From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

The Rumor Was True

I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.

Abraham Lincoln

Junior-high school was probably the worst time in my life. My body was changing daily, and I spent most of my time trying to fit into a mold that my peers had formed for me. Gone were the days of Elmer’s glue, crayons and those tiny scissors with the rounded edges. From here on out, I had my own locker, carried my books to each class and started making my own decisions about which classes to take. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I had to take showers in front of my peers. Naked. That was dreadful.

What I remember most about junior high, however, was the incredible pain and heartache that students inflicted on one another with their words and actions. There were students who seemed to have it all together and made those around them feel as if they didn’t measure up. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that those who ripped on others suffered from a terrible self-image, so in order to make themselves feel better, they tore others down. In fact, they were usually a totally different person from the one they presented to the outside world.

I didn’t have the best self-image in junior high, and there were two things that I fell back on to be accepted— athletics and humor. I have always been a decent athlete, which brought a certain confidence to my life, and I have always been able to make people laugh. At times, the laughter came at another’s expense.

I didn’t fully realize what I was doing to the self-images of those around me, particularly one classmate of mine. Her name was Tracy, and she had a crush on me. Instead of nicely letting her know that I wasn’t interested in her, I got caught up in trying to be funny, with her being the brunt of my jokes. I am ashamed now to think of how I treated her in seventh grade. I went out of my way to make things miserable for her. I made up songs about her, and even wrote short stories in which I had to save the world from Tracy, the evil villain.

That all changed about halfway through the year, however, when Mr. Greer, my PE teacher, came up to me one day.

“Hey, Mike, you got a second?”

“Sure, Mr. Greer!” I said. Everybody loved Mr. Greer, and I looked up to him like a father.

“Mike, I heard a rumor that you were going around picking on Tracy.” He paused and looked me straight in the eye. It seemed like an eternity before he continued.

“You know what I told the person I heard that from? I told them it couldn’t possibly be true. The Mike Powers I know would never treat another person like that. Especially a young lady.”

I gulped, but said nothing. He gently put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I just thought you should know that.” Then he turned and walked away without a backward glance, leaving me to my thoughts.

That very day I stopped picking on Tracy. I knew that the rumor was true, and that I had let my role model down by my actions. More importantly, though, it made me realize how badly I must have hurt this girl and others for whom I had made life difficult. It was probably a couple of months later before I fully realized the incredible way in which Mr. Greer handled the problem. He not only made me realize the seriousness of my actions, but he did it in a way that helped me to save some of my pride. My respect and love for him grew even stronger after that.

I don’t think I ever apologized to Tracy for my hurtful words and actions. She moved away the next year, and I never saw her again. While I was very immature as a seventh-grader, I still should have known better. In fact, I did know better, but it took the wisdom of my favorite teacher to bring it out into the light.

Michael T. Powers

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