22: Standing My Ground

22: Standing My Ground

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Standing My Ground

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.

~Ambrose Redmoon

It was the summer of my tenth year, and I was enjoying a carefree morning with nothing much that I had to get done. I walked barefoot through the grass, carrying my flip-flops as I headed for the neighborhood park and swimming pool.

Being ten was not always easy — it was a time when I felt stuck awkwardly between childhood and adolescence. I remember experiencing intense and unpredictable emotions that would come and go in waves. At times I still wanted to “play” and embrace the privileges of childhood, and at other times I resented being treated as a child and could not wait until I reached that magical age that included the word “teen.” It seemed this small detail might help confirm that I had entered a new stage of life and end the confusion about how I should feel and behave.

As I approached the park that summer morning, I saw that swimming lessons were well underway. I casually strolled toward the fence surrounding the pool and sat down on a bench to watch for a while before continuing on my walk. Not far from where I was sitting I saw a boy about my age fiddling with his bike lock. I felt a wave of self-consciousness when I recognized who he was. He was popular for all the usual reasons. Most of the girls I knew thought he was really cute, and I was no exception. Good looks weren’t the only thing he had on his side — he also came from a family that was quite wealthy, and they were well known for having the newest, coolest things, including a motorized scooter that he had proudly showed off earlier in the summer to an envious crowd of admirers.

But popularity based on appearance and money alone is sometimes accompanied by pride and arrogance, and that was the case for this boy. He was also known for teasing kids who were not as popular as he was, and that made him much less appealing to me. Still, knowing he was that close to me with no one else around, I felt extremely self-conscious and aware of my every move. As I contemplated slipping away invisibly, I noticed he seemed to be working very hard to get the bike unlocked, as if he were racing against some deadline that was fast approaching. He kept looking up at the kids who were in swimming lessons before frantically returning to his work. His behavior struck me as odd, and I had the feeling that something wasn’t right.

I took a closer look at the bike, and suddenly I realized what was going on. You see, the funny thing about being ten and spending endless summer days at the pool is that you begin to remember the bikes and towels of the other kids, who spend as much time there as you do. I knew whose bike this was — it belonged to another boy who was younger and whose family didn’t have a lot of money. And this “popular” boy was going to steal it!

The injustice I was witnessing overpowered my desire to slip away unnoticed. Without even thinking about it, I walked towards him. He looked up from his criminal work, annoyed by my disturbance. I just stood there for a moment, hoping that just my wordless presence would deter him from his crime. No such luck. I had to take the next step.

“That’s not your bike. I know what you’re doing.”

He half-smiled, but it was an unfriendly sarcastic snarl. “Oh, really? And what are you gonna do about it?” He looked bored, almost cruelly entertained by my concern.

“You don’t even need that bike. I know whose it is, and if you steal it, I’ll tell who did it.”

He looked shocked and laughed mockingly. “You don’t even know my name.”

“Sure I do. Everyone knows your name,” I fired back.

He showed a little pride at the fact that I knew his name and he had no clue who I was, but then it faded and his look became angry and intimidating. He stood up and moved towards me.

“Oh, look,” he sneered, “it’s little-miss-goody-two-shoes trying to save the world.” Then he moved even closer. “You’re not going to say a word to anyone — do you get it?”

It was painfully obvious that in his mind, there wasn’t an option for me to disagree. At that moment, I found myself at a fork in the road with two clear choices. I could back down and let him steal the bike, or I could stand my ground and face the potential consequences of standing up to a bully. I took a deep breath and braced myself, trying not to show my fear. “I told you, if you steal that kid’s bike, I’ll tell that you did it.”

He looked shocked and caught off-guard for a few seconds before his face contorted into a look that told me exactly what was going to happen next. He charged at me and knocked me to the ground, and the fight was on. Adrenaline and my survival instinct helped me to defend myself with everything in me as he threw punches at me without any sign of mercy. My only experience with fighting was light-hearted “play” fighting with my sister or brothers where there were never any injuries or any true sense of fear. For this reason, my pathetic moves were limited to pulling his eyes down and twisting the parts of his bare chest I could get to in a desperate attempt to get him off me before I really got pummeled.

Miraculously, he did stop his attack, leaving me lying in the dirt but relatively unharmed. He laughed at me, called me a few more names and said something about me not being worth his time. And then he turned and left.

I stood up and brushed the dirt off myself, straightened my clothing and watched him walk away. A grin spread across my dirtstreaked face as I looked at the bike, still waiting for its rightful owner. Sure, he might have thought he won the physical fight, but I felt certain that I had won the larger, more important battle. I had stood my ground and stopped him from stealing the bike. And I couldn’t have felt prouder!

~Julie A. Havener

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