When I was in the fourth grade, our classroom at school looked like a Christmas explosion. Christmas projects littered the walls, a Christmas tree stood in our room with Christmas ornaments slung all over it that we had made in class. Glitter sparkled on the floor, our shoes, everything.
My desk sat directly next to the Christmas tree in the corner. One particular day close to Christmas break, I sat at my desk, doing a reading assignment, when a boy in the class eased behind my seat on his way to some place else. I watched him out of the corner of my eye; he surreptitiously grabbed an ornament off the bottom branches of the tree, bent it into an unrecognizable mass in his hand and threw it onto the floor.
I don't know what this boy's motive was. His reputation as a trouble-maker was pretty well set, and as an adult looking back on the situation, I have always felt sorry for him, wondering what would have caused his constant need to act out. At the time, though, I didn't like him, since I was often the brunt of his bullying.
He passed by and reached his destination - a few desks over where he slid into his seat. The teacher looked up at that moment, saw the swaying branch on the Christmas tree and the destroyed ornament underneath it, and lit into me.
"Tama, of all the people, I certainly wouldn't have expected you to be the one to destroy property. You should be ashamed of yourself, young lady." She went on and on, expressing how disappointed she was in me, how she couldn't believe how I would have so little respect for someone else's work as to destroy it so completely.
I sat there with tears in my eyes, my overly-sensitive spirit taking to heart every single word she said. As I recall, I did manage to say, "But I didn't do it." She overrode my defense because in her eyes, the only possible explanation was that I was the only one near enough to have reached it. Beyond that, I don't know why I didn't tattle on the boy.
He sat and watched me out of the corner of his eye the whole time I was getting my dressing-down from the teacher. Perhaps he expected me to say who did it. It certainly would have been the sensible thing to do.
Maybe I was too shy. His snide little smile that said, "You're not going to tell on me," should have pushed me over the edge to do just that.
Or maybe I didn't tell because that was what he expected me to do. Somewhere under his rough layers, I think, was a hurting little boy who hurt other people because it protected him from more wounds coming his way. Not that I understood that in fourth grade. All I knew was that I was being falsely accused and I was angry about it. But I'm glad I didn't spout off that day, perhaps, if only to teach him that sometimes... it's okay to be the vulnerable one.
Who knows if he learned anything from that episode. Maybe. But I learned from it and I suppose in the end, that's what really matters.