Words Are Powerful

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Lilliana is a normal 10-year-old starting at a new school in Vancouver. But, she is targeted because of her race, looks, weight, and actions. Her classmates use words to make her feel worthless.

In this story, Lilliana realizes the power of words, and how words are to be used carefully.

 Fifth grade. Ten years old. A new school in Vancouver, a new province.

I smile at my twin in the mirror, and she smiles back at me. This year is going to be amazing. For sure.

“Lilliana! It’s almost nine o’clock, the bus is going to leave!” Mom calls from downstairs. “Oh, shoot,” I whisper. I run down the stairs, grab my backpack by the straps, shove the door open and climb in the bus. 

I exhale with excitement. There are a lot of people here. I scan all the unknown faces. I will get to know them soon, and surely we’ll all be friends. I grin at them nervously, showing my teeth and the turquoise braces on them. No one smiles back. 

“Um… can I sit here?” I ask one of the girls. She rolls her eyes, mumbles something that sounds like “The nerve of people these days, honestly,” and moves to another seat to sit with her friend. I stare. “… O-okay,” I say uncertainly. I walk to the now empty seat and sit down. 

The bus is nice. Clean, orderly, a lot better than the old bus back at Ontario. The window is clear, and slightly open to allow for fresh air. The whole setting is great. But it would be so much greater if I were sitting next to someone, talking and laughing.

The bus stops suddenly, and I jump up immediately, rushing out the door. A boy in front of me holds the door open, and I head there to enter, about to thank him, when he goes in and  pulls shuts the door in my face with a bang. His face contorts behind the glass pane in the door window. “Why would I hold the door for someone yellow?” he sneers. 

I stare at him in silence. Is being Chinese a bad thing? Almost everyone else here is white, and I think I might be the only Asian here. Does that make it bad? 

I hold my hand in front of my eyes, and for the first time, I wish that my skin was a lighter shade.

 

“Cai, Lilliana!” the teacher calls. I raise my hand to show that I’m here. “Present,” I reply in response. Whispers start.

“Ooh, what a fancy name for someone so plain,” one girl giggles.

“Wow, we have an Asian here? This school is going to the dumps,” someone murmurs.

“Listen to her accent. It’s so choppy and so ridiculous, it’s really funny!”

I don’t have an accent. English was my first language, not mandarin, or cantonese, or anything else. I pronounced “present” perfectly. Didn’t I?

Am I plain? I’ve never thought about how I look before.

Ignore them. Ignore them. Ignore them.

 

At recess, I have no one to play with. Back in Ontario I would play tag or manhunt, or other running games with the class. So I walk up to a group of kids from my class who are about to choose who’s It.

“Can I join?” I ask. 

One boy snorts. “Screw off and go back to your country. No one wants you here.”

My eyes widen, and I try not to show how hurt I am at those words.

What should I do? In Ontario, our teacher told us to tell him whenever someone said something mean or something that really upset us. So, I turn around and re-enter the building to where Ms Samson is reading something.

“Ms Samson, can I talk to you about something?”

She sets down her newspaper.

“What, Lilliana?”

I fidget slightly. “One boy in the class said something racist. He told me to go back to my country, that no one wants me here.”

Silence for a whole minute and four seconds. I count each and every one.

“They’re just words, Lilliana. They’re just words.”

I thought that too, before, that words were just… words. But after these new experiences, I know better.

But they aren’t just words. 

They hurt.

 

During math, Ms Samson asks the class the answer to a problem solving answer. I do the math quickly in my head, and raise my hand so she can call on me.

“Lilliana? You know the answer?” she asks.

I nod, and say the answer I got confidently. 

Ms Samson shakes her head, and turns to the blackboard. “Wrong,” she says. Oh. I lean closer to the blackboard to see where I went wrong in the problem, when someone starts talking.

“I thought Asians were supposed to be really smart?” one boy asks.

The next voice I hear is Sophie’s.

“They are. Lilliana’s just the exception. You have to be so stupid to get that queston wrong. Negative IQ for sure!”

I bite my lips and try not to show how much that stings. It was just a mistake, anyone could have a made it! But despite my efforts, I start to silently cry, then get louder, jagged breaths and short, quick, gasps. Before I can stop, Sophie notices.

And she laughs.

High-pitched, spasmic giggles.

“Not only are you ugly and stupid, you’re so over sensitive too! The perfect worthless set! Oh, I could laugh all day over this! But don’t worry, no need to cry. It’s the truth, you need to know it.”

I dig my nails into my fist and stop crying. The flow of the tears cuts off entirely. Because I can’t be called one more degrading word anymore. I can’t be defined as sensitive. 

I can’t cry in this classroom. Or do anything else.

 

Sophie’s eyes follow me as I walk in the class the next day. It’s unsettling, but I continue to head to my desk.

“You really shouldn’t wear light green. I don’t know how it’s possible, but it makes you look even uglier than usual,” she says casually, like it’s nothing.

My jaw falls open comically, and tears start to sting my eyes, but I force them back, remembering what happened yesterday. 

Light green is my favourite colour. I like wearing it. But I don’t want to be ugly.

I want to wear it, though.

I don’t want to look ugly.

I take my bright green sweater off, and shove it into the trash can.

 

When Sophie sees me without the sweater, she smiles. “There, now you look as ugly as you normally do!”

The words, combined with the bright smile on her face, cut right through me and I start to silently cry on the spot because I can’t help it, even though it’ll get me called sensitive again. Sophie’s smile only widens. “Don’t cry! It’s the truth. You know it.”

Her smile isn’t even a smile anymore, it’s a leer. She whispers more words, but I don’t want to hear them. I don’t want to hear them anymore. 

But I do.

Every single one of them.

And they all hurt.

 

I browse through a list of proverbs, quotes and sayings for a project. Ms Samson told us to choose a little something that people say often, discuss the meaning of the phrase, state whether we agree/disagree and why, and add other thoughts. It’s supposed to be one of those projects where you take something used every day without much thought and put more thought into it.

I pause. There, on the bottom of the page Ms Samson gave us to look from.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” 

I bite down on my bottom lip, and I feel something hot spread through me. Anger. I’ve heard this saying a lot, but I’ve never thought about it. Now, because of this project, I do.

Sticks and stones may break my bones. That’s true. But words can still hurt me. All the things Sophie and everyone else said still hurt. It’s not true. 

I take a black sharpie and cross the saying out on the sheet, and move on to look at others.

 

When the lunch bell rings and it’s time to eat, I spend half the time doing nothing before I throw all the food Mom made me out. If I eat in front of them, they’ll call me fat and obese again. I don’t want that to happen.

Sophie notices, and twirls her hair casually around her index finger. 

“I can see what you’re doing, you know. Trying to lose weight.”

I spin around and face her. What’s she going to say about it?

“You did lose some pounds, and that’s not easy. Nice efforts,” she smiles. “But you’re still ugly. You can’t change that.”

 

After a while, this becomes normal for me. The words “ugly”, “stupid”, “sensitive” and “worthless” have started to define me in my mind. After all, if everybody calls me them, who am I to say they’re wrong?

I am ugly. I need to lose wight and wear prettier clothes. Even though it won’t make a difference.

I am stupid. I need to study more, but it doesn’t matter, because I will always be too stupid to remember the things I learn.

I am sensitive. I should not cry when I hear the truth.

I am worthless. I will never amount to anything, and all I can do is accept that.

But it’s hard.

 

I keep my head down as I walk in the classroom. Something hits my head. A note. Of course. 

I unfold the note behind my shield of hair.

On it, there are multiple things. 

“Go lose weight. You’re too fat.”

“Get lost, nobody wants you here.”

“Stop crying. It’s just attention seeking.”

My fingers start to tremble. I crumple the note and throw it across the room, not caring where it hits. The classroom is too small. I need to breathe. I need silence, I’ve had enough of these words.

I run outside of the classroom, outside of the school, back to home, the only place where it’s safe. Even though Mom and Dad are out at work right now, it’s still safe. Sophie can’t get me there.

I shove the key to the house into the lock and turn it, then hide to the bathroom and lock the door.

Safe. It’s safe here. I can cry here. I can let it all out.

I scream loudly and pull my hair. Why me? Why did they have to say all these words to me? What did I do wrong? I can’t handle this. Why do they call me these things? Don’t they know how much it hurts?

I curl into a ball and cry for hours, until Mom and Dad come home and find me.

When they do, the first thing I say to them is “Can I transfer schools?”

And they say yes.

 

It’s my first day at the new private school, and I am invisible in the fancy cafeteria in the building, as I am in the classroom.

I can’t say anything, or I will be told to shut up. I can’t approach anyone, or I will be told to go back to my country. I can’t cry or answer questions, because I will be judged for every single thing I do. It’s best to be invisible.

But then, someone talks to me.

“Why are you sitting there all alone? Come eat with me!” 

I look up from my seat next to the wall at the speaker. A girl, in my class. What’s her name again?

“I’m Bri. Lilliana, right? That’s a nice name. My real name’s Britney, but I don’t like the way it sounds. So I go by Bri now.”

This girl talks a lot. Does she really want me to sit next to her? Nobody ever asks me to be around them. But she sounds really sincere and seems really friendly. And sitting with her is better than being alone, anyway. 

I walk with her to her small table in the corner, and she starts talking even more. Then something catches my attention. 

“You’re so good at drawing, Lilliana! That name tag you made, it looks amazing!” Bri beams at me, and my mouth falls open comically  while I stare at her in shock. No one’s ever told me I’m good at anything.

Maybe she doesn’t mean it, but a false compliment is better than the blunt insults I’ve always received, and I smile for the first time since coming to this school. 

“Thank you.”

Bri grins, but it changes into a frown. “Hey, why are you eating so less? You’re already so skinny. You should eat more.”

What? But Sophie always said I weight too much. If I look at my wrist, I can see that it’s huge and fat.

“Come on! You’re already so pretty, you don’t need to be on a diet.” Bri smiles so brightly that I just somehow know she means it, and my whole body is filled with a warm feeling. Without any effort at all, the corners of my mouth turn up and my face brightens. My gut tells me that I can be myself around Bri, and so I take my chopsticks and start eating, until I finish my whole lunchbox, an amazing achievement compared to the amount I ate before. 

After I finish, Bri drags me outside for recess and starts talking. While she chatters on, I smile slightly to myself. Maybe I can finally think of myself as good enough.

 

As time passes hanging out with Bri, I feel confident in myself. Little by little, through encouraging words and extraordinary optimism from her, I’ve started eating more, talking more, and sharing my thoughts more.

Through this experience, I’ve learned. From both Sophie and from Bri.

What I’ve learned is this.

Words aren’t just words, like what Ms Samson said. 

Words are powerful.

They can hurt, and they can heal. Like how when Sophie called me ugly, fat, stupid, and everything else, it hurt me so badly that I felt like I didn’t deserve to live. 

But when Bri told me about how I was pretty, talented and deserving, I felt happy again.

Words aren’t just words. They’re not an arbitrary combination of the 26 letters in the alphabet, and their meaning go farther than the definitions attached to them in the dictionary. Words have the capability of affecting people deeper than any physical attack can. They can pierce you like knives, or spread warmth in your heart as if you’re sitting next to a cozy fireplace. 

They are strong. And you do not use strong words as jokes. “I hate you” is not a joke, and neither is “I love you.” 

Don’t just use mean words on people. Don’t just call them swears and insults, because it goes a lot deeper than it shows.

What many people don’t understand is that words are powerful.

Use them carefully.


Submitted: January 12, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Luna Cai. All rights reserved.

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