The Slam Book

The Slam Book

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

The Slam Book

Often the right path is the one that may be hardest for you to follow. But the hard path is also the one that will make you grow as a human being.

~Karen Mueller Coombs

I stared at the page so hard I thought my eyes would pop out. There was my name, and scrawled right underneath it the words “The Mop.” My heart pounded, my face and ears burned red hot. I wanted to run, hide, anything to get away from the destructive words of this cruel creation by some of my classmates. They called it the “Slam” book.

I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being thirteen, living in a new town, going to a new school, trying to make new friends and then having some unknown person write this in a book for everybody to read.

I’d watched during math class as the black book circulated from desk to desk. Each time the teacher turned toward the blackboard, the book was swiftly passed to the next person and hidden until it could be opened, read and written in. When it landed on my desk, I opened it and saw the vicious anonymous comments scribbled across each page.

Who are these people? Why would someone say these things? “Barbara — The Mop.” I’d only been at the school a month. I didn’t even know them. My fragile confidence was shattered. I’d tried to make new friends, but it hadn’t been easy. It was a small town, and they’d all known each other for years. I wondered, Will I ever fit in?

I turned the pages to other names. Amanda, “conceited, big lips, hairy eyebrows.” I thought she was nice and even pretty. Courtney, “witch’s pointed nose, thick glasses.” I was just getting to know Courtney. She lived around the corner from me, and we walked to school some mornings. She was kind to me and had a good sense of humor.

I hated school for the next few days and did whatever I could to not be noticed. But that didn’t last long. It couldn’t. The vicious book kept circulating and gathering more anonymous slander. Somehow I knew the cycle had to be stopped — but how? Determining right from wrong is usually not all that difficult. The scary part is doing it, and I had to dig deep to muster my courage. I wasn’t all that brave.

I didn’t tell the teachers or rant and rave at the students, although I wanted to scream at a few. Instead, I did the only thing I could do — I refused to participate.

“No,” I stammered, pulse racing. “I won’t read it, and I won’t write in it,” I said the next time the book came my way. The boys mocked anyone, especially a newcomer, who refused to participate. Standing alone against them took all the courage I had, at a time when I needed friends.

Suddenly, I noticed other girls saying no, and one even ripped out the page with her name on it. Finally, when all the girls refused and there wasn’t an audience, the book faded away into oblivion. The old saying, “If you extinguish the reward, you extinguish the behavior” proved true. We eliminated the reward.

There was, however, another lesson I learned from this experience — one that proved more valuable than just affirming right from wrong. I learned to make up my own mind about people. I learned to understand and welcome their differences, to not accept someone else’s shallow criticisms or petty observations, but to see people for who they really are.

Amanda was proud of her full mouth, thick dark eyebrows and olive skin, all of which were beautiful attributes of her Italian heritage. Courtney’s poor vision didn’t diminish her wit and intelligence. She made me laugh, and eventually we became best friends.

And as for me; I learned to laugh when “The Mop” stayed with me as a nickname. I looked at my tangle of naturally curly hair that wanted to go its own way and eventually came to love it. It wasn’t going to be tamed, and neither was I.

The “Slam” book showed up another year, but its history was short lived, and its impact minimal. The girls refused to be intimidated, refused to participate, and the reward was once again extinguished.

~Barbara J. Ragsdale

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