30: The Eye Patch

30: The Eye Patch

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

The Eye Patch

When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

My stretchy black leggings that reached just past the knee were about two years past their prime by the time I entered junior high school, but I still wore them almost every day. To be honest, I had about four pairs of them, but I wore one pair all the time because they were my favorite.

Up until seventh grade, it didn’t matter what I looked like. I had been in a close-knit elementary school where everyone cared about each other. I wasn’t prepared for battle. For the most part I didn’t care about the teasing anyway; my Mom had told me it would happen and that she was picked on too as a kid. But it was still annoying and distracting on good days and hurtful and alienating on most.

Mark Something-or-other (because by this time I’ve forgotten his last name), sat next to me in Social Studies class that year, and every day he had a comment for me like a quote-a-day calendar. Only instead of the quotes being soul-enhancing, they were mean and hurtful.

“Nice braces. I think you got some food stuck in them.”

“Do you sleep in those pants too?”

“What’s with your hair, do you think it looks nice like that or something?”

“Hey scar face.”

Mark scrutinized everything about me with the precision of a surgeon, and after he would scan the room for laughs. There were always some.

So I was faced with a moral dilemma. Should I fight back? My Mom told me to treat people the way I wanted to be treated, and not to put others down to make myself feel better. So how come Mark’s mom didn’t tell him the same thing? What was wrong with her?

My best friend since kindergarten, Jackie, was one of the cool girls in school, so she’d speak up for me sometimes. But Jackie’s alphabetically assigned seat was on the other side of the classroom, leaving me on my own with this one. Every day I’d slip into my seat just before the bell, so that class started immediately. I made sure never to turn to my left toward Mark. And every day, like a sitting duck, I—well—sat there, waiting for his barrage of put-downs. I wondered why the teacher didn’t intervene. What was wrong with him? If I were a teacher, I’d say something.

Then one day there was silence. “Oh good,” I thought. “Mark’s out today.” But when I turned to make sure, Mark was definitely not absent. When he turned towards me, I saw why he was so quiet. Mark had a giant black Captain Hook eye patch on his left eye.

Today was my lucky day. Forget treating others the way I wanted to be treated. Forget the teacher for not caring about me. Forget Jackie for having a last name that began with P and for P for being so far from D in the alphabet. Forget Mark, forget his mom, forget this class, forget the film projector, forget everything!

“Nice eye patch,” I said with snort. “Who are you, “Captain Hook?”

“Shut up!” was his only response.

I finally got to him! He would think twice next time he considered making fun of Shana Donohue!

Things were looking up for the rest of that day, and I held my head high on the walk back from school. My mom clearly didn’t know what she was talking about. I felt great!

It was early spring when this happened, and in New England this means there’s a layer of sand covering every concrete or asphalt surface. My house was probably five stone throws from the school, by a large parking lot that Jackie and I would walk through to go home. It was windy that day and the parking lot had been well sanded that winter.

As I recapped the events that happened on my side of the classroom, the wind picked up, blowing sand all around us. This wasn’t so unusual since it was spring, but this day some sand blew right in my eye.

“Ouch, my eye!” I said as I rubbed it. “I think some sand got in.” I rubbed it all the way home. Jackie and I parted ways when we got to my house and I went inside. “Mom, some sand got in my eye and it hurts really badly.”

I rubbed my eye some more, thinking it would get better. “Mom, it hurts really badly!”

“Stop rubbing it!” she said after trying eye drops and becoming noticeably nervous about my eyesight.

But by then I had rubbed it too much. Eye drops weren’t going to cut it. My mom led me to the car and drove me to the hospital. It was determined that I had scratched my cornea, and I was fitted with a large piece of gauze secured with long strips of surgical tape that spanned the entire left side of my face.

My mom mercifully didn’t make me go to school the next day, after I explained to her that Mark would think I copied him. Luckily, corneas only take 24 hours to heal.

Life’s always been one to teach me swift, hard lessons, and if I look back on how I came to believe the things I believe about life, I almost always come back to Mark What’s-his-name and his eye patch. Without realizing it, he taught me that what goes around really does come back around, and now I keep an eye out—no pun intended—for bullies. But I never sink to their level.

~Shana Donohue

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