"Go back to China, slant eyes,” they would say. “Why won’t you just leave us alone, Tina?”
In the beginning, I thought she could have just ignored them. But I didn’t understand what they were putting her through.
I remember that cloudy Tuesday afternoon clearly. I had just finished my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. I sat on a tan, unfinished picnic table outside my classroom and tilted my head up toward the cloudy, deep blue sky, admiring the unseasonably cool weather for an early-August day.
“Megan!” I heard her cry out. Immediately I knew it was Tina.
Hearing the panic in her voice, I jolted my head up and automatically assumed the worst.
“What happened?” I asked, feeling my defensive instincts kick in.
“They told me they hated me and that all they wanted was for me to die. They told me to go back to China! Telling my teacher only upset them even more.” Tina said she felt trapped, and abandoned.
I wanted to help my friend but I didn’t know exactly how to. I felt so weak, not wanting to confront the bullies, who were my close friends as well. Did that make me a bad friend and a bad person? Or did it make me only human?
“I… I can’t believe…” I stuttered out, feeling my breath catch in my throat before I could even finish my sentence. “They’re foul. You aren’t even from China!” I knew this because Tina was always talking about her rare yet incredible trips to visit her family in the Philippines.
All of my confusing, mixed emotions welled up and scared me as I struggled to keep my head from bursting. Time stopped.
I blinked and looked around me until I realized that I couldn’t even see. I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe. All that mattered was Tina. Emotions raced through me, sending chills down my spine. I searched my mind for an easy way out. I searched and searched, testing all possible outcomes. Still, I was confused and afraid for me and for Tina.
She was distraught, softly sobbing into her knees. I then realized what I knew all along about what had to be done. I gave Tina a long, comforting hug.
“I will take care of this,” I promised her, still with my hand on her shoulder.
Before my brain could catch up, my legs had taken me all the way to the only swing set in the playground, where the bullies were seated in a circle on the ground. This was the place that the particular group of twelve-year-old girls always sat. They had claimed the red swing set as their “meeting place” to be respected and avoided by all other students in the school. I watched them for a while. I noticed the smirks on their faces growing as they laughed together about forcing Tina to leave. My twenty seconds of buildup consisted of a quick self-pep talk to convince myself that I could finally stand up for something.
“You can do this,” I assured myself, “for Tina.”
I jerked to a stop just in front of the girls. I still remember how I felt, staring down at them. Before I opened my mouth to speak, I took a very needed deep breath. “You need to leave Tina alone. She didn’t do anything wrong and she most definitely does not deserve you treating her like this.”
As I spoke, their surprise flared and washed over them like a violent wave trying to drown out the sand beneath it. Each girl exchanged an angry and nervous glance. They obviously never expected me, or anyone, for that matter, to confront them.
“What’s your problem?” I heard finally from one of the girls.
“If you don’t want to be her friends, then don’t be her friends. But you owe her kindness at the least,” I demanded. They still looked upset, but after that I knew I was done. They knew they were done. That was all it took and I was astonished! Slowly, I turned to walk away. Bullies weren’t worth my time, or Tina’s tears.
As I headed back, I smiled. I couldn’t believe the strength, joy, and amazement I felt standing up for my best friend. I hadn’t had the strength in the beginning and it wasn’t until after I had stood up for her that I realized the importance of true courage. I then, now, and will forever know that that was the right thing to do.
I feel much more mature after defending Tina, and I will cherish the memory of standing up for her when searching for confidence as I go through life.