Saturday, February 14, 2015
Shirley Shankenbach was a bully and a snob. She looked down her nose at everyone and spread outrageous rumors about people around school. Deep inside herself, she did not feel good and thought she had to put down other people. By putting them down, she somehow felt better about herself. The more she was mean, the more everyone hated her and the more she would bully them.
She was also the tallest girl in the 6th grade and about fifty pounds too heavy. She had long brown hair that she always kept in a ponytail wrapped with a bow. When she walked by, everyone moved out of the way. Nobody ever looked her in the eyes.
Once, a girl named Mary Jenkins tried to be nice by sitting next to Shirley at lunch. Shirley acted as if she was pleased and was nice back to Mary. However, the next day, Mary left school crying because Shirley had spread a mean rumor about her. She had said that she saw Mary and her family eating cockroaches for dinner. The rumor spread like wildfire and all the kids were calling her 'Scary Mary'. The boys would pick up dead bugs and ask her if she wanted a snack. By lunchtime, she was in tears.
Nobody knew, but secretly, Shirley would cry herself to sleep every night. Her parents were mean to her and called her porky pig and make oinking noises at dinnertime. They would laugh and then leave her to clean up the table. On the weekends, she had to clean the whole house, mow the lawn, and do the laundry.
They treated her worse than a common prisoner. Being a bully was Shirley's way of staying in control and having power. At home, she was as powerless as a penny in a jewelry store.
Shirley would dream of living in a beautiful white mansion with loving parents. She would be thin and beautiful and have many friends. She imagined having grand parties every weekend. They would ride horses, play games, and swim in her giant pool. Everyone was nice and thought she was awesome in her fantasy world.
She would get out her stuffed animals and pretend. "Oh Shirley, you are the best friend ever," said her purple kitty cat. "Yes Shirley, we always have a great time with you and you are so much fun," said the pink bunny. Shirley chose her favorite teddy, a white pony with long pink hair, to be herself. "Why thank you, I love you all so very much. We will be friends forever," said the pony. Then she would make them prance around and dance in a circle. Then it was time for bed and Shirley would start to feel sad again and cry. Eventually, she would fall asleep from exhaustion.
One afternoon, after having a long day of bullying and spreading rumors, Shirley decided to take the long way home through the woods. She was in no hurry to get home and see her mean parents. In fact, she did not want to go home at all. She felt good to be alone; there was no one to hurt her out there.
While she sat on a log and watched some bees buzzing from flower to flower, a turtle walked out from behind a tree. It slowly marched toward her, one-step at a time. She was amazed that it was not scared and did not run away. Eventually, it had arrived at the feet of Shirley. As Shirley went to pet the turtle, the turtle spoke, "Hello."
Shirley quickly pulled her hand back, rubbed her eyes, and cleaned her ears in disbelief.
The turtle spoke again, "Hello, and how do you do?"
Shirley thought she must be dreaming or maybe going crazy. She answered back, "I am fine, thank you. And you? How can you talk?"
"Normally, I keep to myself. However, you looked like you might be lonely," said the turtle.
"My name is Bartholemew. I have lived in this forest for many years and do my best to help others. Is there anything I can help you with?"
Shirley replied, "First, you can explain to me how you can talk."
Bartholomew went on to explain that he did not know how he learned to talk. He said that he had never spoken before, and this was his first time. Something just came over him on this particular day and made him come over to her and talk.
"Well,” Shirley said. "You are right. I am lonely. I have no friends and my parents are mean to me. I feel so bad about myself that I have to be a bully in order to pretend that I am better than everyone is. I wish I was pretty and popular and had nice parents."
"I can help," said Bartholomew. "I will grant you your wishes. However, the effects will only stay as long as you follow my rules.”
“Ok.” said Shirley. “What are the rules?”
The turtle began, “In order to have nice parents, you must stand up for yourself every time they say something mean. You cannot be mean back; you must simply let them know that you do not accept their behavior.”
“In order to be pretty, you must be honest and say nice things about everyone you meet. You need to point out their good points to them and to others.”
“Lastly, in order to be popular, you have to help other people whenever you can and protect them as well. If you can do all these things, your wishes will be granted."
"I can, I can!" shouted Shirley. "I will do anything to make my life change."
"Then take these berries and eat them. When you wake up tomorrow, everything will have changed." After saying this, Bartholomew handed Shirley 3 small red berries.
Shirley put them in her mouth. They tasted wonderful, better than the best berries she had ever eaten. They tasted like a mix of all different kinds of berries together. She could taste strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries and even a hint of boysenberries. After swallowing all of them, she went to thank the turtle. However, when she looked down, the turtle was gone and a moss-covered rock had taken his place. Then, she suddenly felt very tired and decided to lie down. Soon, she was asleep.
When she woke up, she was home in her bed. She had no idea how she got there. Still groggy, she shuffled her way into the bathroom. When she looked in the mirror, she could not believe her eyes. She was beautiful! Her hair was thick, blond, and wavy. She was not overweight anymore and had long luxurious eyelashes. Her whole body filled with joy. She was so happy that she cried a little bit.
Shirley pranced downstairs for breakfast and sat down at the table. Her parents gave her a strange look.
“Why are you so happy? Did you remember what one plus one is?” sniped her father.
Shirley felt anger rising within her. Then she remembered, she had to stand up for herself. And so she did, by saying, “Father, I really do not appreciate those jokes. I would like you to stop now.”
“Oh…um…sorry princess.” replied her father in a tiny voice. “You look very nice today.”
“Thank you father,” said Shirley with a smile on her face.
“It worked,” she thought. “It really worked!”
Her mother started being nice too, “You do look nice today Shirley. Would you like some French toast?”
“Yes, I would please,’ answered Shirley as her smile grew even bigger.
Shirley soon finished her breakfast and headed off to school. She did not know what to expect when she arrived. She wondered, “Will all the kids like me? Will I have lots of friends?” She imagined what a great day it would be.
However, when she got to school, things did not seem to be any different. A small boy accidentally bumped into her and dropped his books and papers onto the floor. Shirley could feel the anger rising up inside her again. The boy shook with fear and curled up into a ball. Then she remembered the rule: ‘You have to help others in order to be popular.’ She helped the boy pick up his books and papers. Everyone in the hall stopped and stared with their mouths open. No one could believe that she was actually being nice to someone.
She could hear people whispering her name to each other. She thought, “It is working, people are talking about me. I am starting to become popular.” With her head held high, she floated to her first class. Everyone kept looking at her, wondering why she was smiling so much.
On the way to her next class, she saw the popular girls. She felt her jealousy rise inside her as they walked past her with their noses held high. She was about to insult them when she remembered the rules. She decided to be nice and say, “Hello girls. You all look nice today.”
The girls nearly fell over each other with disbelief. They continued stumbling down the hall like zombies.
Day after day, Shirley was nice, helpful and assertive. Day after day, she felt more beautiful, confident and popular. She started to have friends come over to play and have fun. Life was great.
Then, one day, a new boy showed up at school. He was trouble, only wore black and his hair was always messy. He had a dark stare that one felt right down to the bone. Shirley decided she would try to be nice to him anyways. She walked up to him and said, “Hello, I am Shirley. Welcome to Willakaville Junior High.”
The boy gave an even darker stare at Shirley. It gave her the chills. He smiled and evil grin and told her, “You must be the resident loser around here. I bet you like to welcome many things. Like welcoming cookies and cakes into to your big belly.” Then he walked on past her as if she did not exist.
Shirley felt devastated. She could feel herself shrinking back into her old shell. Without hesitation, she fired back, “Well at least I take a shower and don’t look like I just got off the prison bus.”
Instantly, Shirley felt fear come over her like a cold, wet blanket. She was not afraid of what the boy might do. She was afraid that she had destroyed her enchantment. Now she would be ugly again and everyone would be afraid of her. Her parents would start making fun of her again. She tried to backpedal by saying, “I am sorry, I just wanted to be nice and welcome you to our school.”
The boy did not even turn around. He just kept on walking.
Shirley ran into the bathroom crying. She did not dare look into the mirror. After a few more sobs, she decided to peek. She was horrified by what she saw. In the mirror, was a reflection of her old, ugly self. She did not have the courage to leave the bathroom. Eventually, one of her new friends, Emily, came in to help her.
“Are…are you ok Shirley?” she said with a little mouse voice.
“Leave me alone!” grunted Shirley. Then Shirley stomped out of the bathroom and out of the school. She ran and ran as fast as she could back to the forest. After searching for a while, she found the spot where she met the turtle before. Tired, she laid herself down beneath one of the nearby trees and fell asleep while crying.
When she woke up, the turtle was standing next to her.
“Hello my dear. What seems to be the matter?” asked the turtle with his head turned sideways.
“Everything was going so well. Then I messed up. I ruined everything. I will never be pretty again. I will never have friends again. And my parents will keep being mean to me.”
“Now there, there, little one.” Said the turtle with a soft smile. “All is not lost. I have to admit something to you. I am not really a magic turtle. I cannot actually grant wishes. In fact, I cannot really talk. It was all a dream, just as this is. You are sleeping right now.”
Shirley was confused. She frantically asked, “But, how did I look so beautiful. How did I get all the friends. And why were my parents being so nice?”
The turtle calmly replied, “You did all those things. It was your attitude and behavior that caused them to happen. When you are nice, people are nice back. When you are confident, people respect you. When you are mean, you become ugly to everyone. You just have to keep following the rules, and your life will be as you want it. Now go back to sleep, and when you wake up, you will realize this and things will get better.”
Shirley woke up in her bed the next morning. Again, not knowing how she got there. She was determined to be a good person, no matter what. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she saw the same Shirley she always knew, but this time she ‘felt’ much prettier.
She apologized to all her new friends, and they all forgave her and understood. When she saw the new boy in the hall, she prepared herself for his worst.
He glared at her and said, “What are you looking at bright eyes?”
With a soothing voice, Shirley said calmly, “I was in your shoes once. All the pain you feel, I felt it. If you are seeking help, all of your answers lie with the turtle in the forest.”
The boy’s smile drifted into a look of sadness. That is how Shirley knew that she had gotten to him. He just shook his head in confusion and slowly walked away staring at the ground.
After that, the boy did not bother her or anyone else. Shirley continued to be nice, confident, helpful, beautiful, happy and popular. Every once in a while, she could swear that she saw the turtle up ahead on the forest path. However, she could never find him...