Blondena tiptoed down the hall, slipping into the classroom mere seconds before the ringing of the bell. She slid into her seat and whispered to herself, safe. Blondena sighed a conspiratorial sigh. This time she'd done it. Made it past the Senior Hall. Lingered long enough in the stall in the bathroom until the last possible second before the ringing of the bell. Twelve steps from the bathroom door to her history classroom across the hall. She could make it in nine seconds. Flat. The hall an empty tomb still echoing with the voices of the Senior boys. Walking that hall was like walking a gauntlet of scorn and contempt. The Hall of Humiliation. Sneers and jeers. Jostling and pointing and laughing. At her. The perfect target, walking with her head down, imagining herself so infinitesimally small, almost invisible. Yet, no matter how drab her clothes, how closely she hugged the wall with her backpack clutched to her chest, how much deodorant she used, somehow she emitted a scent. The sweet perfume heady to a predator seeking its prey. No, she would say later. No, no one touched me or pushed me or knocked into me. It was what they said. The words they used.
Can you please help me?
Then. Well, tap tap, what did they say? Repeat it, they said. Repeat it word for word. Every humbling humiliating syllable.
Blondena stood dumbly, pulling out single strands of her hair. Again? Live it again? Now? Here? In front of you? I, she stuttered, I...I...can't. She turned to leave the office and saw the poster on the wall behind the principal's desk.
Zero. Tolerance. For. Bullying.
Blondena arrived at home to the TV blaring and her father shouting at it, waving his fist in the air. Blondena whispered, "I have a problem."
Her father, replied, his red face a perfect match for the blush rising up in her cheeks. "Get Over Yourself. The world is not as interested in the likes of you as you may think they are. Wait until you're grown up. Then you'll have real problems."
Her mother looking up from stirring the pot on the stove, her glasses opaque from the steam rising from the pan, shrugged her shoulders and dropped her misty gaze. A historic moment, there in the kitchen, as Blondena's mother untied her apron and passed it on to her daughter, an invisibility cloak from one generation to another.
Over the years, Blondena endured the slurs that she was slow. Dimwitted. Plodding and dull. A loner. A loser. Actually, some of it was true. Blondena did plod and she did spend much of her time alone. And on the outside, for appearances sake, a bit drab, slightly colorless. But, in her room, in her books, in her mind, Blondena planned her escape. First, she escaped into the mountain of pages piled by her bedside table. Second, she studied and plotted and planned. If there were rules to be learned, she memorized them. If she wanted to play the game, she had to be in control. Of everything. What she wanted most of all was to teach. To stand in front of a classroom and teach. To shape young minds. To raise a new generation with Zero-Tolerance-For-Bullies.
To the surprise of everyone except Blondena, she passed her courses, exceeded and succeeded, advanced, level after level, grade after grade, until she walked exactly twelve steps from one side of the stage to the other. Leaving her former self in the wings, she strode across the stage with her diploma in hand, down the hall, head held high, down the street and out into her life.
Miss Blondena, third grade teacher, emeritus, decorated her classroom with signs and posters. Rule. Regulations. How To Walk In the Hall. How To Stand In Line. When To Raise Your Hand. When NOT To Raise One's Voice. The List of NO. No gum. No excuses. No back talk. No pushing in line. No. No. NO. In Miss Blondena's classroom, the indoctrination to acceptable behavior and zero tolerance lasted the entire first week of school. The principal smiled when she passed by, pleased by the remarkable control Miss Blondena had over her class. The absolute hush. The heads bowed over desks.
What the principal missed, what Miss Blondena overlooked, what almost went completely unnoticed, was the dirty little secret one only learns when children are at play. Recess. For out on the playground, amongst their peers, it was strikingly obvious, that Miss Blondena had indeed, passed on her need for control, her Zero Tolerance onto her students. Her class, the bullies of the playground. Cramped and confined in the classroom, living lives defined by NO NO NO, the children of the playground returned the complement. Out in the wild open spaces, Miss Blondena's correctly coiled and ready to strike little snakes, hissed and bit and bared their fangs. And once they got a taste of their victims, converted their words into weapons, it was only a matter of time before they recognized the power of the playground might transform their classroom.
One giggle. A note passed from one desk to another. A whisper and a pointed finger. Pointed at the target surrounded by posters now covered with graffiti and slurs. Miss Blondena. So it began. Late homework. Lame excuses. Rude interruptions. Teasing. Taunting. Inattention. Miss Blondena went home in tears and worked long hours into the night making NEW LISTS OF NO. Long longer longest lists of shameful, naughty, nasty behaviors she had missed. It exhausted her. It overwhelmed her.
In that moment before eyed closed and the coming of sleep, Blondena felt her body crumple into itself, retracing the twelve steps from the bathroom to the classroom. All she had done was to walk in a perfect circle with the bullies on her heels the entire way. She could never outrun them. Outsmart them. Never. Ever.
And in that moment of reliving the humiliation of her youth, a voice, a teacher's voice, landed on her pillow. "The bullies will always be with us. But...
While the bullies will always be with us,
the good folk will always outnumber them."
Yard Yeti Emeritus Eunice Everlasting reached down and pulled Blondena into her embrace. What you need, she said, is to enroll in the Yard Yeti School Of Good Graces. Come with me into the garden, and I will watch out for the snakes in the tall grass, and let the Yard Yeti Women teach you their magic. What you need is a dose of Yes. A large heaping tablespoon of goodness. A reminder that there is good in you and in everyone you meet.
Blondena stepped into her yellow wellies, let herself be guided into the dark of night. Eunice reassured her to not be afraid to raise her gaze to the night sky. There, tiny pinpricks of light spelled out a message...
"If Every Morning You Tell Your Children
To Do Their Best At Work, Or School, Or Play,
Be Sure You Are Equal To the Same Challenge"
Blondena studied in the garden with the Yard Yetis. Blondena played at recess in the garden with the Yard Yetis. Miss Blondena blossomed and bloomed so much that her hair became a wreath of multi-colored begonias. Colors that made her stand out and stand up. Colors that should have made her feel vulnerable, but instead made her feel alive and well and safe. Safe enough to return to her classroom.
Miss Blondena Begonia, Yard Yeti Extraordinaire, pulled down her posters, painted the walls the colors of the rainbow. Let the sun shine in and greeted her students with a smile and the pot at the end of the rainbow. In the pot, a jumbled collection of assorted smooth pebbles she collected on her walk back through the high grass. As her shocked students settled into their seats, Miss Begonia paused in front of one student sitting quietly and attentively. She took a stone out of the pot and laid it in the palm of her student's hand. Then she said, Thank you for your kind attention. As she moved about the class and throughout the day, she handed out her pebbles, always with a qualifying remark.
That was a brave question. Thank you for sharing your pencils. How kind of you to wait until the others finished speaking.
The students spent their recess making pots to sit on the edge of their desks. Some used clay, others wove baskets, some folded paper. And at the end of the day, each student, except one, had at least one pebble nestled in the bottom of their vessel.
As the week progressed, Miss Begonia switched things up. The next pebble, she held in her hand and asked the student to tell her why she warranted a pebble. The child sat a moment and replied, because I complimented Tessa on her sweater. Ah yes, Miss Blondena Begonia said, Ah yes...and placed the pebble in the palm of her hand.
Other teachers accused Miss Begonia of bribing her students into good behavior with promises she could never keep. The begonia bedazzled beauty smiled and said, "Yes, perhaps I am. Perhaps I am. But I think I'll do it anyway."
Soon enough, as is bound to happen anywhere at anytime, the competition began. Students noticed whose pot, or basket or vessel
contained the most pebbles. Noticed their behavior. Noticed they were people they liked to sit next to at reading time.
Noticed that they were the ones who told funny stories at the lunch table and made room for them to sit down and to join
in. They didn't want the pebbles, they wanted the feeling of the pebbles in the palm of their hand. The feeling of goodness
for goodness sake.
At the end of the week, one child sat at his desk, painfully aware that his pot was woefully empty. What he did not know,
was the awareness of every student in the class. Miss Blondena Begonia sat struggling within herself for something, anything,
to justify a pebble for her malcontent. But before she could move, a little girl, in a drab little skirt, who used to walk with
her head down and close to the walls in the hallway to avoid the boy beside her desk, stood up and held out her hand. "You
made your pot out of folded gum wrappers. I think that's a very original design."
The boy looked up and grinned, opened his fist, felt the warmth of the pebble in his palm, and placed it gently in his pot.
How to outnumber the bullies ?
Do it one pebble at a time.
Chapter 13 | Chapter 15