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Bonzer Words!: The Promise

...We were at morning recess when grinning Danny Benoit approached. He was alone. Immediately, I started to tremble. It was time to redeem my honor and I knew it. "Ready for another beatin'?" he barked, loud enough to ensure my public humiliation. I swallowed hard and remember being amazed at how small the world had just become. Even though a circle of spectators joyously awaited the blood sport, it was only me and Danny Benoit. Everything else was darkness...''... Steven Manchester writes of a fight, which was followed by a promise to a teacher that helped him to become the person he is.

Steven writes for Bonzer! magazine. For lots more good reading visit www.bonzer.org.au

My brothers and I got into our fair share of scraps growing up. Billy was the tough guy, I could hold my own and Randy, being the victim of our childish torment, was way ahead of his time. We threw hands, wrestled in mud and even occasionally used weapons, which our father immediately ceased.

I was nine years old when I walked into Mrs. Parsons' fourth grade class. She was a heavy-set woman with kind eyes and a raspy voice, and from the moment she looked at me, there was no doubt that she cared very deeply. It didn't take long for me to fall in love. She was the perfect teacher. She always listened with concern and was quick with praise or encouragement. "What a wonderful poem," she'd whisper, or "I know some day you'll make me very proud!" And God, how I wanted to! We all did. It was mid-year when I learned that the saintly woman was equally quick with the truth. It was the greatest lesson I could have ever learned.

I was walking home from school when I spotted three neighborhood bullies waiting. The Benoit brothers were frighteningly tough, but nothing compared to their Amazon sister who wore a cast on her right arm for as long I could remember. My nemesis, Danny Benoit, was swollen with the courage provided by his cheering siblings. He approached and without a word, threw one shot at me before his brother and sister jumped in. I went down and curled up into the fetal position. The Benoits pounced and inflicted their damage.

Bleeding and ashamed, I returned home to hide my battle scars.

As the weeks rolled by, Billy, Randy and I physically punished each other like any normal siblings. At school, however, I was terrified and rightly so. The thought of the Benoits loomed over me like a five-ton anvil. The memory of the unanswered beating hurt so much more than the lingering cuts and bruises.

We were at morning recess when grinning Danny Benoit approached. He was alone. Immediately, I started to tremble. It was time to redeem my honor and I knew it. "Ready for another beatin'?" he barked, loud enough to ensure my public humiliation. I swallowed hard and remember being amazed at how small the world had just become. Even though a circle of spectators joyously awaited the blood sport, it was only me and Danny Benoit. Everything else was darkness.

Danny started with the name-calling. I followed suit. Danny then threatened. I matched each vulgar word. My knees quivered and a string of sweat beads formed across my forehead like some cruel crown. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. I could hear my heart beating hard in my ears. My breathing was quick and if only for the sake of saving face, I knew I wasn't going to cower. While our peers cheered us on, I felt like I was going to vomit. It was a living nightmare. Danny was still grinning. I couldn't take it any more. As the crowd began to chant, panic made me lunge.

There was a brief scuffle and in one strange syrupy moment, I had Danny on the ground. I looked down. To my surprise, I'd pinned my enemy. Danny stared me straight in the eyes. He looked frightened. With the bully's arms pinned behind him, I went to work.

With each blow, I ignored Danny's girlish pleas for mercy and cut up his face like a skilled surgeon. And with each blow, I felt my fear lighten. A flurry later, the invisible demon that had haunted me was completely gone. I was now a man.

I never let up until I realized that Mrs. Parsons was trying to pull us apart. I let go right away.

The crowd erupted in cheers. The vicious beating was a victory for anyone who ever feared Danny Benoit. Everyone celebrated except Mrs. Parsons. She grabbed my ear and forced me to look down at Danny. He had folded himself into the fetal position and was crying. "I hope you're proud of yourself, Mr. Manchester," she hissed.

Emotions churned inside me. I felt confused. I looked up at her, and the disappointment in her face broke my heart in two. I'd never felt so awful in my whole life. She shook her head, disgustedly. "I thought you were better than this," she said. "I really thought you were a bigger person than this." At that moment, something inside of me died.

I was escorted to the Vice Principal's office where I received the strict punishment deserving of any violent schoolboy. I was then carted home where I suffered my parents' wrath. Collectively, and even if multiplied a thousand times, none of this could have ever compared to the pain I suffered from looking into Mrs. Parsons' disappointed face. She was the nicest person I knew and I'd let her down. In turn, I'd let myself down.

Days later, when I'd drummed up enough courage to approach Mrs. Parsons, I promised, "I'm sorry for what I did, but I am a bigger person. I am the person you thought I was. I'm going to prove it." With a simple nod, she accepted my apologetic vow and watched me walk back to my tiny desk.

Though I had to avoid several potential fights, the remainder of my fourth grade year passed without further trouble. On our last day of school, Mrs. Parsons gave me a hug and whispered, "I expect big things from you, so don't let either of us down, OK?"

With tearful eyes, I nodded.

Mrs. Parsons has passed on to a much better place (I'm sure). There's not a day that goes by, though, that I don't honor the promise I made to her. Because of the person she was, I've become me. I'm eternally grateful.

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