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Chapter 2 - The Bully

Note: If you haven't read Chapter 1 yet, read it first HERE

Isabella stopped to smell the bright red and yellow tulips that adorned her neighbor’s yard, as she walked to school on a crisp, clear day at the beginning of spring. They were Grandma Allen’s favorite kind of flowers and seeing them always brought a smile to her face. She couldn’t believe it had already been 7 years since her grandma had passed away.

Now 12 years old, Isabella’s mind drifted to the good old days of being in elementary school, where she spent the entire day being taught by her favorite teacher, Miss Judy.  She snickered to herself as she remembered how Miss Judy would always tell a joke first thing in the morning. That was her favorite part of the school day.  Isabella thought about how hard it is to have seven different teachers, one for each class, now that she is in junior high school. It was much too impersonal. 
Gone are the days when she could be with her best friend Paige all day, even during recess. Now she only gets to be with her at lunch. No longer is it that everybody in the school knows each other.  Now she’s in a world of strangers and cliques…and mean girls. Like Morgan. Morgan is a bully. 
As she tripped over a bump in the sidewalk, she heard the clank of Michael’s Magic Box in her backpack. Isabella knew her mother would be angry if she found out she had brought it to school, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the message she received from Michael this morning.  

          Love is the most important thing in the world. 
Isabella didn’t know why she had received this message. It felt unfinished. What does it apply to? she wondered.  Nothing was going on in her life. Maybe he forgot to give me the rest of the message, she speculated silently. That’s why she took the box to school…just in case there was more of the message coming.
When Isabella entered the class, there was Morgan up to her old tricks, walking down the aisle, pushing all the books off everyone’s desks and laughing about it. As she walked in, Morgan glanced over at her and cackled, “Hey look! It’s Miss Priss!”
Isabella was styled in cute jeans, flip-flops and a white fitted blouse with a blank tank top underneath.  Her dark brown, naturally curly head of hair bounced lightly with every step she took—a sharp contrast to Morgan, whose dishwater blond hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in a week. Clothed in her usual wrinkled T-shirt and sweat pants, it was evident Morgan didn’t care about her appearance.
“Hey look! It’s Plain Jane!” Isabella teased back. 
She knew the minute the words came out of her mouth that she shouldn’t have said them. No one stood up to Morgan. But she couldn’t help it; Isabella was tired of Morgan’s constant criticism. 
Isabella turned her attention toward the teacher as class began, but she knew this wasn’t the end of it with Morgan. She could feel her piercing eyes glaring at her, as if to say watch your back. 
“Paige! Walk home with me?” Isabella yelled over to her best friend as school ended. 
“Okay, wait up,” Paige answered as she casually jogged over to her. 
“Wanna go shopping with me and my mom tonight?” Paige asked Isabella. 
Before she could answer, Isabella felt a forceful pull on her backpack as it was ripped from her shoulders. She turned around to discover it was Morgan and “her crew.” Her crew was a group of friends that followed her around everywhere she went. Snatching backpacks from people and dumping the contents out on the ground was part of their bullying ways. Isabella had seen them do it many times to others; now it was her turn. 
“Let’s see what you got in here,” Morgan taunted, opening the backpack zipper.
She grabbed Isabella’s history book and threw it down on the ground. Then she flung one of her notebooks across the air as far as she could and proceeded to dump out the rest of the contents. 
“Oooh…what’s this? Morgan said intrigued, looking back at her crew. “A jewelry box!”
Isabella felt a wave of fear come over her. I can’t lose Michael’s Magic Box! She cried inside.   
“Give me that!” Isabella demanded, reaching to grab it.
But Morgan quickly pulled back her arm. “No! I’ve wanted a new jewelry box. It’s mine now,” she retorted as she safely tucked her newfound prize under her arm. 
Isabella could hardly breathe.  She didn’t know what to do. 
“C’mon Isabella, let’s go,” Paige said, picking up everything they had dumped out.
But Isabella wasn’t leaving without Michael’s Magic Box.  A feeling of courage came over her unlike she had ever felt before. With lightning-fast speed, she ripped the box out from under Morgan’s arm and bolted!
“Let’s go Paige!” she shouted as she turned and ran away. With Isabella’s backpack in hand, Paige ran as fast as her legs would carry her. Morgan and “her crew” just stood there pointing and laughing.
When Isabella got home, she took out the box and carefully placed it on her dresser. With a sigh of relief she vowed, “I’ll never take that to school again.” She knew how lucky she had been not to have lost it.  She fell down on her bed sobbing as the emotional toll of the day finally caught up with her. 
“I can’t stand her!” Isabella yelled angrily, thinking of Morgan while hitting her fist into the bed.
“Who does she think she is?” asking no one in particular. 
Just then, Michael’s Magic Box began to shimmer. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she walked over to the box and lifted the lid.

    There's a place in your heart and I know that it is love
    And this place could be much brighter than tomorrow
    And if you really try you'll find there's no need to cry
     In this place you'll feel there's not hurt or sorrow
Isabella knew Michael was trying to tell her to open her heart to Morgan, but she couldn’t bring herself to do that. She sat in quiet contemplation. How do you show love to someone who is so mean? “Why should I show love to someone who doesn’t deserve it?” Isabella justified, her voice barely audible. 
The next day, Isabella’s social studies teacher, Mrs. Olsen, addressed the class. “Bullying has reached an epidemic in this country.” Holding up a newspaper with a story of a young boy who had recently committed suicide, she continued, “This poor young man dealt with bullying in the only way he knew how: by taking his own life.”
“What has this world come to?” she rhetorically—and angrily—asked. “We have the same problem with bullying going on in this school and I refuse to let something like this happen here.”
Looking over the glasses sitting comfortably on the bridge of her nose, while leaning on the edge of her desk, Mrs. Olsen declared, “It’s time to do something about it. I’m giving each of you an assignment to come up with an idea of how we can stop the bullying in this school. Be creative. This is an exercise in empathy. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” 
She stood up from her desk, walked around to her chair and instructed, “You have 30 days to complete this assignment. At the end of the 30 days you will each present your idea to the class in the form of a report.” As she finished giving further details about how she would grade the students’ work on the project, the bell rang. 
Later that evening, as the family sat down for dinner, Isabella’s mom inquired how the day went. “How was school today, honey?”
“Okay,” Isabella answered. “I have to do a report on bullying for my social studies class. The teacher said it’s getting really bad in our school, so she wants the students to come up with ideas about how to change it. She said that it’s an exercise in empathy,” Isabella advised, shrugging her shoulders.  
“That’s a great idea,” her father responded. 
“Yeah, that’s a great idea,” echoed her nine-year-old sister, Kristina, with a big smile on her face. 
“I don’t have a clue what to do for it though. How can I empathize with a bully? I don’t understand why people act that way in the first place,” Isabella expressed, thinking of Morgan. 
“What do you think I should do for my report, Dad?”
“I can’t answer that, Isabella.” 
“Yes, he’s right,” her mom chimed in quickly. “It has to come from your heart, Isabella,” she said, pointing to her chest. 
“Yeah, it has to come from your heart, Isabella,” Kristina copied jokingly. Isabella looked over at her with a wrinkled brow as if to say you’re bugging me. Kristina responded with a giggle. 
After dinner, Isabella went up to her room to do her homework. She tried and tried but couldn’t come up with an idea for the bullying report. Disillusioned, she sank down onto her bed. 
Again, Michael’s Magic Box began to shimmer. Jumping up excitedly, she ran over to the box and opened it:

The foundation of all human knowledge, the beginning of human consciousness
must be that each and every one of us is an object of love. Before you know if
you have red hair or brown, before you know if you are black or white, before you
know of what religion you are a part of,  you have to know that you are loved. 
She sat back down on her bed and sighed, realizing what Michael was asking her to do. She didn’t want to be nice to Morgan, but she had made a pact with Grandma Allen to use the messages he gave her. Reluctantly, she came up with an idea about how to do that. 
Isabella recalled a time when Grandma Allen told her about how Michael Jackson was always able to find the good in people even though some people couldn’t find the good in him. That gave her an idea. Instead of writing a report, she decided to do an experiment for the next 30 days. She would report on what she discovered at the end of the experiment.  
Her plan was to find something good about Morgan every single day for the next month and let her know about it anonymously. She created a cute little deck of cards to help her. On the front of the cards, she drew a smiley face and wrote, “I saw something I like about you today!” The back of the cards were blank so she could write messages on them.  
She quickly discovered that her experiment was not as easy as it seemed. Finding something she liked about Morgan was challenging because she was always so mean. Isabella pondered the situation as she kept watching and waiting. What would she do if she couldn’t find anything she liked about Morgan? There must be something good about her!
It was a rule during lunch that all students must clean up after themselves by taking their tray to the counter once they had finished. It was disrespectful not to because that meant more work for the lunch ladies. While Isabella was eating, she noticed Morgan picking up trays other students had left on the table. 
“Wow, she’s actually helping the lunch ladies out?” she whispered to herself. ‘Oh! That’s something good about her!”
She and Morgan took the same math class after lunch. Instead of spending the next few minutes talking with friends as she usually did, Isabella wrote down a message on a card about Morgan picking up the trays, sneaked into the empty classroom, placed the card on Morgan’s desk, and left before anyone else arrived.
Minutes later, as everyone walked in and took their seats, Morgan strolled in with an attitude, as usual, seemingly not caring about anyone in the world except herself. Isabella watched her pick up the card. She read the front, turned it over and read the back, then glanced around the room. Isabella could tell she was trying to figure out who could have left this on her desk. Morgan sat down looking confused. 
Isabella repeated that same action for the next 29 days, finding something good every day about Morgan and leaving it on a card for her anonymously. One time she noticed that Morgan offered to sharpen someone’s pencil. Another time she heard her say thank you to Mrs. Olsen. Then there was the day she walked by Morgan’s desk and saw an amazing sketch she had drawn in her notebook.  
One day she noticed a change in Morgan’s appearance. She came to school with her hair washed and curled. Instead of the same old sweat pants and T-shirt, she had on a bright yellow top with black jeans and flip-flops. She also seemed to be sitting up a little straighter instead of hunched over in her chair as she usually was. 
On the last day of her experiment, Isabella was shocked to witness Morgan stopping someone from shoving another student into a locker. She was usually the one putting them in there. 
Geez, I wonder what made her change? Isabella mused, not realizing that it was her messages that caused this remarkable transformation.  
The next day, the bullying reports were due in her social studies class. Morgan was the first to be called to present her report. She slowly walked up to the front of the room and stood by the teacher’s desk, no report in hand. 
“I’m sorry; I didn’t do the assignment,” Morgan said, looking over at Mrs. Olsen disappointedly, “but I still have something to say.” 
Mrs. Olsen looked at her with a tilted head wondering what was going on. 
“When you gave us this assignment, Mrs. Olsen, I laughed inside. I wasn’t going to have any part of it. Not just because I didn’t want to do the work, but because…” Morgan hung her head down in shame before acknowledging, “I was a bully.”
“Right after you gave us this assignment I started getting cards from someone.” Morgan held up one of the cards and showed the class what it looked like. “I have received a card like this every single school day for the last 30 days, each one with a different message on it. This card says, ‘You have an amazing talent for drawing.’ The last card I received read, ‘You stopped someone from being bullied.’” 
 Isabella squirmed in her seat a little, wondering if Morgan knew she was the source of the messages. 
“I don’t know who was giving me these cards,” Morgan said, “but they changed me.”
Tears started to well up in her eyes as she explained, “See the thing is….when you’re told over and over that you’re worthless, you start to believe it.” 
Morgan didn’t expand on who had been telling her she was worthless, but Isabella watched with compassionate eyes as the whole class began to soften toward her. 
“Do you know what these cards did for me?” Morgan asked, getting choked up. “They made me like myself again.”
Isabella smiled as Morgan lifted her head up to address the class: “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt anyone in here,” she said softly. “I treated people badly because I thought it made me cool. It was a way for me to feel better about myself, but in reality it only made me feel worse.”
After a slight pause, Morgan looked over at the teacher, with a faint but noticeable sparkle in her eyes. “Mrs. Olsen, I didn’t do a report on bullying, but I am proof that with a little help, a bully can change. Every time I received one of these cards, I discovered something good about me that I wasn’t aware of, and that made me start liking myself again!” she said passionately.  
With a puzzled look, Morgan continued. “The funny thing is, since I didn’t know who was giving me these cards, everyone started to appear differently to me. I would walk down the halls and wonder if that student could be the one giving me the cards,” motioning as if she were pointing to someone in the hall. 
“It made me change what I noticed in people. The more this person pointed out what they liked about me,” she said holding up the card, “the more I started noticing what I like about others, and that made me want to treat people differently. It’s because of these cards that I can honestly say that I am no longer a bully!”   
Mrs. Olsen nodded her head in approval and the entire class erupted in applause as she took her seat.
“Isabella, you’re next,” Mrs. Olsen called.
Up until this point, Isabella wasn’t sure what she was going to report on because she hadn’t been completely aware of the impact of her experiment. She made her way to the front of the room and turned to address the class, no report in hand. 
“I have only one thing to say for my report.” Isabella spoke softly, looking directly at Morgan. “I gave you those cards.” 
Morgan’s eyes widened in disbelief; knowing how she had treated Isabella before, she was very surprised to learn that she did this. 
“I decided to do an experiment instead of write a report,” Isabella said shyly, “because someone very special to me helped me realize that everyone needs to know they are loved.” 
Glancing over at Morgan, the students watched in amazement as she stood up and walked to the front of the classroom. Reaching her arms out, she gave Isabella a hug while whispering in her ear, “Thank you.” 
Two months later, the entire student body was packed into the gymnasium for the pep rally. Sitting together in the middle of the crowd were Isabella, Paige and Morgan, with “the crew” sitting behind them. They had all become close friends. 
Inspired by Morgan’s transformation, the student body officers put Isabella’s experiment to the test among the entire school. The crowd was about to recite along with the cheerleaders what had become the school’s mantra, reflected in the banner that hung on the wall in the gymnasium. 
The banner read:
As they began chanting those words while pumping their fists in the air, Isabella reflected back on the message that started this whole thing. 
Michael was right, she thought. Love really is the most important thing in the world.
Linda Higgins
DIrector of Community Development 
 © 2012, Linda Higgins, All Rights Reserved

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