The Smile that Beat the Bully

The Smile that Beat the Bully

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

The Smile that Beat the Bully

Be excellent to each other.

~Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Have you ever had a bully who scared the skin off you? The one bully who you have nightmares about? It’s the face you see when you get up in the morning with your stomach all tied in knots. Rosalie Bangeter was that for me — she was a bully in every sense of the word, and I was terrified of her. She was one of the meanest girls I’d ever met, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I was not the only person in the seventh grade who lived in mortal fear of her. I’ll never forget the day I saw her pulverize another student in the cafeteria. As if pounding the girl wasn’t bad enough, she topped it off by dunking her head in a half-eaten tray of meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

To this day, I don’t know why Rosalie hated me so much. The fact that I merely existed and had the nerve to breathe in and out seemed to tick Rosalie off, and she never missed an opportunity to threaten or ridicule me. I would hear her jeering remarks when I walked out to catch the bus home. I could feel the heat of her glare when I cowered in my seat in the cafeteria and avoided looking anywhere near her direction. I would’ve walked the length of two football fields to avoid coming in contact with Rosalie Bangeter if I could have, but unfortunately there just wasn’t enough time to do that and still get to my fifth period class before the bell rang.

So I had to face the reality that, for two or three excruciating seconds every day, I had to walk past Rosalie Bangeter in the hall. I tried hanging out in my fourth period class a few extra seconds and walking a little slower to my locker in the hope that Rosalie would have already gone to class, but that never worked. I would still pass her. Of course, I didn’t dare make eye contact with her, but I caught sight of her sneer in my peripheral vision while I scampered past. I knew it would only be a matter of time before she lashed out at me.

I was one of those quiet, timid seventh graders who talked up a blue streak at home but wouldn’t say two words at school. I had a couple of close friends who were just as shy as I was, and we usually huddled together and tried to stay out of everyone’s way. Deep down, I was envious of those outgoing, cheerleader girls who would be the first ones to raise their hands to do a math problem on the chalkboard. I felt like life was passing me by and that if I disappeared one day, no one at school would even notice or care.

My family lived in a small town of about three thousand people, and it seemed as if my dad knew every single one of them. What was even more astonishing was that everyone seemed to know him. One day, I asked my mom how this was possible. She thought about this a minute and then said, “Well, Jenn, your dad never lets anyone stay a stranger. He talks to everyone he sees, and then he gives them that big smile of his. I guess it’s contagious because people just love him.”

I wanted to be more like my dad. I wanted to get to know people and to somehow leave my mark on the world. But more than anything, I was tired of being that girl who cowered in a corner and got picked on.

I thought about what my mom had said. I knew I had to take action, but how? There was no way I could just go to school one day and start talking to everybody. Forget for a moment that they would have thought I was a raving lunatic — I knew that, as good as my intentions were, I would never be able to force the words out of my mouth. So, I caught hold of the phrase where she talked about his smile. I could smile. I mean, everyone could do that, right? I decided to try it out, but I knew that there was only one way to go to the heart of my fears. I would take my experiment straight to the biggest bully of all — Rosalie Bangeter.

I don’t think I heard a single word my math teacher said that day in fourth period because I was too busy thinking about what I was about to do. Finally, the bell rang. I gathered my books and headed to my locker. My heart was pounding in my chest, and my hands were so sweaty I was afraid I’d drop my books. Somehow, I managed to shove my math book in the locker and pull out my English book. I ran my tongue over my teeth that felt dryer than the Mojave Desert. Then I did a practice smile that I was sure looked more like a grimace. I took a deep breath and willed my feet to keep moving forward.

I saw her in the distance coming toward me, looking as mean as ever. For the first time in my life, I made eye contact with her, and then I did it! I actually managed to squeak out a smile through my chattering teeth. Rosalie looked downright shocked, and then she scowled. I hurried past, sure that she was going to turn around and pounce on me. I don’t think I took another breath until I made it to my next class and collapsed in the chair.

The next day, I tried again. This time, my teeth weren’t chattering quite so badly. Rosalie was no longer surprised, but her snarl remained. This went on for several days, until one day, she didn’t glower. I hurried past her. Maybe she was in too big of a hurry today, I thought.

The next day, she didn’t glower at me either. In fact, she gave me a little half-smile for my effort. Over the next few weeks, Rosalie actually started smiling back. And then came that memorable day when I got the nerve to nod and say hi. I couldn’t believe it! She said hi back! At the end of the year, Rosalie looked me up and asked me to sign her yearbook.

In the years that followed, I broke out of my shell one small chip at a time. I made many new friends and became an active participant in my classes. Looking back now, I can trace it all to that fateful day when I had the courage to smile in the face of the bully. The next time you’re in a jam, give it a try — it’s amazing how far a smile can go.

~Jennifer Youngblood

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