“Staring Eyes,” Friend, Apr. 2000, 2
I don’t think I worried about the promises I had made at baptism, until I met Darren. Getting baptized was just something a guy did when he turned eight. When I was baptized, Grandpa and Grandma were there, along with Uncle Rick and Aunt Teri and all of my own family. It was like a big celebration, so I wasn’t thinking much about promises. In fact, I didn’t really think about the promises until I was in the fifth grade.
The Sunday before Darren moved to our school, Sister Murray talked to us in Primary about when the prophet Alma was by the waters of Mormon and invited his people to be baptized. He told them that if they were willing to enter the waters of baptism, they needed to promise to mourn with those who mourned and comfort those who needed comfort. She gave each of us a small white card with these baptismal promises written on it.
Darren and his little sister, Tanya, were the first black people I had ever seen at my elementary school. Maybe that’s why he surprised me so much. When the principal brought Darren to Mrs. Riley’s class, all I could do was stare. In fact, the whole class was quiet and just stared.
When Mrs. Riley asked us where Darren should sit, no one raised a hand to invite him to sit next to them, which we usually did when a new student arrived. No one said anything. Everyone just stared silently. Finally Mrs. Riley invited Darren to sit at a desk at the back of one of the rows.
All during the morning lessons, I couldn’t help sneaking peeks at him. He seemed so different from the rest of us. I wasn’t the only one—everyone in class sneaked looks all morning. Darren pretended he didn’t notice by keeping his head down, working on his math and English papers.
I think Mrs. Riley was the only one in the whole class who said anything to him that day. At lunchtime, he got in line with the rest of us and picked up his tray from the kitchen. He went to the long table along the wall and sat down. Usually I sat there, but I didn’t go there that day. It wasn’t that I was afraid of him—it was just that he was so different. No one else went to that table, either.
During noon recess, I played football with the rest of the guys. Darren didn’t come over, and we didn’t invite him. He just wandered around the playground by himself.
In the afternoon, when Mrs. Riley had us work in groups on our science project, no one invited him to be part of their group. Mrs. Riley finally assigned him to work with Tanner, Whitney, and Lance.
As I started home after school, I saw Darren and Tanya walking in front of me. I was in a hurry, but they weren’t walking very fast, so I hung back, not wanting to pass them. I didn’t want them saying anything to me, and I didn’t know what to say to them. I ended up running to the other side of the street and walking past them, acting as though they weren’t even there.
As soon as I reached home, I rushed into my bedroom to change my clothes. My friend Brandon and I had decided to ride our bikes over to the creek to catch minnows. As soon as I stepped into my bedroom, I saw the little white card I had hung on my mirror, and I thought of Darren.
At first, I didn’t understand how that card could possibly be talking about him. When we had talked in Sister Murray’s class about mourning for and comforting others, we had thought of someone’s grandpa or grandma dying, or someone whose house had burned down. We hadn’t talked about someone like Darren. But I thought of him that afternoon.
For a long time I stared at that white card, and I remembered what it was like to move into a new school. Two years earlier I had been the new kid. At first I was afraid and was sure that everyone in the whole school was staring at me. Then Brandon invited me to sit next to him in class. His friends became my friends. We sat in the cafeteria together. We played at recess together. That very first afternoon he even invited me to his house after school.
I thought about Darren’s first day. No one had spoken to him. No one had invited him to join them. No one had eaten lunch with him. No one had asked him over after school to play. And all during the day, he had been forced to face the silent, scary stares from the rest of us.
As I stared at Sister Murray’s white card, I realized that although I had thought Darren was different from the rest of us, he really wasn’t. He had a different color of skin, and darker eyes and hair, but he felt and hurt just like the rest of us. He didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to have friends. He wanted to play. He wanted to go places without everyone staring at him.
Suddenly I felt sorry for Darren. I decided that by really feeling sorry for him, I was doing what Alma talked about at the waters of Mormon. I told myself that that was all I needed to do, that that was all I could do without the whole school staring at me like I was someone extra strange. I changed my clothes and rushed outside to play.
The next day I grabbed my football and charged out of the house for school. Before I could leave the yard, I slid to a stop. There were Darren and Tanya coming down the street on their way to school. Barry and Trevor were fifteen or twenty steps behind them. I saw Barry pick up something and toss it toward Darren and Tanya. Then Trevor said something that I couldn’t hear, and both of them burst out laughing. Darren and Tanya just kept walking with their eyes straight ahead.
Instead of starting down the street close to Darren and Tanya, I pretended to have forgotten something and slipped back inside the house until all four of them were far down the street. I tried as hard as I could to not think about the white card stuck on the mirror in my bedroom.
During the day, there were several times that I could have said something to Darren, but I didn’t.
I didn’t stare at him and snicker like some of the other kids, but I didn’t try to comfort him at all. At lunchtime, I was right behind him in the line, and when he went to sit down, I almost followed him to his table. Then Brandon called to me from another table, and I went over to him.
By the end of the day, I was glad that it was Friday because I had a whole weekend without having to think about or to see Darren. On Saturday, I hardly thought about him. By Sunday morning when I was rushing about to get ready for church, Darren was the last thing on my mind.
As sacrament meeting started, I sat on the bench next to Mom. She teaches Primary and had her manual and lesson materials piled neatly on the floor in front of her. Right on top was a picture of Jesus wearing a red and white robe. And He was staring right at me. We sang the sacrament hymn, and I began to think about my white card with those special baptismal promises written on it, promises that I was about to renew when the deacons brought the bread and water around. I was going to promise to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and I knew—and I knew that Jesus knew—that for me that promise included Darren.
For a moment I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t see that picture of Jesus looking up at me. But I could still feel His eyes staring at me. They didn’t stare at me like the eyes at school stared at Darren and Tanya. Jesus’ eyes were asking me to do something for Darren.
That Sunday was the first time that I was a little afraid to take the bread and water as it came down the row toward me. I knew that I wasn’t eating plain old bread or drinking regular old water. I was supposed to be thinking of Jesus and promising to do what I thought He would do if Darren was in His class at school.
I hesitated as Mom handed me the bread tray. In fact, I hesitated so long that Mom nudged me. Slowly I reached out and took a small piece of bread. When I did, I knew that I was repeating the promise I’d made three years ago, when Dad had led me down the tile steps into the baptismal font. For me, that shiny clean baptismal font was the same as the waters of Mormon for Alma’s people.
On Monday morning, I said an extra long prayer because I needed all the help and courage I could get. I grabbed my football, slipped out the door, and looked up and down the street. Darren and Tanya were still over a block away. Barry and Trevor were a few steps behind them.
I knew that I could start for school without running into Darren just yet. I could wait until I was in Mrs. Riley’s class and look for a chance to be nice to Darren there. Then I thought of that picture of Jesus, dressed in His red and white robe, staring up at me.
I gripped my ball and waited for Darren and Tanya. I was going to keep a promise.
“Hi, I’m Steve,” I said with a nervous smile. “I think you and I are in the same class.” I glanced anxiously down the street toward Barry and Trevor; then my gaze returned to Darren and Tanya. “Do you mind if I walk with you?”
Darren thought a moment and then shook his head. I smiled and took a deep breath because my heart was pounding and my hands were shaking a little bit. I tossed my football to Darren and he caught it. “Good hands,” I said. “Do you like football?”
“I love it! I used to play at my old school.”
“He was good, too!” Tanya spoke up, grinning up at her brother and then over at me.
“Then you’ll have to play with us. We can always use a good football player.”
We started down the sidewalk. I heard Trevor and Barry snicker, and I knew that they were staring behind us, but I kept walking with Darren and Tanya.
“Did you think of a frightening experience to write about in class?” I asked, remembering an assignment that Mrs. Riley had given us on Friday.
Darren laughed. “I can think of a lot of scary experiences that I’ve had. I haven’t written anything down yet, though.”
“Mrs. Riley said we could work in pairs. Maybe you and I can work together,” I invited. “We can help each other come up with something really good.”
When we reached the school, we went over to where the guys were starting the morning football game before the bell rang. As we approached, the playing stopped for a moment and all eyes were on Darren, Tanya, and me. No one said anything, but I could feel all of those staring eyes on me.
For a moment, I wished that I had hurried to school without waiting for Darren and his sister. I wasn’t used to those staring eyes. Then I realized that ever since Darren had entered this school, he had been facing those same staring eyes all the time. There was no place for him to run and hide from them, and those eyes hurt him as much as they hurt me—probably even more.
“Darren’s going to play with us this morning,” I burst out boldly. “Before he came here, he played a lot of football. He’ll be on my team. We can play with my ball.” I silently prayed that my voice wouldn’t crack or shake as I spoke. I didn’t want anyone to know how scared I was.
“We don’t need any extra guys,” Rusty spoke up, staring up at Darren and me.
“We can always use someone good like Darren,” I came back. “He’s playing,” I repeated. “Go out for a pass,” I said, turning to him.
While all eyes were on us, Darren raced across the field. I gripped the ball, cocked my arm, and threw with all my might. My pass was a little high and a little long. I figured that Darren would probably miss it. But just as it sailed over his head, he leaped and stretched out his arms. The ball touched his fingertips. It was as though they had invisible glue on them, because he held onto the ball, pulled it into his chest, and clutched it tightly as he fell to the ground.
“Awesome!” I heard someone mumble behind me. “What a catch!”
I grinned and waved Darren back to us. “Come on, Darren, we’ll kick off.”
The eyes still stared, but I didn’t mind them so much, because I remembered the promise I had made the day before, when I had taken the bread and water. Into my mind came the picture of Someone in a red and white robe with His eyes staring at me. As I raced across the field alongside Darren, I was glad for His staring eyes and how good they now made me feel.