By Brooke Romberger
When Simon Fields was seven years old, he went to the Camden Aquarium. His mother knew that he loved the movie Finding Nemo and how excited he was to see the sharks. In the days leading up to the class trip, Simon could not stop talking about it. He told her in the car on the way to the aquarium that he thought it was nice to know they didn’t actually eat fish if they could avoid it. Simon had told his mother how he thought vegetarian sharks were cool. She had smiled with a slightly nervous look on her face.
“Simon, you should know—”
“Mom, I really love sharks. They’re so nice to fish.”
His mom sighed heavily.
Their tour started at one o’clock in the afternoon and they were going with the rest of Simon’s second grade class. He had told his friend Michael how excited he was to see the sharks.
“Sharks are scary,” Michael had replied.
“Only, I think, Michael, if you meet the wrong one. Just like people actually, the sharks can be vegetarians too, and they try their best not to eat fish,” Simon replied with sheer conviction in his voice.
Michael seemed to be satisfied with this answer, and the boys ran to the shark tank. As the boys ran away, Simon’s second grade teacher, Mrs. Morra, cast a nervous look to Mrs. Fields, contemplating how to approach this warped sense of reality.
Two years later, Simon stood in his fourth grade teacher’s classroom. For a year Simon had gone to counseling, but had remained unswayed in his resolve. His mother had only grown more concerned and her therapist had doubled her Xanax dosage.
“My project is on sharks,” he said to his class with a proud smile curling up the edges of his lips. “I’m here to debunk the myth which makes the sharks seem like monsters— this is false.”
That morning, Simon’s mother had tried to explain to him again.
“Honey, sharks they eat—”
“Mom, I know, veggies. Gotta go now, can’t be late. I need to enlighten the fourth graders of Harbrook Elementary.”
He had never let her finish that sentence.
When Simon presented that day, he told his fourth grade class his story.
“Only bad sharks eat fish, just like only bad people steal things. Most sharks are actually very nice.”
Simon’s teacher, Mrs. Cornwall, had been nervous— expecting him to be ridiculed for his strange theory. To her surprise, the other children nodded in awe as the pictures of sharks smiling next to other animals flashed across the screen, clearly photoshopped, but apparently not clear to the 27 nine year-olds nodding in synchronization.
In his concluding words, the children all gave Simon a standing ovation, and readily attached his “sharks are friends” pins to their shirts.
As Mrs. Cornwall looked on, dialing the guidance counselor, for a fleeting moment she and Simon made eye contact and with his quick wink, she suddenly realized this child was smarter than all of them as a pit rose in her stomach.