The Courage to Roar

The Courage to Roar

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

The Courage to Roar

The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.

~Tom Bodett

The details of our dreams usually vanish quickly upon awakening. But, when I was twelve years old, I had a vivid dream that branded itself in my memory forever.

In it, a tiger sunk his razor-sharp teeth into my ear. I lay there paralyzed with fear, frozen in pain. All I could do was listen to my heart boom loudly in my chest. My eyes flew open, shattering the dream, but I was certain there was a tiger under my bed. I needed proof that the big cat was really gone, so I slowly lifted the bed skirt and peered under the bed. No sign of a tiger, only an old pair of Keds tennis shoes, big, fuzzy slippers with puppy dog heads, three Teen magazines, and a few dust bunnies.

Mom called from the kitchen, “Helen, are you awake? Your breakfast is almost ready.”

“Yes, Mom. I’ll be right there.”

I got dressed in front of the full-length mirror. It proved to me every day that my butt was too big, my skin was too oily and my curly red hair defied taming. My eyes were the only good feature I had going for me. They were almond-shaped, caramel-colored with tiny, golden specks that reflected the color of my curvy lashes. When I looked closer into the mirror, I found a huge, cherry-red zit sitting on the very tip of my nose. I wanted to jump back into bed and pull the covers over my head, but I knew that Mom would still make me go to school.

I slumped down the stairs dragging my backpack, and when I walked into the kitchen, my nine-year-old brother took one look at me and said, “Hey, look! It’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

I shot him an angry glance. “Shut up, you little dork. Mom, can we trade Todd in for a dog or a cat, or even a gerbil?”

“No, we can’t,” she said. “He’s your brother, so you’re stuck with him. Todd, apologize to Helen.”

Todd gave a heavy sigh. “Okay, I’m sorry that you look like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

I raised my fist in Todd’s direction and said, “You’re gonna look like vomit soup.”

Mom extended her arm like a cop stopping traffic. “That’s enough from both of you. That blemish doesn’t look so bad, Helen. I’ll put some make-up on it right after breakfast.”

I gulped my breakfast, brushed my teeth and waited for Mom to work her magic on the red balloon that sprouted from the tip of my nose. “This should do the trick,” Mom said, as she opened a bottle of cover-up and dabbed some on my nose. Todd studied my face for a moment and said, “Anyone up for mountain climbing?” I opened my mouth to protest just as Mom spotted the school bus coming down the street. She quickly coaxed us out the door saying, “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”

We boarded the bus and I plopped myself down on a seat near the back. I turned my face to the window, closed my eyes and thought how great it would be to rule my own world. There would be no school, no parents to tell kids what to do, no brothers, and no more pimples.

My thoughts drifted, the air became warm and heavy and my eyelids closed. My earlier dream flowed back into my thoughts, and I found myself in a jungle of tall trees.

As I picked my way through the tall grass, I had a feeling that I was not alone. I heard a growling, rumbling noise and turned to find an enormous tiger, posed in a valiant stance, gazing at me. The sunlight filtered through the trees and flickered over his majestic body. Prominent black stripes were perfectly painted over his ivory-white to reddish-orange fur. His nostrils flared in anger at my impudence in invading his habitat. He let out a mighty roar, and I started to run.

I knew that I couldn’t outrun the tiger, so I grabbed onto a golden-colored vine hanging from a tree and climbed. When I looked down in my dream, the tiger was clawing his way up the tree trunk. I could think of nothing else to do, so I opened my mouth and roared with a thunderous clap that echoed through the air. At the sound of my roar, the tiger began to shrink. I gave one last powerful blast, and the tiger shrunk down to the size of a kitten. I now felt confident enough to come down from the tree, so I swung down to where the kitten sat. I felt powerful and free.

I woke up, hearing laughter in the distance that became so loud it disturbed my thoughts. I squirmed in my seat and remembered that I was on the bus, not in a jungle.

Kids were laughing as two boys tossed Todd’s lunch bag back and forth across the aisle. Todd was getting more upset with each toss. After a couple more throws, I got up and stood in front of the boy who just caught the pass.

“Hand it over,” I said, giving him my best steely-eyed glare.

“Oh yeah?” he said. “Whaddaya gonna do if I don’t?”

“I’ll go straight to the principal and rat you out as a bully. I have lots of eyewitnesses here to support my story. You’ll probably get detention or worse.”

He paused for a moment, gave me a silly grin, and pitched me the lunch bag. “Take it. We were done anyway.”

The bus pulled up to the school, the doors opened, and kids started piling out. Todd remained in his seat with a soulful look on his face. I walked over to him, handed him his lunch and said, “Don’t worry about it, Todd. Those guys are jerks. Come on; walk with me up to the school.”

We walked together quietly for a while and then Todd said, “Hey, Helen? Did you know that you look really pretty today?”

“Sure, punk. I’m positively glowing — especially around my nose.” I gave Todd a playful push, and we both laughed.

~Helen Stein

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