16: Like Water

16: Like Water

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Growing Up

Like Water

I’m in phys ed class, freshman year. I’m wearing my stupid fuchsia gym pants. I feel self-conscious. I’m the short, nerdy girl in the ugly clothes. I’m embarrassed by myself. I scratch my head and yawn. More than anything, I wish this class were over. For good.

I stare at the clock and wonder if its hands could move any slower. The teacher comes in and we automatically start running around the gym. That is our routine exercise. We only stop when the teacher blows his whistle, but he’s really slow today. I wonder if he forgot to look at the time or if he’s just torturing us on purpose. A little while longer and I might start hyperventilating. Finally, the shrill sound pierces the air.

We sit down in our squads as the gym teacher and his student instructors take attendance. Today is elective day. We have a choice between basketball and volleyball. I stand up and walk toward the cart of basketballs. I reach in and take a good, bouncy one. Suddenly, a pair of hands seizes the ball from me, and maniacal laughter sounds. I look up to see a big, scary sophomore girl. She grins evilly at me. “My ball!” she says. Her big, scary posse cackles.

I’ve seen lots of movies where the bullies pick on nerdy kids. I just never thought it would happen to me. I’ve always liked to think of myself as brave. Not daunted by anyone. So here’s my chance. That girl stole my basketball. Am I just going to let her bully me like that? I take a deep breath. What am I supposed to do? Tell her off? Steal my ball back? Punch her in the face?

Talk about a slow reaction ... the mean girl and her posse have already run off laughing before I even have a chance to do anything. By now, half the gym class has seen what happened. I feel like a horrible coward. I tell myself to think happy thoughts. Stay calm. Be like water. Don’t let the ripples disturb you. I imagine myself punching that girl in the face. I feel a little better.

I’m dribbling another basketball. It is very flat and hardly bounces. I look up and I wonder if my eyes are deceiving me. That mean girl is running toward me. Maybe she’s coming to apologize, beg for forgiveness. Suddenly, she comes up and grabs my basketball. Again. I clench my teeth. Enough is enough. The time has come for her to get what she deserves.

“Hey,” I said. My brilliant comeback. “Stop!” She rolls her eyes psychotically at me and runs off to her friends, who are roaring with laughter. The other kids laugh, too.

I try not to cry. If I were someone else, someone who actually had courage, this would have turned out differently. Only a nerd would get pushed around like that.

Someone tugs at my arm. It is Sarah, my gym partner. Silently, she hands me another basketball. Gym class goes on. I survive it.

What happened in gym that day might not seem like a big deal. And no, it wasn’t necessarily one of those crucial, life-changing moments. But I did learn something. I realized that no matter what kind of person you are, there are bound to be hard times in life when others are mean to you. No one is perfect; no one is immune to teasing and bullying. There are bound to be people bigger and tougher than you. It is how you deal with them that matters. When you learn to respect yourself, others will get the message to do the same.

Today, I’m a junior in high school. I don’t think school is that bad anymore. The psycho girl and her gang have not given me any trouble since freshman year, and I hardly see them. I still wear my fuchsia gym pants. They’ve come a long way, and I’ve grown attached to them. I don’t care what I look like or what I wear. I’m not embarrassed that I’m short, or that I don’t have name-brand clothes, or that yes, sometimes I have acne flare-ups. Isn’t that part of life? I realize that feeling self-conscious and pressured to fit in is not healthy at all. I have learned to be glad of who I am.

—Jean Huang
Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul: The Real Deal School

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