One of my biggest regrets

May 1st, 2015

Can I share with you one of my biggest regrets in life? Although I was only 13 years old and in sixth grade at the time (I went to kindergarten twice), it still is something I think about here and there. The memories came flooding back when I was leading a discussion with my youth group about bullying and doing the right thing.

I had just moved to California in the middle of my sixth grade year. I walked into my new classroom with the new kid stink all over me. I stood in front of the class as the teacher introduced me and showed me to my seat. Not only was I the only Asian in my class (again) but I also hailed from a distant, foreign country known as South Carolina.

I was expecting a day of loneliness at best, a whole year's worth at worst until the kid next to my desk introduced himself as Kenny (not his real name). Kenny invited me to sit with him for lunch and I was relieved that I had found a friend. We became fast friends, hanging out together at lunch and recess. We'd walk home together after school.

After the new kid stigma wore off, I started to get to know the other kids in my class as well. It dawned on me that I was the only that hung out with Kenny. But I never thought much of it. Kenny didn't like to play sports, so during many recesses I'd leave Kenny to do whatever he does so that I could go play basketball. I noticed that he'd always choose to sit by himself and read.

"Dude (after all, this is Southern California), why do you still hang out with Kenny? He's a loser," my new friends would inform me.

I knew the right thing to do — the Christian thing to do — was to stand up for Kenny. Being a pastor's kid, I knew right from wrong. I knew what Jesus would do in my situation.

"Hey, guys. Lay off. Kenny's not that bad," was what my brain said. "I know, right?" was what actually came out of my mouth.

I began to distance myself from Kenny during school. It was really easy since all I wanted to do was play basketball during the breaks and Kenny didn't. But, we'd still walk home together after school, mainly because I knew it was safe — meaning no one would see us hanging out. And much to Kenny's credit, he never called me out on it.

Then the day came where everything changed. During PE, the teacher had us engage in the barbaric war game affectionately known as dodgeball. He'd aways let the kids choose the teams by assigning team captains. I was designated a team captain with the first pick. The last time we picked teams, Kenny told me that he hated this part, because the "cooler" kids would always pressure the team captains to choose Kenny last and the team captains were always the kids that the PE teacher liked (read: athletic). This was the 90's — all perfectly normal behavior.

"Hey. If I'm team captain, I'll make sure you aren't last. You won't be the first I pick, because I want to win, but you'll won't be last." I promised Kenny.

"Hey, thanks!"

The teams were almost completed — there were two people left: Kenny and Alice, who had no interest in what was going on. It was my turn to pick. I remembered my promise and I saw in Kenny's eyes that he remembered it too. Second to the last pick was not the last pick. I was going to say, "Kenny" and Kenny even anticipated his name being called because he shuffled ever so slightly towards me.

"Pick the girl, dude. We want to blast Kenny," my teammates started whispering.

"Hey, guys. Chill. Kenny's on our team. I pick Kenny!" is what I said in my mind. "I pick Alice," is what came forth from my mouth.

I could tell that this stung Kenny. I couldn't look him in the eye. It stung me too. But my guilt was soon replaced by my desire to survive and dodge the heavy rubber balls whizzing past my head.

In the heat of the battle, I found myself with a ball in my hands. Then I hear my teammates shout, "Get Kenny! Get Kenny! KILLLL KENNNYYYY!!!" (It's not surprising that most elementary schools don't play dodgeball today).

Kenny and I made eye contact. Time seemed to have frozen. I could hear nothing around me except the sound of my heart. Kenny looked at me with resignation as if he were saying, "Do what you gotta do."

I closed my eyes. Then with all the strength I could muster through my 13-year-old body (I went to kindergarten twice), I threw the ball at Kenny. All that was missing from this scene was me whispering, "Kenny, I'm sorry."

I opened my eyes to see that the ball was heading straight towards Kenny's head. I hated myself for throwing the ball so hard at him but I could see that if he ducked, it would go over his head. "I threw it high on purpose," I'd tell him later. But he didn't duck. And I swear, he wasn't looking at the ball. He was looking at me as if he was asking, "Is this what we've come to?"

*THUD*

The sound of the rubber ball hitting Kenny's face was a lot louder than I could've ever imagined. Kenny's head rocked back, then he fell forward on the ground. My teammates worked themselves into a frenzy congratulating me but all I could see was the puddle of blood forming on the concrete from Kenny's nose. The teacher stopped the game and I distinctly remember the look of annoyance in his face as he tended to Kenny.

I felt awful. Kenny never looked at me as he walked towards the nurse's office. I waited for him after school to walk home with him. I'd worked up a couple of apologies to offer. Except he never showed up.

I waited the next day to walk home with him and he was nowhere to be found. I should've reached out to him in recess, but I didn't want my other friends to see. I waited for him again after the school the following day. No Kenny. Eventually, I stopped waiting for him. And my family moved across town which meant that I would attend a different junior high school than Kenny and all my other "friends."

My senior year in high school, I sat in my English class on a hot Hawaiian day and saw a banner my teacher put up that I'd never noticed before: "What is right is not always popular."

It instantly made me think of Kenny. And I promised that I would always try to do the right thing over the popular thing. It's something I'm still learning to do.

I learned a valuable lesson at the age of 13, unfortunately at the expense of Kenny's feelings and his friendship. I have the twinge of guilt that has been with me for 20 years to remind me to do no harm and to do good — even if it's the not popular thing to do.

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