17: The Best Lesson

17: The Best Lesson

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

The Best Lesson

When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others.

~Peace Pilgrim

Going solo into seventh grade at a new school? I would’ve rather had all of my teeth pulled. Without anesthesia.

My family lived in a different school district, which meant I was forced to attend Kennedy while friends from elementary went to another junior high. To make matters infinitely worse, my height registered a lanky five feet eight inches. Forget about boys liking me, they didn’t even come up to my shoulder.

I walked to class alone on my first day. Girls with too much make-up and guys with backpacks slumped over one shoulder dotted my path. I was lost, but not brave enough to ask for directions. While wandering around the concrete corridors lined with clumps of angry orange lockers, I heard people talk about me.

“Could she be any taller?”

“She needs to get a tan.”

“What a freak.”

It’s hard to hide when you’re several heads taller than everyone else, so I tucked my chin into my chest and kept searching for the right room. The insults continued to follow me. I finally found where I needed to be and settled into a seat in the middle row, not wanting to appear nerdy or stupid, when Brandon Thompson sat next to me. One part bad boy and the other part slacker, he oozed of mystery. He was one of the few guys my age taller than me (I later found out he was held back a grade or two) and he had this “I-just-rolled-out-of-bed-and-I’m-still-hot” look. I attempted to ignore him and failed as he leaned toward me.

“Do you have a pen?” The corners of his mouth twitched up as I gawked at him.

“Uh, oh, yeah. Sure. Here.” I thrust the ballpoint I was holding toward him.

Brandon raked a hand through his messy hair and took the proffered pen. Without thanking me, he returned his focus on the front of the classroom. My eyes betrayed me several times by glancing back at him.

When the period ended, I shuffled out of the room and stumbled toward my next class. Hours went by in a haze of boy crazy daydreams until I found myself with nowhere to sit for lunch. No friends called to me and no groups offered an invitation. Yet again, I paced the halls alone. As I strolled past a cluster of cliques, an arm jutted out to block me. A boy with big muscles and, from what I could tell, little brains, squinted at me. He pushed his face closer to mine and said, “You are so ugly.”

To my horror, Brandon stood beside him wearing a smirk.

I ran to the nearest bathroom and locked myself in a stall. Tears prickling my eyes and nose dribbling, I leaned against the wall and counted down the minutes. Fifteen until class. Two more hours to go. With a sigh, I wiped my face and pushed myself to leave the lonely bathroom.

Weeks passed with no end to the rudeness, but I began to ignore the mean kids around me. I couldn’t change my height or my pale skin; the only thing I could change was my attitude. Eventually, I found solace in art class and in the accomplishment of getting good grades.

Mrs. Vierra, my English teacher, pulled me aside one morning to ask for my help. A new girl named Carmel had come to Kennedy and she needed someone to show her around. My heart fluttered first with hope and then with apprehension that this new girl would treat me as poorly as the others did. I took a chance and promised to escort Carmel to her next class. Mrs. Vierra nodded her head and introduced me to the girl who would become my best friend.

I never conspired to win Brandon’s affection or to change the minds of those who thought me freakish, but by the time I entered high school, I didn’t care. Sure, the mean comments and ostracizing hurt, but I became stronger because of the criticism. My see-through skin and long extremities are what make me who I am. And they’re not so bad. Maybe time provides perspective, or maybe some people in seventh grade need to make fun of others to help them cope with their own insecurities. Whatever the reason, as an adult, I now appreciate everyone’s uniqueness. Maybe that’s the best lesson I learned at Kennedy Junior High.

~Hilary Heskett

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners