Sticks and Stones

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

When I was younger, I loved reading those “Chicken Soup for the…” books. To this day, those books remain the only kind of “soup” I’ll ever let near me. My aunt would drink up the stories like she couldn’t get enough of them – which was ridiculous, because she was a vegetarian. Every time she read from that book, she looked like she went through some religious experience…and there I would be, sitting next to her on the couch and watching her face light up in joy, thinking that book must be magic.

Now, add to that building curiosity the fact that at this point in my life, I’d heard the phrase “tastes like chicken” exactly 697 times. (Okay, so I made that number up, but you believed me for a second, didn’t you?) As a since-fetus vegetarian, I’m sure you can understand my overwhelming need to know exactly what the taste of “chicken” was, and why the “soul” wanted it so badly. I didn’t know the first thing about finding chicken, let alone how to make it edible, so I did the next best thing: I stole her book. She was in bed, and its shiny plastic cover was sticking out of her bag enticingly, so I pinched it, scuttled to my bedroom, grabbed a flashlight, and ducked under my covers to read.

It was the equivalent of a little boy’s first porno.

It turned out the copy I grabbed was for the “Romantic’s Soul”. I was 11; “romance” pretty much meant Mario rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser. When my frantic aunt found me, my slobbering mouth planted against some page about marriage that had clearly bored me to sleep, she laughed heartily and gave me one more my size – Chicken Soup for the Children’s Soul. That’s where I read those words for the first time: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Even at 11 I knew that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard.

Bruises, bones, cuts – they mend. That’s not to say that physical ailments should be taken lightly. But when your body is hurt, you can see it; it’s tangible, visible, and often curable. The physical breaks have tried-and-true fixes. And more importantly, when your arm is broken and you are in pain, you know the cause and you’re feeling the effect. There are rarely any un-answerable questions, and when there are, you have someone definable to blame.

Words are invisible bullets. They can tear through your heart without leaving a mark, and send your brain a flurry of mixed signals that have no discernible source. And when they change your life? When you’re there sitting on a wall of words defining everything that was you and someone destroys it, when you have a great fall and those thoughts that made up YOU break into tiny pieces? When you can’t even see a scar, don’t even know that one exists? Well, all the people in the world couldn’t put you back together again. Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can tear apart all of you. This world we play in forges us in fire. Words can hurt, words can tear, words can kill.

But if my aunt’s joyous face taught me anything at all, it’s that words can also save. They can teach, they can feel, they can empathize. They can stitch back every aching heartstring. That’s why I’m here. That’s what I aim to do. I want every word I send out into this cruel, beautiful, ever-changing world to be a little needle-and-thread. I want my stories to stitch you back together, because every word I’ve read since I was a little girl – before I’d ever even heard the word “chicken” – did just that.

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