The bully, the ice ball, and the wisdom of Mrs. Everest

The ice ball swirled through the air, across the territorial boundaries. Whizzing past the neatly carved clutches of children in huddles, the ice ball missed them all. It shot through the air, straight toward my designated target: Marley's perfect nose. But just as it was about to hit Marley on the nose, she turned her head slightly. The ice ball struck, splat! Right on her ear.

I'd planned this for weeks. But the impact left a churning mass of nerves where my stomach used to be. I was frozen in place. I tried moving discreetly away from the line of trajectory, but my legs, now wooden in my red snowsuit, wouldn't budge. Marley let out the most piercing wail the schoolyard had ever heard. As I finally turned to make my escape, there, bigger than life, blocking the sun, was Mrs. Everest.

Mrs. Everest, the only woman principal in my entire school career, was very scary. Her hands emerged from under her red velvet coat. They grasped my tiny shoulders through my mail-order snowsuit. I was caught.

Who could have suspected? I was known as the girl most likely to be picked last for the softball team. I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. But Mrs. Everest had seen the whole thing; I was guilty. I was led up the school steps to meet my fate. My brother whistled a long sad note. Then he laughed and turned away. Another student led Marley in. She was sobbing theatrically. She swooned down on the couch by the door and wailed. A teacher got her a wet, warm cloth for her forehead. I was left to sweat in my soggy snowsuit, melting snow leaving a pathetic puddle on the floor.

Mrs. Everest raised her arm and pointed me through the glass door of the office. I moved mutely, shuffling as slowly as I dared toward the room. Mrs. Everest followed. She motioned toward the chairs and I slumped down in one.

It was one of those horrible plastic chairs, and my nylon snowsuit slid across it like butter on hot bread. I was going to slide off the edge, I just knew it. I edged forward so my tiny snow boots could touch the linoleum. I was barely on the edge of the seat. I hoped I'd stay on.

The principal looked me over and finally spoke. "Why did you do it, Nancy? It was a horrible thing. Marley could have been seriously hurt by that ice ball you threw. What if it had had a rock in it?"

I'd actually thought of putting a rock in it; the thought of getting even had been on my mind for weeks. Why had I done it? I thought of all the lunch money that Marley had stolen from me. I thought of the time she'd said I loved George Kincaid and spread rumors that we were kissing. I thought of the time at the Christmas concert when she bent my halo.

But the worst was last week when she had stolen Mrs. Everest's coat and tied it to the school bell. Then she conned my brother into ringing the bell. The rope had hoisted the coat all the way up and my brother had been caught red-faced and red-handed.

There was an unspoken law in school, though. It was far worse to be a fink then anything else. I would keep my silence. I shook my head "No excuse, ma'am." I held out my hands, awaiting my punishment.

Mrs. Everest got up and headed for the door. The strap must be kept in the next room, I thought. She turned to me and in her sternest voice said, "You are not to leave this room. Not until I dismiss you." Then she left. It was the waiting I hated the most.

I could see in my mind the strap rising with expanded force in Mrs. Everest's hands. The longer the drop, the worse it would sting. I wiped a tear from my eye. What happened next I would never have conceived nor believed. I bawled. I bawled my eyes out, I broke down and cried and cried and cried.

I don't know why, but this changed her, changed her into a human being. She was still stern in her words as I broke the unwritten law and told her everything. But as I poured out my story of torment at Marley's hands, Mrs. Everest understood why I had thrown that ice ball.

When I'd finished, she told me something I've never forgotten. "Bullies" she said, "get their own in the end. Just don't let a bully make you into one, too."

I wasn't always good after that, but I tried to be fair and not bully others. Later, as I grew up and saw people like Marley get into trouble, I wasn't surprised.

I was not needed, I suppose, to try to right the wrongs of the bullies in the world. Sometimes I still seemed to be the victim. But I learned that what goes around, comes around. Mrs. Everest taught me that, and I am very fortunate - for except for that one magic moment, I still can't hit the broad side of a barn.

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