When my friend, Susie, turned six, all of the neighborhood kids were invited to her birthday party, at the good end of Sandra Place. It was an after dinner party, and as soon as the guests arrived, we sang Happy Birthday and had cake and ice cream. Then is was time for some games.
First up was Hot Potato. The kids sat in a circle on the living room floor, while Susie’s dad played music on the record player. As long as music was playing, we were to pass a real potato to the child on our right. The faster you passed it – the better, because you did not want to be caught holding the potato when the music stopped. If you were, you would be out of the game. Susie’s father kept his back turned to the kids, so he could not pick who got stuck with the potato. The winner would be the last one sitting there and he or she would get a prize.
For a few rounds, the game went well. Three kids were, already, out and nervous excitement built each time the potato was pushed into our hands; its, fleeting, weight a reminder of possible joy, or disappointment. Suddenly, seven year old, Michael, just threw the potato straight across the circle, hitting me in the face.
The game stopped, as I cried out in pain and shock. My right cheek and eye were very red and started to swell. My parents were called and I was taken home with a hurt face and very hurt feelings. I missed the rest of the party and never got to see Susie unwrap the giant set of Color Forms I had picked out for her.
About a week later, I saw Michael, as I rode my bike around the neighborhood cul-de-sac . My training wheels had been gone for a long time, and I was feeling quite proud of my two-wheeled riding abilities. Feeling angry at seeing Michael, I decided to show off my skills. Around the cul-de-sac I rode,; turning the handlebar all the way to the right, then all the way to the left. This caused my bike to, almost, hit the ground with each turn. I loved the feeling of having control over the risky tilting of my bike, until…my front tire hit a patch of gravel next to the curb. Wildly, my bike went into a skid and I fell down hard, hitting my head on the curb.
Someone must have called my mother, because the next thing I knew, I was in my bed and my doctor was telling her that I had a concussion. My mother asked me how the accident had happened, and without a second of hesitation, I told her that Michael had been bothering me. I reported that he had bumped his bike right into my back tire, making me fall. I even said that he laughed when I hit my head.
Angrily, my mother called Michael’s mom. “He has gone too far this time”, she yelled into the phone, “Now, Bonnie has a concussion, because of YOUR SON.” She hung up the phone and came to my room, announcing that Michael was in loads of trouble. At that moment, two things happened to me; I was thrilled that Michael was in loads of trouble, and I was deeply sorry that Michael was in loads of trouble.
An odd feeling plagued me for the rest of that day. I was uncomfortable, and it had nothing to do with hitting my head. My mind kept playing back the lie I had told and the words, “Michael is in loads of trouble”, kept banging at my heart. I had never felt this way, before, and I didn’t know what it was.
When I tried to sleep, that night, I found that I couldn’t. The lie took over all of my thoughts and would not leave me alone. It sat on my pillow, then wandered in and out of my head. It whispered that I was bad. I sat up in bed and tried to call out, “MOM”, but the word refused to leave my mouth. Hot tears came and spilled down my cheeks.
Because of the concussion, the doctor had told my mother to check on me, often, throughout the night. When she came to my room, she found me sitting there, crying. “Is your head hurting?” she whispered. “Not my head – my heart”, I cried. She sat on the bed and asked, “Why do you think your heart is hurting?” “I did something very bad”, I sobbed, “and told a terrible lie about Michael. I was so mad at him for throwing the potato at me, that when I saw him, today, I remembered that I, sort of, hate him. When you asked me how I got hurt, the lie just fell out of my mouth. I really got hurt, because I was showing off and not riding safely.” My mother asked, “What do you think we should do about this?’ I quickly answered, “Can you, please, call Michael’s mother and get him out of loads of trouble?” “No”, said my mother, “That’s your job. First thing in the morning, you are going to fix this, by yourself.” “Okay’, I whispered, “But, Mom, why does my chest feel so bad?’ “That is your conscience”, she told me, “It is the part of us that reminds us what is right and what is wrong. I am glad to see that yours is working exactly as it should. What you did, today, was awful, but I am proud of you for knowing that, and deciding to tell the truth. I know it wasn’t easy.”
My heart pounded with fear as my mother watched me dial the phone in the morning. When Michael’s mother answered, my words came tumbling out. I told her the truth and begged her to please, please please, unpunish Michael. I told her I was very sorry for lying. “You need to tell all of this to Michael”, she replied, and handed him the phone. As soon as he said, “Hello”, I rambled, “I am sorry I lied and got you into loads of trouble. I was, still, upset at you for throwing the potato, and blamed you for my accident.” “I guess it’s okay”, replied Michael, ” It’s good that you told that to my mom, because I am still punished from what I did to you, last week, and, this, almost got me punished for the rest of my life.”
Right then, Michael could have apologized for hurting me at Susie’s party, but he never did. I guess my conscience was working better than his.