“They weren’t broken, but I could tell he still was.”
Bullying can have a lasting impact on someone’s life. That’s the lesson behind Sara Hailstone’s 2005 winning essay as part of the Turning Points program, which emphasizes character awareness and literacy skills for students in Grades 6 to 12.
As today marks Pink Shirt Day, when people across Canada wear pink to take a stand against bullying, it’s a timely subject that Hailstone explored when she was a high school student in Belleville, Ontario. In her essay entitled ‘The Boy with the Broken Glasses,’ Hailstone remorsefully reflects on the effects of a playground bullying incident involving Marcus, the titular boy.
“The years of teasing had taken their toll,” she wrote. “I watched him from the safety of my restaurant table as he cleared away dishes, his glasses reflecting in the light. They weren’t broken, but I could tell he still was. If I had pushed through the crowd that day, Marcus might now be a different person, but he was not, and I knew that this was partly because of me. I could have prevented his pain. I realized that sometimes you need to push through a crowd to save someone in need. I realized that a moment like that changes a person’s life.”
You can read Hailstone’s award-winning essay submission below.
The Boy with the Broken Glasses
I watched him as he cleared away the restaurant tables. He didn’t recognize me, and I was thankful he hadn’t. Memories of our childhood flashed before me. Some were happy, but one memory brought back pain – the pain of how our friendship had ended.
He was the boy at school that everyone teased and he was my friend. The other kids would tease him about his squeaky voice, and funny clothes. But it was his glasses that caused the most laughter. I didn’t care about any of these things; he was a good friend. That’s all that mattered. We played together at recess and sat together in class. But that changed when we entered the fourth grade. This was the year that they broke Marcus’ glasses.
“Nice glasses Marcus!” they called, laughing in his face. His eyes didn’t meet theirs, his bottom lip quivered. “What’s the matter Marcus? Nerdy has to cry again?” Marcus tried to walk away, but they wouldn’t let him. I stood with my new group of “cool” friends laughing along with their remarks. I wasn’t Marcus’ friend anymore. We had grown apart because he wasn’t cool and I wanted to be. We followed him across the playground, our battlefield, taunting him and calling him names. I thought it was all fun and games. It was Marcus’ role to be the nerdy one; this was the part that he had always played.
But what happened next changed everything. One kid in the group reached out, grabbed Marcus’ glasses and flung them across the schoolyard. It happened so fast that before I had time to let everything sink in, I was watching his glasses sail through the air. His face was naked; he couldn’t see anything and the pain that flooded his face has imbedded itself in my memory.
He ran across the sand, his face contorted as the other kids laughed and followed. I followed, too. He bent over and felt around in the sand for his glasses, his sobs barely audible over the chaos and laughter. Everyone gathered around him, as if they were watching some freak in the circus, only this wasn’t make believe.
Then someone stepped forward and kicked his glasses away as he tried to retrieve them. They stamped on them, and bent the wire frames. I suddenly realised that the mild teasing had turned into something serious. It wasn’t a game anymore; we were hurting him, and he acted like a wounded animal. I watched from the back of the crowd as Marcus struggled.
He dropped down onto his hands and knees. His hands patted the sand for his glasses, the glasses that I remember his mother telling our teacher had cost the family so much. He searched blindly, his body shuddering with pain. I felt my own pain beginning to grow. From that moment it felt as though Marcus and I were one. I felt the tears in my eyes, and I saw them on his cheeks. When he found his glasses, he picked up the frames that were bent and broken, just like him, and held them in his hands. I felt horrible because I knew his family could not afford to get him another pair. With trembling hands, he pathetically placed the broken glasses on his face.
I remember Marcus then, with his crooked glasses, waiting for the kids to tease him again. This image of him, broken and abused, alone in a circle of enemies shifted something inside of me. I was embarrassed at my actions; I was guilty; I felt cruel.
But then Marcus looked at me. He stared at me with his tear-streaked face, and his lip that could not stop quivering, and I looked at him. I could see what he was thinking; his eyes told me. He was wondering what he had done to deserve this, why I wasn’t his friend anymore, and why I hadn’t tried to help him. He was so helpless, so innocent, and I had only watched. There was no strength in me to push through the crowd and defend him. I didn’t have the courage to pick him up. I hated myself for this. As I turned and walked away, I hated myself even more than I hated those who hurt him.
I never realized that Marcus meant so much to me until I saw him again, last year. He looked the same only he was older and no longer in the fourth grade. But I saw hidden in his eyes and his stance that he was still sad and afraid. The years of teasing had taken their toll; they had branded Marcus for the rest of his life. I watched him from the safety of my restaurant table as he cleared away dishes, his glasses reflecting in the light. They weren’t broken, but I could tell he still was. He was timid and looked around as if someone would push him to the ground. If I had pushed through the crowd that day, Marcus might now be a different person, but he was not, and I knew that this was partly because of me. I could have prevented his pain. I realized that sometimes you need to push through a crowd to save someone in need. I realized that a moment like that changes a person’s life. That day, I should have pushed through the crowd to help the boy with the broken glasses. I would never have realized this if I hadn’t seen Marcus in the restaurant that day. I wouldn’t know the damage that continues after the glasses are fixed.