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Ezra Chapter 9: Blue Eyes (poll on bullying at end)

August 15, 2013

At long last, Chapter 9 of Ezra the Dream-Traveller. Parents, children, and teachers, what do you think of the bullying incident?


Chapter 9: Blue Eyes

I hate it when my mom yells. Aba was doing it toward the end, too, but only because sometimes I would take Ruchama upstairs to watch TV when it was time to eat breakfast and go somewhere. I don’t know why she doesn’t climb the steps like Aba does. I really get mad, but I can’t show it, because she will keep shouting, and she shouts louder than me.  Today, she had no idea why I was upset, and she didn’t really ask. I guess she cared, but I couldn’t tell. Maybe I didn’t want to tell. Maybe I was just too sleepy. I just yelled back something – who knows what? It mustn’t have been vulgar, because she didn’t yell back.

I turned around and checked my bed. It was soaked. Horrified, I sniffed. No, I didn’t have an accident. It was sweat. It was like I had really hiked that forest and rowed across that bay. And the angry red holes – eyes – still made me shudder.

I don’t notice people’s eyes much; there’s a lot going on in a face. I knew that my mom’s eyes were crystal blue. My dad had told me how he fell in love with her because of the “color, cut, and clarity” of her eyes. Those three C’s are used for judging the quality of gemstones. My dad said they were sapphires. They could also be ice crystals as he found out. I’ve seen both.  But I don’t depend on them so much, because I can’t read a mom who wants to keep the kids from seeing their dad. Sorry, Mom, you’re wrong on that one.

I lumbered down the steps with a pair of socks in my hand. “Ezra, where’s your homework?” Mom asked. I had done it, but it was still upstairs on my desk.

“Thanks, Mom,” I replied, and retraced my steps. This was a ruse by Mom. She had made an apple stew last night, which she served over a steaming matza ball. I had never had a breakfast that she made that even came close to Aba’s matza bries and bread puddings. This smelled great, and tasted better. Aba would have said a special bracha, a blessing, for a special treat. I just said “Thank you, Mom!” and let my eyes twinkle.

Heike, my neighbor from around the corner, lives across the street from Jacob, my best friend whom I had let get bullied last month. We used to walk to school together two or three days per week. She still walks with Jacob pretty often, but Jacob says he feels betrayed by me. I feel that he was betrayed by me, too. This morning I asked Mom if she would let me walk, because the time had come for me to be honest with Jacob.

Ruchama asked, “I get to walk with Ezra?”

I hadn’t thought of that, but Mom interrupted. “No, Ruchama, I’ll drive you and Ezra will meet his friends. Great. I didn’t have to choose.

I cleaned up the delicious, home-cooked apple dumpling, gave my mom a kiss, and asked her, “Do I get seconds for lunch?” “No, for dinner,” she replied.

I took my lunchbox out of the fridge, stuffed in my backpack, and headed off to the door.

Jacob and Heike were waiting for me at the bottom of the block. I knew that Heike knew, and that Heike knew that I knew and I knew that Jacob knew that Heike knew and so forth. So I just blurted out, “Sorry.”

“Well good morning, Kazakh warrior, how are you today?” teased Heike.

“You’re right on time,” Jacob added. “What are you sorry about?“

“Guys, I haven’t been myself lately. I let you down, Jacob.  That was awful of me to leave you defenseless against Brandon and Braden.”

“I felt terrible, and they haven’t stopped, either.”

“I miss you, Jacob. Let me walk with you all week.”

Heike spoke up. “I don’t know what would be so hard about it. You just walk, right? They haven’t bothered us since we started walking together.”

“Maybe they made their point,” Jacob replied.

I figured that they were both wrong. “I think that you added safety because they couldn’t do anything to Jacob because you’d run and get help. Buddy system.”

Jacob stopped walking and looked at me. This seemed like a moment that I could make it up to my friend. Aba has taught me that in such situations, listening with real intention is better than saying the smartest thing in your arsenal.

“But we had to change everything we did; everywhere I went. I missed a violin lesson because my mom couldn’t pick me up, and I wasn’t gonna bring the violin around where those two pigs could get us. They expected you to defend me. Since you didn’t, they figured you didn’t care.”

There. He said it. I knew it was going to come, but it hurt just as much as I thought it might.

“Well, I do care. I’m sorry. When we cross Lincoln Drive, I’ll walk ahead, and if they want to get you, they’ll have to go through me.”

Now it was my turn to notice Heike’s bright blue eyes. They were wide, suddenly, and the sun in the southeast glinted off them.  I think I had a chance of getting both my friends back. I missed them.

I stuck my hand into the space between us. I looked into both sets of eyes and back to my hand. They reached in and put a hand on mine.

“Excelsior, on three.”

“ONE, TWO, THREE, EXCELSIOR!” We shot our hands up in the air, and in a gesture that was totally Aba, I put one arm around each set of shoulders and squeezed.

According to plan, I took the lead at Lincoln Drive. As we approached Carpenter Lane, just before the school, we saw them. The twins. Brandon and Braden, almost three hundred pounds of solid bully. They were walking side by side, sweaters rolled up at the sleeves.

“Dweeb and girl-dweeb! How the hell are you?” That was Braden.

“How’s your little girlfriend, Dweeb?” That was Branden. Now it was my turn. The bullies now stood side by side, and blocked the way.

“You’re seventh graders; we’re in fourth grade. Who’s the dweeb?” They did not expect to meet any resistance from me. I didn’t feel like doing this, either. No way. And let me be honest. If I hadn’t done it for the kindergartners I never would have done it now. My mind was spinning. I was in full fight or flight mode.

Branden stepped up and made a fist with his right hand. Then he made a motion with his left hand, as if he were dusting off his knuckles. If I ran, I don’t think I would ever be able to come to school without being bullied again.  If I fought, I would likely get pummeled. My friends would not be able to help much, and if they ran, they couldn’t even bring help in time to do anything. I think Heike and Jake read my mind, because they stepped up, Heike on my left, and Jacob on my right. A ray of light penetrated the stew of ineffective strategies, visions of ambulances, and projections of two years of trouble – my friends were about to jump into a fight in my defense, and the bullies wouldn’t even feel their best punch. I had to match their bravery, while at the same time keeping us safe. But I had to think fast; Braden had just tossed his book bag aside.

Safe! That’s it! One of the few things we could actually do together with my mom was to watch Star Trek. A vision of Quark, the Ferengi, challenged for the hand of a Klingon woman by a Klingon warrior, had cast aside the bat’leth given him in a battle of honor and told the badass Klingon that when the song of this encounter was written, it would sing of how the brave Klingon warrior had struck down an unarmed Ferengi half his size.

“Guys,” I told Heike and Jake, “we are going to stand here and we are just going to wait. Let’s let the teenagers decide what they want to do.”

I crossed my arms and stood up straight. My friends followed my lead. I amped up my voice just enough so that the parents who were still dropping their kids off would hear. I hoped that the pressure from my crossed arms against my chest was enough to hide the pounding of my heart and the wobbling of my knees.

“We are going to stand right here, and we are going to see how brave these two teenagers are. Braden, I see you polishing your knuckles. I guess it’s up to you, because none of us are even going to block your punch.”

A boy in the other fourth grade – Jerome, I think – stopped about twenty feet behind Branden and Braden. He had his sister, a first-grader by the looks of her, by the hand. Both of them had Thomas the Tank Engine lunchboxes. Branden’s eyes broke their focus on mine for a second, so I figured out that an audience was forming on our side of the standoff, as well

We stood impassive. That’s a new word for me, and it tells the tale well. Bullies and their targets stood at an impasse.

Time was on our side. Another few kids joined the two young kids behind Branden and Braden. Ask any kid, any grade, any school. Everyone was ready for a little excitement. But sooner or later, something would break. Braden recognized this too; he stepped up and flicked his right fist backward.

I braced for impact.

A gust of air hit my cheek as the fist flew. My face prepared to be broken. It was a reflex. I couldn’t stop it. But the blow never came. The bully held his fist a half-inch from my eye so that I could recognize what could have happened. Duh. As if I hadn’t recognized it minutes, or even weeks, ago. I had the zombie face on.

“Count yourselves lucky, punks,” Branden sneered from behind Braden. “C’mon, bro, we gotta go.”

“Yeah,” Braden added, polishing his fist again. “We’ll see who goes to the office for tardy.”

I stood, motionless, too scared to budge, and hoping that I hadn’t had an accident. Jake tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Let ‘em go. He had to save face. You won.”

Heike saw that I was frozen in place and gave me a big, big hug. Jake joined the hug, and we were one big, hugging bundle of victorious kid that had just faced down the Klingons and won.

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