Today I was reminded of a great lesson my principal taught me when I was sixteen.
I walked down the narrow hall, crowded with other kids rushing to leave school. We packed the hallway, a steady flow.
Like an explosion went off, a clearing appeared just ahead of me. I kept going, not that I had a choice, until I reached the edge of the clearing. Across from me, he stood, feet spread apart.
I remember the gleam in his eyes, the set of his thick shoulders as they bunched up to his lack of neck. The Bully. Before the whispers turned to chanting that filled the hall, I knew what he wanted. “Fight, fight, fight!”
I had taken my weightlifting to the next level the summer before. Maybe being bullied motivated me on some level. As a scrawny nerd, I had been stuffed into my locker by one. But I didn’t think about that. I just liked that it got me out of the house and when the soreness settled in, let me have an excuse to curl up and read. I wasn’t going for looks, though I didn’t mind the muscles that showed up.
I didn’t even think it would put me in the running for One Who Stood Up to The Bully. I mean, I wasn’t a fighter. I was still a nerd, just like last year! I could ignore suddenly getting pushed into the Jock clique, with its unwelcome popularity and attention. I had heard the rumors, had been asked the question. “Do you think you could beat up The Bully?” I laughed at the idea, dismissing it as a joke. I couldn’t ignore the clenched fists in front of me.
My smile, thinking this was still some kind of joke, triggered him. I guess he didn’t think it was a joke, and he glared at me, thick brows dropping. I was a nerd, but it wasn’t in me to run. Before I could say anything, he took a step forward, and I felt myself pushed into the empty space.
He swung a fist, moving so fast I only remember seeing it as it reached my face. Blurry, big as the moon, frozen forever in my memory.
The next moments were a blur. The next thing I will never forget is lying on the ground. The Bully lay under me, in a headlock, face pressed into the industrial orange carpet. I lay on one of his arms, like a small log pressed under my leg.
I checked myself, and felt only a scratch on my nose where his thumbnail must have grazed me. We sat there, the crowd around us completely silent. A few ineffectual struggles later, The Bully lay still. I had no idea what to do next, but knew I wasn’t going to let go.
The crowd murmured, “That’s it?” Disappointment quickly fled with the crowd as the janitor lead the principal to where The Bully and I lay.
“Stop fighting this instant!” the principal yelled.
I didn’t look at him, and thought for a moment. “Give up?” I asked The Bully.
A pause. “Sure,” he said.
I got up quickly, The Bully more slowly.
We were suspended, of course. I knew my parents were going to kill me, I would miss out on a lot of school, maybe even drop my GPA.
My father waited to let his judgment fall about the suspension until he heard the story from me on the drive home. Then he laughed.
“Suspension? Sounds like that boy will have a chance to cool off and you got a vacation as a reward.” I thought about it. Of course, he was right. On my own, I could ace through schoolwork much faster. Without the hassles of class, I could get ahead and even have time to spare. We went and picked up some extra fantasy books to fill up the time on my “vacation.”
It was a great lesson: You choose if something is good or bad.
You can learn a lot from your principal. Especially if you think life is learning, and school is everywhere, all the time.