35: Hard Truth

35: Hard Truth

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Hard Truth

We are so accustomed to disguising ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.

~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld

I picked through the jumble in my locker. Only a few students clustered in the hall. The class bell was about to ring. Where was that science book?

“C’mon,” I said. My heart was beginning to beat a little fast when I saw the blue binding at the bottom of a pile of books. I tugged hard. The book slid from the stack. I pushed it under my arm, slammed my locker door, and bolted down the hall to Mr. Countryman’s room.

As I walked through the door, my heart beat a little harder still. My eyes scanned the room. Our sixth grade classroom had short brown tables and cream-colored plastic chairs. Two kids per table. And the seats were assigned.

I cleared my throat and trudged toward my table. My tablemate was already there, twisted backwards in his seat, visiting with someone at the table behind him. His thick blond hair hung over the collar of his sweatshirt. I felt that I could melt into a puddle, just being so close.

The bell rang as I reached my seat. I dropped my books to the tabletop and created a sharp “Slam!” Scott turned in his chair and flashed a smile. There he was. Golden boy of the junior high school. Handsome. Athletic. Strong. And nice.

“Tough morning?” he asked.

I plunked into my seat and conjured my best growly voice. “Stupid science. It smells like frogs in here. I just hate science.”

Scott produced a sad, crooked smile. I set my jaw and flipped my book open as Mr. Countryman made his way to the front of the classroom.

Unsettling. That’s a good word to describe my first year of junior high school. In our town, three elementary schools, two from town and one from the country, fed into the junior high. I was from the country school. We were a tight group, and it was different to be sprinkled in with the kids from town who all seemed to know one another well. There was a lot of new stuff to keep up with. A cool crowd. Nike athletic shoes. Just the right brand of jeans. Talking the right talk. Then my best friend became best friends with a town girl — one who didn’t care for me. I felt overwhelmed and insecure. I masked my uncertainties behind an angry exterior. My new classmates had no idea I was like Jell-O inside.

Mr. Countryman began to talk about different types of rocks. Several students opened their notebooks, tipped their heads, and scrawled notes. But I was distracted. It was hard sitting at the same table as Scott. I wanted him to like me. I daydreamed about being his girlfriend — another big, new thing that was customary in junior high. I could picture myself in the bleachers watching him rule the basketball court. I’d cheer at all the right times and maybe there’d be pizza at Joe’s Pizzeria after the game. Many of my classmates were allowed to walk there after sports events.

A jab on the arm brought me back to reality. A boy from the next table thrust a rock sample in my direction. From the corner of my eye, I saw Scott watching me. I held the crumbly rock with distaste, poked my nose in the air, and passed it to him.

The remaining forty-five minutes of class flew by. Science class always did. I didn’t have any other classes with Scott, and I enjoyed every minute of sitting there, though no one would have known that.

When the bell rang to end the period, the science students screeched their chairs back and bolted out the door. Scott hung back a bit. It appeared that he wanted to talk. I was hopeful and excited. But I was also scared, so I was sure to not smile.

“Shawn?” Scott said. His eyes were so blue.

“What?” I answered a little gruff.

“Well, I just wanted to say something.”

I acted annoyed. “Go ahead.”

“I think you’re a real pretty girl,” Scott said. “Nice to look at. It’s just too bad you don’t act nice, too.” Then he pulled his red sweatshirt from the back of his chair, shrugged his shoulders, and walked out.

I stood beside the table for a minute or two. My face felt hot and I knew tears were close. I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs. He was wrong! I was nice! Didn’t he know that I was just scared? The answer was no. He didn’t see my fear — only my grouchy attitude.

I learned a lot from Scott that day. I wish I could say that the honest, hard truth caused me to do a fast 180. It didn’t. In fact, for a while, the words may have made me feel even more insecure with who and where I was. But later, when middle school anxiety melted away and I didn’t feel the need to protect myself with a grizzly exterior, I found honesty and kindness in those simple words.

Scott never became my boyfriend. And he never treated me to pizza at Joe’s. But he had given me something of value. Though it had been hard to hear, he’d given me the truth.

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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