Tears in the Bathroom Stall

Tears in the Bathroom Stall

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

Tears in the Bathroom Stall

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.

~John Powell

As a sixth-grader, I began noticing how other kids were separating into cliques. There were the geeks, the jocks and the popular cool kids. I wasn’t sure where I belonged. And I think that was the problem.

Our teacher had assigned “secret buddies” for the coming week. The purpose of this assignment was to do nice things for your buddy without letting them know who was doing it. We could leave encouraging notes on their desk or mysteriously leave a card in their backpack or book. Our teacher wrote each kid’s name on a piece of paper and threw them into a bucket, then we each closed our eyes and drew the name of the classmate who we were to secretly befriend and support over the next five school days.

By the middle of the week, everyone, including me, had turned this assignment into a contest to see whose secret buddy could leave the best gift. Instead of encouraging notes, we left stationery sets on our buddy’s desk. Instead of giving compliments, we were giving bubble gum, lollipops and even money. It seemed that everyone was getting cool presents from their buddy. Everyone except me, that is.

My buddy followed our teacher’s directions without a fault. I received handmade cards, notes with nice thoughts and countless smiley-face pictures proclaiming that I was one of the nicest girls in the class. My buddy seemed to think highly of me from the notes that were left, but the lack of gifts made me wonder what was up with whoever had pulled my name.

On the last morning of our assignment, I walked into my classroom and noticed that there was a package on my desk. At last, my buddy had grasped the idea that everyone else had! I ripped open the tissue paper and just stared down at my desk. There sat a canister of perfumed powder. The girls sitting near me giggled and went off about the “old lady” gift I had received. And to make matters worse, the powder had already been opened. I felt my face turn red as I shoved it into my desk.

I tried to forget about the embarrassing gift, but when I was in the bathroom before recess, the same girls who had seen me open the powder started talking trash about my secret buddy for giving it to me. I quickly joined in. “How lame,” I heard myself saying. “What could my buddy be thinking by giving me such a stupid gift? My grandmother wouldn’t even want it.”

The girls laughed at my remarks and filed out of the bathroom. I stayed to wash my hands and let the water run through my fingers as I thought about what I had just said. It wasn’t normally like me to say mean things like that about someone.

As I turned off the water, I heard a creak. I turned around to see one of the bathroom stall doors open. A girl from my class took two steps out of the stall and looked up at me. There were tears streaming down her face.

“I’m your secret buddy,” she whispered to me. “I’m sorry about the gift.” Then she ran out of the bathroom. Her sobs stayed with me long after the door had closed.

My secret buddy was a girl named Rochelle, a girl who came from a poor family. She and her siblings were targets at school for those who felt they were better just because their parents had money. Yet through all the teasing and harassment, Rochelle never had a bad word to say back to anyone. She just took the horrible treatment silently.

I was sick to my stomach as my cruel words ran through my mind. She had heard every single thing that had been said. And, once again, she silently took it in. How could I have been so mean?

It took me a few days, but I finally found the courage to face up to Rochelle and apologize. She told me that she had felt bad all week about not being able to leave any cool gifts for me. Her family could not afford it. So finally, her mother had given up the one thing that was a luxury to her so that Rochelle would have something to give. Her mother had assured her that the nice girl Rochelle had talked about would like the powder. Rochelle couldn’t wait to get to school that morning and put it on my desk.

And I had ruined everything for her.

What could I say to Rochelle? How could she ever forgive me for making fun of her? Along with my apologies, I told her the truth. I admitted that I had only said those things to be cool, to try to fit in. I didn’t know where I belonged, I explained.

Rochelle looked me in the eyes and said that she understood. She had been trying to fit in, too. “We aren’t that different from each other, are we?” she smiled. Her simple words, spoken from her heart, found their way straight into mine.

Up until then, like everyone else, I had avoided the “Rochelles” of the world. But after that day, I gained respect and admiration for people like Rochelle — people who give from the heart.

~Cheryl Kremer

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