Sharks are vicious man-eaters!
On a class field trip to the aquarium, I remember Joey McCoy jumping at me and hissing. He pretended to attack me like he was the big sandbar shark that loomed above us. As the shadow of the shark passed over us, he shoved me to the ground and told me I was dead.
"You're so stupid Joey, sharks don't hiss."
"Well, not as stupid as you. You should pay attention more Alice otherwise you'll get eaten alive." Joey stuck his tongue out at me like that was the biggest insult I had ever heard. Hate to break it to you man, I've been through a lot worse. Especially from you. Joey was the class bully, taunting and hurting other kids happened a lot more often than it should. Joey always got a slap on the wrist, it would fix his behavior for a few days but he always relapsed back into it. 7th grade sucked because of him.
Mrs. Eckley eventually noticed and rushed over to help me up, also chiding Joey in the process.
"Joey, you know sharks aren't man-eaters either. They're quite deterred by humans, and more often than not if they mistake you for a seal, they'll let go when they realize you don't taste like a seal. Humans kill and injure more sharks in one year than they have done their entire existence. Sharks can even be trained, kind of like dogs!" Joey just rolled his eyes and walked off as I began to clean the dust from my jeans. Mrs. Eckley continued to give me a once-over before determining I was fine.
"Alice, I know he probably deserved it, but you really need to be mindful of how you speak to Joey." I stood up and wanted so bad to curse at her. I remember mom cursing at people who made her mad, and Mrs. Eckley was making me really, really mad. Was it worth the detention? No, cause mom would kill me.
"Why do I have to be nice to him when he isn't nice to me?" I was whining, but it was better than cursing so Mrs. Eckley would just have to deal with it.
"You know the shark that you and Joey saw?" She asked curiously. Of course I saw the shark, but what does seeing the shark have to do with anything? That didn't stop Joey from being mean or saying stupid things.
"Yes, I mean, that's kind of why he pushed me?" It was meant to be a statement but it came out as a question. I was genuinely confused at what any of this had to do with Joey.
"See Alice, things are not always as they seem. Some people know the facts like you know how sharks don't eat humans. However, Joey doesn't know. Because Joey didn't know, he had to base his knowledge off of information he does have. Are you tracking?" Mrs. Eckley always asked the class if they were "tracking" when she wanted to know if we understood.
"Tracking! But why does that matter?" Honestly, I just wanted to move onto the jellyfish exhibit. They were the coolest animals in here.
"Well, sometimes the wrong information is spread and can seem real. Which is why Joey thought sharks ate people. He probably learned it from someone he trusted. They probably saw the shark's big, sharp teeth and immediately said 'Sharks are bad'." She paused but didn't ask if I was tracking, so I just remained silent.
"Now I know this may seem difficult to understand, but Joey is like a shark. All the kids here make fun of him from time to time do they not? He never eats lunch with anyone, and often spends lunchtime in my classroom." Well, now that she puts it that way, I can't deny I feel a tiny bit guilty. But he's so mean. I opened my mouth to offer an explanation but she gave me 'the teacher look' and I knew better than to butt in.
"You guys view Joey like Joey sees sharks. Many of you think Joey is weird, but where did that come from? His hobby of liking bugs? His constantly changing hairstyles? Joey hasn't had a close friend since he's been in Morell Elementary, that's at least 7 years. His "test bite" to see if what he is doing is right, is sometimes treating others poorly. More times than not, he walks away when he realizes what he is doing isn't right." I rolled my eyes and she clicked her tongue to get my attention back. I tried holding back my sass, but I had to talk.
"Mrs. E, I know you're trying to teach me to 'be the bigger person', but why do I have to take the things he's doing? It's not fair that I get in trouble when he started it." Mrs. Eckley knelt down in front of me before she took my hands and nodded in agreement.
"No one should have to be the bigger person, and I'm not telling you that you have to be. Alice, I just want you to understand that people are often misunderstood like sharks are. You can choose to not change anything, and I won't blame you. You can choose to just use nicer words, and you may help Joey see how he needs to treat others. You could even choose to be his friend if you wanted. But that choice is up to you." She gave my hands a pat before standing up. She blew the whistle and we all lined up like ducklings before following her to the next exhibit.
I guess Mrs. Eckley was right. Honestly, after treating Joey a bit better, he started treating me and my friends better too. We even became lunch table friends. My teacher was right, people can be just as misunderstood as sharks.
I guess that's why I became a marine biologist, Dr. Alice McCoy.