38: A Promise to Mrs. Parsons

38: A Promise to Mrs. Parsons

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

A Promise to Mrs. Parsons

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

~Henry Brooks Adams

After the brief school break, I stepped back into Mrs. Parsons’ class. She was a heavy-set woman with kind eyes and a raspy voice, and from the moment I met her there was no doubt that she cared very deeply for me. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with her as well. She was the perfect teacher who listened with concern and was quick with praise or encouragement. “What a wonderful poem,” she’d whisper, or “I know someday you’ll make me very proud.” And how I wanted to! We all did. I soon learned that the saintly woman was equally quick with the truth. It was the greatest lesson I could have ever learned.

I was walking home from school when I spotted three neighborhood bullies waiting. My heart jumped into my throat. The Benoit brothers were frighteningly tough, but nothing compared to their huge sister who had worn a cast on her right arm for as long I could remember. My nemesis, Roland Benoit, was swollen with the courage provided by his sneering siblings. With a dry mouth and sweaty palms, I forced my rubbery legs to flee but it was no use. Roland cut me off and, without a word, threw one shot at me before his brother and sister jumped in. I went down and curled up into the fetal position. The Benoits pounced and inflicted their damage.

Bleeding and ashamed, I returned home to hide my battle scars from my proud father. I even made Grandma promise not to tell.

“It better not happen again,” she said.

As the weeks rolled by, the thought of the Benoits loomed over me like a five-ton anvil. The memory of the unanswered beating, however, hurt so much more than the lingering cuts and bruises.

I was at morning recess when a grinning Roland Benoit approached. He was alone. I started to tremble.

“Ready for another beatin’?” Roland barked, loud enough to ensure my public humiliation.

I swallowed hard, amazed at how small the world had just become. With Abby (my childhood crush) looking on though, it was time to redeem my honor and I knew it. Though a circle of excited spectators awaited the blood sport, before long it was only me and Roland Benoit. Everything else became darkness.

Roland started with the name-calling: “Chicken.”

“You’re the chicken,” I countered.

“How ’bout I punch your head in?” Roland threatened.

“How ’bout I punch yours in?” I matched, my knees quivering and a string of sweat beads forming across my forehead like a cruel crown. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. I could hear my heart beating hard in my ears. My breathing was quick. For the sake of saving face I knew I wasn’t going to cower. While our peers cheered us on, I felt like I was going to vomit. It was a living nightmare. Roland was still grinning. I couldn’t take it anymore. As the crowd began to chant, panic made me lunge.

There was a brief scuffle and in one strange, syrupy moment, I had Roland on the ground. I looked down and to my surprise, I’d pinned my enemy. Roland stared me straight in the eyes. He looked scared. With the bully’s arms pinned behind him, I went to work.

With each blow, I ignored Roland’s girlish pleas for mercy and cut up his face like a skilled surgeon. And with each blow, I felt my fear lighten. I was now a man — in my mind, anyway.

While the crowd chanted for more blood, I leaned into Roland’s swollen face and screamed, “Who’s the boss now?” Before my nemesis could answer, I worked my fists again like two deadly pistons. I didn’t let up until I realized that Mrs. Parsons was trying to pull us apart. I let go right away.

The crowd erupted in cheers. The vicious beating was a victory for anyone who ever feared Roland Benoit. Everyone celebrated — everyone but Mrs. Parsons and Abby. Both of them looked completely disgusted and it made my stomach queasy. Mrs. Parsons grabbed my ear and forced me to look down at Roland. The frightened boy had folded himself into the fetal position and was crying. “I hope you’re proud of yourself, Mr. Manchester,” she said.

While my hands ached something awful, a sea of emotions raged inside me. The angry mob was no longer cheering for me. Abby’s face looked contorted in pain. I felt confused. I looked up at Mrs. Parsons and the disappointment in her face broke my heart. I’d never felt so bad my whole life. She shook her head disgustedly. “I thought you were better than this,” she said. “I really thought you were a bigger person.” At that moment, something inside me changed.

I was escorted to the vice principal’s office, where I received the strict punishment deserved by any violent kid; a severe reprimand coupled with a three-day suspension. My aching body was then carted home where I suffered my father’s wrath.

Collectively, and even if multiplied a thousand times, none of this could have ever compared to the pain I suffered from looking into Mrs. Parson’s disappointed face. She was the nicest person I knew and I’d let her down. In turn, I’d let myself down.

Days later, I’d drummed up enough courage to approach Mrs. Parsons. I made her a promise: “I’m sorry for what I did... and I’m going to prove it.”

With a simple nod, she accepted my apologetic vow and watched me walk back to my desk.

Though I had to avoid several potential fights, the remainder of the year passed without further trouble. On my last day of school, Mrs. Parsons gave me a hug. “I expect big things from you, Mr. Manchester,” she whispered, “so don’t let either of us down, okay?”

I nodded, contritely. She wasn’t the only one who felt that way. I realized that because of Mrs. Parsons, I expected more of myself.

~Steven Manchester

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