In mid December of 2016, former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider took to the internet to voice his sadness and concern about the suicide of a 13 year old fan by the name of Paige Jackson. Paige was a young woman who was a huge fan of Dee and Twisted Sister. She was also a victim of constant bullying. She discovered the music of Twisted Sister and found a connection with Dee via Twitter and it was there that she exchanged positive messages with Dee on a frequent basis. For those that follow Dee on Twitter, you know that Dee has always been a voice of strength and positivity and that bullying is something he has always taken a big stance against.
Paige seemed to find strength through her connection with Dee but as time went on, her Twitter messages started to become more and more helpless. Paige’s mother even got involved finding that her daughter would communicate with her more openly via Twitter. Unfortunately, the bullying was more than Paige could take and as a result she took her own life by slitting her wrists. She was fucking 13 years old. The amount of hurt and rage that filled me after hearing about this is something that I chose to tap into to write this piece.
Why did this news about Paige Jackson hit me so hard? The answer is very easy: I was Paige Jackson. Back in 1984 I was 11 years old and living in Metairie, Louisiana. I was fat, I was made fun of, and I was picked on. I had my book bag ripped off my back and thrown into a canal. I was punched, kicked, slapped, hit with rocks, and even food, beverages, and whatever else thrown on me. There were times when I wanted nothing more than to just die because I figured that not being alive was my only way out. I was proven wrong as I submerged myself into all of the hard rock/metal music that eventually became my strength and my “safe space.”
Iron Maiden, Dio, KISS, W.A.S.P were all bands that were there for me. They were “old dudes” who I was totally surprised to hear actually seemed to understand where I was at; who I was. Not only did it make me realize that I wasn’t alone. It also made me realize that not all “older people” were people who didn’t get me or what I was going through. While these bands were everything for me, there was one band that I found solace, strength, and inspiration: Twisted Sister. Long before Twitter, Dee Snider was offering inspiration and strength via the music of Twisted Sister.
All I wanted to do was escape. I just wanted to get away from all of the harsh words, the physical abuse, and emotional abuse. Going to school fucking sucked and I dreaded it every day. I can still feel the pain in the pit of my stomach that I would get as my mom pulled into the drop off lane in front of the school. There never seemed to be an escape from it all. In class, they’d kick my desk. In between classes, they’d trip me in the hall. After school, they’d corner me while waiting for my mom to pick me up and harass the living shit out of me, and at home, they would crank call me to the point that my parents had to have our number changed to an unlisted number. How the fuck did I survive this? I still wonder that but again, when I think of it, it was the music.
Twisted Sister’s songs were true anthems for kids like me. Twisted Sister had a way of making their fans feel like the songs were written specifically for them; to empower them; to give them hope. “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “I Am I’m Me”, “SMF”, just to name a few, were “my” songs. These songs were written for me. I also found an escape into the magazines that I loved. Circus, Hit Parader, Faces Rocks, etc were gateways out of my shitty fucking adolescence. Interviews with Bruce Dickinson, Paul Stanley, Ronnie James Dio, and Dee Snider made me feel as if I was getting to know these people. Reading their words about their outlook on life, individuality, and being dreamers in general resonated with me. I would bring these magazines to school with me and go hide in corner of the blacktop playground where I could be alone and read them.
It’s insane that 43 years later, I can still remember details of my bully as if he was standing in front of me. His name was Sam Dwyer. He was much bigger than me and usually had two other kids that hung with him. I don’t remember their names but they always traveled together. For the better part of two years, day in and day out these kids took a piece of me. They beat me down with their words, with their fists, and feet. They would make fun of the music I listened to and make fun of my magazines. They’d take my magazines from me sometimes and tear them up in front of me and if I made a move someone would punch me in the gut. Where were the teachers during all of this? I wondered that myself because the times I did go tell a teacher I was told not to be a tattletale.
One evening I was sitting in my room crying. My dad (who I didn’t get along with all that great) came in and asked me what was wrong. I told him about how these kids ganged up on me yet again after school. They took my backpack from me and threw it in the dumpster. My dad just looked at me and said, “Son, you have to do something about this. It’s obvious that your teachers aren’t doing anything. Your mom and I have said something and he still keeps going. You just need to go to school and knock the living shit out him. Hit him in the face and hit him with all you have. You might get your ass beat but it couldn’t be any worse than what he’s been doing to you for the last two years.”
This weighed so heavy on me all night that I couldn’t sleep. I was horrified. I had never fought back but he was right. They gave me black eyes, bruised ribs, a mild concussion at one time, etc so what more could they do besides kill me? I got to school and that day I had my Twisted Sister You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll button on my uniform. Yes, a Twisted Sister pin… on my uniform. I made it all the way to recess that day and sure enough, like clockwork, here came Sam and his friends to check in on me. Sam says to me, “Look at you with your Twisted Sister button. I bet you want to fight me don’t’ you?” I stood up and he pushed me back to the ground. I got back up and this time, I just felt two years of rage, two years of sadness, two years of wishing I was dead build up in me. I closed my eyes and swung my fist has hard as I could and I felt it make contact with something. I kept my eyes closed bracing myself for impact myself when I heard him cry. I opened my eyes and there he was lying on the ground covered in blood. I had broken his nose. His friends ran and got a teacher and then all of the sudden I was public enemy number 1. I was taken to the principal’s office, I was yelled at, I was called a no good hoodlum, and then my father was called. He proudly picked me up, took me to McDonalds and I began my five day out of school suspension.
When I got back to school after my five day holiday, things were different. I only had a few months left of school so the rest of my year was quiet. I saw Sam with his nose all bandaged up and he wouldn’t even look me in the eye. I sat on the playground and read my magazines in peace, I waited for my mom to pick me up without the harassment of those assholes, and most of all, I felt empowered. I felt like I could do anything but most of all, I felt like a survivor. I ended up repeating 6th grade at another school because of skipping so much school. After changing schools, I made a couple of friends and then as I made it into high school, I had 3 friends that stayed close as we made our way through the miserable 4 year journey.
Over the years, while the bullying might have gone away at that point, the damage and scars stayed with me, broke my confidence, and charred my character. Through it all, I persevered, I kept my head up, and most importantly, I survived. I’m one of the lucky ones. At 43 years old, I run a hard rock/metal blog, I do PR work for bands, I play music, and I have a gorgeous, loving, and supportive wife. It’s a life that I could only dream of living as a kid but one that made it all worth sticking it out for.
I wish I could have just a moment with Paige Jackson. I wish I could tell her to hang in there. I wish I could tell her that while kids are so cruel, that in the adult world things could be better. I wish I could tell her that she could be anything she wanted. I wish I could tell her that she may even one day find someone that would love her for who she is. Unfortunately, that moment was taken away when she slit her wrists.
As I type this, I wonder about the kids that bullied her. How do they feel knowing that they have the blood of a young girl on their hands? How do they sleep at night? How do their parents sleep at night? Do they care or was Paige just another notch in their belts? At some point, there needs to be some accountability held by the ones that do this kind of bullying behavior but where does it start? Do we hold the parents accountable for allowing their kids to be such vicious, hateful monsters that can drive a young person to be so miserable that they take their own life? Until then, people like me can only step forward, share our stories, and hope that people of all ages will read it and know that they are not alone. We have all at one point in time and to some varying degree been Paige Jackson.