home in tears everyday and begging not to go to school. My students. Their moms come to me and they all say the same thing: “I didn’t experience this until middle school.”
I’m reeling, because I didn’t experience this at all.
I’ve been feeling like if I do the right thing, I can stop a girl’s suicide years down the road. And if I do the wrong thing — how much am I to blame?
You’d think these would be easy things — or if not easy, at least straightfoward. But this story knows they’re not. It understands the complications of goodness, the bravery it takes to be a decent human being, to be honest, and to take responsibility. The “heroes” are the villains, and even at their best, they don’t do anything above and beyond the Golden Rule. But it’s still a herculean task to love well and do the right thing.
I don’t want to imply that 13 Reasons Why is a propaganda piece for Stomp Out Bullying. I think it’s a truly masterful story — and a complicated one. There is nothing simplistic about its themes, nothing moralizing about it’s open-ended finale, nothing trivial about its characters, nothing stilted about its plot, nothing easy or explainable about it.
And if that’s not praise enough, I’m thinking about going out and buying the book rather than wait for the other 51 library holds to thin out.
In short, watch this series.