Brad wasn’t the only sixth grader who made life miserable for us younger students at school, but he was probably the biggest bully in the school. Once, he and some of his buddies grabbed my best friend, Trek, and stuffed him headfirst into a garbage can. I helped pull him out, of course. And Jesse had his lunch money stolen by Brad.
I tried to stay away from Brad and his gang, but one day during morning recess, I slipped up by going to the rest room. I tried to be smart about it, though. Before I took one step inside the rest room, I checked to see if it was empty. It was, so I figured I was in the clear. Then, as I was drying my hands and getting ready to sprint for the door, I heard a bunch of guys coming. I could tell by the way they were laughing and talking and bragging that they were sixth graders. Before I could move, the rest room door banged open and in walked Brad and three of his friends.
I knew the last thing I should do was act scared and worried, so I finished drying my hands and tossed the wadded-up paper towel into the trash barrel, ducked my head, and charged for the door, pretending that the sixth graders weren’t even there.
“Where’re you headed, kid?” Brad growled, stepping in front of me. His buddies started to laugh and lined up in front of the door so that there was no way I could get out. “What’s the idea, using the sixth grade rest room?”
“Huh?” I grunted, looking up and feeling my stomach twitch. “I didn’t know this was just for sixth—”
“Well, it is,” Brad growled, cutting me off. “This here’s just for sixth graders. Are you in sixth grade, kid?”
I tried to swallow, but my mouth felt as though it was filled with powder. “I’m in Miss Winder’s fifth grade class,” I managed to squeak just above a whisper. “But this is the only rest room anybody can use during recess,” I pointed out pleadingly.
“Well, if you use it,” Brad complained, “then don’t leave it in such a mess. You fifth graders are always trashing our rest room.”
“I didn’t mess anything up,” I croaked.
Ignoring me, Brad turned to his buddies, who were grinning and giggling. “Didn’t he leave this place trashed?”
“He sure did,” William said. He was a big, redheaded guy who always hung around with Brad. “Just look at all the trash on the floor.” He went to the trash barrel, reached in, pulled out a handful of soggy paper towels and threw them on the floor. The other two guys grabbed the trash barrel, tipped it upside down, and dumped everything onto the floor. Then all four of them kicked and scattered the trash about the rest room.
“Look at the huge mess this kid made,” Brad shouted. “In our rest room!” He turned to me. “Clean this place up, kid, before we tell the principal that you’re trashing the rest room. Now, get to work.”
For a moment I stood there with my mouth hanging open, not sure what I should do. I took a quick glance toward the door, wondering if I could make it out of there before Brad and his buddies caught me.
“Don’t even think about running, kid,” Brad threatened. “Even if you did get away, we’d catch you later.”
There wasn’t anything for me to do but clean the place up. The bell rang just as I threw the last handful of trash back into the barrel. Brad grabbed me by the front of my shirt, jerked me toward him, and muttered, “Don’t tell anybody about this, or you’ll be one real sorry kid—understand?” I quickly nodded. “Next time we won’t be so easy on you.” He gave me a quick, hard shove as he left with his buddies.
That afternoon as I made a sandwich in the kitchen with my younger brother, Lance, I muttered angrily, “I hate Brad! I wish I were about a foot taller and thirty pounds bigger—I’d bust him in the nose. He’d never bother me again, that’s for sure.” I shook my head and growled again, “Boy, I hate him!”
“Jay!” Mom came into the kitchen, frowning, “Is that any way to talk about someone?”
I whipped around, surprised. I hadn’t counted on Mom hearing what I was saying. She had a puzzled look on her face. “What could possibly make you say something like that about another person? You know that in our family we don’t say that we hate people.”
I ducked my head and stared at the butter knife I was holding. Then, remembering what had happened that morning in the rest room, I became angry all over again. “Well, as far as I’m concerned,” I snapped, “Brad isn’t anything but a big bully and a jerk, and I figure it’s OK to hate jerks and bullies.”
“Jay! I don’t know what this Brad did, but it still doesn’t give you any right to talk about him the way you are.”
It was hard to do, but I described for Mom and Lance everything that had happened to me that morning in the rest room.
Mom was quiet for a moment. Then she said firmly, “I think that I should give the principal a call.”
“No!” I shouted, feeling my stomach twist in knots. “Not the principal! Then everybody will think that I’m a big snitch. That would be worse than anything Brad could do to me. And Brad will do plenty more to me if he finds out you talked to Mr. Tanner.”
“Well, we need to do something. Meanwhile, I don’t want you saying that you hate Brad.”
“All right,” I muttered. “I won’t say it.” To myself, I added quietly, “I’ll just think it—because it’s the truth.”
Mom sat down at the table and clasped her hands. “What would the Savior want you to do, Jay?” she asked quietly.
“Oh, Mom,” I groaned. “What would Jesus want Brad to do? Does He want him to be a big bully?”
“Right now I’m worried more about you being full of hate and anger than I am about Brad being a bully.”
“Mom, I haven’t done anything to Brad,” I growled. “Why are you trying to make me feel like I’ve done something wrong?”
“Jay, if you have bad thoughts about this boy, some of that badness rubs off on you. The more you let yourself have hate and anger, the more you become angry and hateful.”
“So what do you expect me to do—forget that he’s a jerk?”
“Can you remember that Brad is a child of God too?”
“He’s not a very good one,” I snorted.
“When men were unkind to the Savior,” Mom asked, “what did He do? Did He hate them, call them names, and say that He wished He could bust them in the nose?”
I ducked my head, knowing that Mom was right, but I wasn’t in the mood to admit it, even to myself. I just wanted to get back at Brad some way.
“I think Jesus would try to forgive Brad.”
“Forgive him!” I almost choked. “If Brad wants me to forgive him, maybe he should at least come around and say he’s sorry. And I know that that’s never going to happen. He doesn’t feel sorry for anything he’s done to me or anyone else.”
“The soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross didn’t say they were sorry for what they were doing. But Jesus still forgave them.”
I had no arguments left, but I was still angry.
I didn’t tell Mom that I was going to forgive Brad, because I didn’t plan to. I didn’t say that I hated him anymore, but I thought it plenty. Every time I saw him at school, I’d get angry all over again. In fact, I’d get so angry that my stomach would churn.
A few days later during lunch hour, I saw some kids writing with a bright red marker on one of the walls in the hall. They ran when they saw me. That afternoon Mr. Tanner called me down to his office.
When I got there, Brad was sitting outside it, scowling. He glared at me as I walked past him into the principal’s office. Mr. Tanner closed his door and sat behind his desk.
“Jay,” he began, leaning forward in his chair, “there was some vandalism done in the hall today at noon, and one of the teachers thought you might know something about it.”
I swallowed and nodded. “But I didn’t do it,” I added quickly.
Mr. Tanner smiled. “I believe you, Jay. I didn’t call you down here because I thought you were guilty. But I was wondering if you could help us find out who is.”
I twisted uneasily in my chair. “They were down the hall from me,” I explained slowly, “and they had their backs to me most of the time. I’m pretty sure they were sixth graders, but I don’t know all the sixth graders. I really don’t know who they were, Mr. Tanner.”
“Do you know some of the sixth graders, Jay? Do you know Bradford—I believe everybody calls him Brad.”
So that was why Brad was waiting in the office. Mr. Tanner figured he was one of the vandals. “Yeah, I know him.”
“Is he a friend of yours?”
I shook my head. “Definitely not!” I couldn’t keep the anger out of my voice.
“Have you had trouble with Brad before?”
Mr. Tanner took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. “This is the kind of thing Brad has done before, Jay. I think he was in on this vandalism. I need you to tell me whether he was one of the boys in the hall today.”
Suddenly I thought of what had happened in the rest room a few days before. This was my chance to get even with Brad. Then I thought of what Mom had asked me: “What would Jesus want you to do?”
I shifted in my chair and looked across the desk at Mr. Tanner. “Brad wasn’t one of them,” I said quietly.
Mr. Tanner studied me a moment before speaking. “Are you sure, Jay? You don’t have to be afraid of him. I can make sure that he doesn’t bother you.”
“I’m sure, Mr. Tanner. I’d recognize Brad anyplace, even from behind. He wasn’t one of the guys there this afternoon.”
Mr. Tanner seemed a little disappointed. He had hoped that I could pin the vandalism on Brad. But I knew that I had done the right thing. As I walked past Brad to go back to class, he glared at me again. But somehow I didn’t feel angry anymore. It was as if a cold, hard lump had been pried from my insides and thrown away.
As I was getting ready to board my bus that afternoon, someone came up behind me and grabbed my arm. It was Brad. He didn’t have his buddies with him. “Mr. Tanner told me what you said,” he muttered.
“I just told the truth.”
He nodded. “Well, thanks.” He started to walk away, then stopped. “You don’t have to worry about anything happening in the rest room anymore.”
As I climbed onto the bus, I smiled. Brad was still the biggest bully at school, but I didn’t hate him anymore, and deep inside I felt better than I’d felt in a long time. I guess that’s what happens when you learn to forgive.