This is my third public submission for Creativity Boot Camp! I've chosen writing as my medium, but specifically, fiction writing. Short story style. I won't promise myself to always go with fiction for the boot camp, but I'd like to come close. I'm excited to snoop around at some other participants' creations, as well, so leave me a comment if you're here from CBC so I can be sure to stop by your place as well!
Kids become cruel at an early age, but most of them don't recognize it as cruelty then, only reality. It's just life. But Mary was different. She tasted life differently, noticed the colors of moods, and felt words as if they'd been carved into her skin instead of spoken across the air.
Mary was heavy and sweet. She wasn't innocent -- the words she'd felt had robbed that childlike tenderness from her before she was even 8 years old -- but she played the part well. Her parents recognized her weight as part of a pre-adolescent certainty -- something she would grow out of -- and held tightly to the supposed knowledge that Mary was still too young to be worried about her size. They were wrong on one count, of course: Mary did worry about her size. How could she not? After a few years of her peers slowly distancing themselves from her, only to toss painfully barbed words in her direction, Mary had tried to stop tasting life. To stop naming the colors of moods. Because if she named herself, she would be a deeply smudged charcoal, streaked with jagged black spikes. The color of sadness.
But nothing she did could stop the way she felt the crash of words against her skin. The disgust with which she was spoken to by other kids her age -- careless middle-schoolers -- pierced her skin and touched her soul. It seemed like a miracle to her that she could still be nice given the scarring words she fended off every day.
If she had a theory in life, though, that was it: Being Nice Mattered. It had to.
She bandaged her wounds each night by immersing herself in books, reading of characters with sharp wits and biting retorts. She practiced retorts of her own, even, but always came back to the truth of her theory. It was important to her to be nice. One day, sooner rather than later, she desperately hoped, her kind resolve would be paid back with friendship.
Towards the end of her 7th grade year, Mary's parents decided she would need braces. As with most things, Mary accepted this fact with outward calm, but inside, under her soft skin, her colors raged red and brown. One more thing, she thought. One more reason to be made fun of. She'd endure it though, because she didn't really have a choice: crooked teeth equal braces. But braces plus a fat girl, she knew, equaled torture.
And she was right. The words she received as hateful tattoos on her skin were worse than before, and one phrase stood out from all the rest: Heavy Metal. For the rest of the school year, she was called an assortment of awful names, but Heavy Metal was the one that seemed to be etched on her body so deeply, it penetrated right to her heart.
Summer came as a blessed reprieve from the torture of name-calling and the sour taste of the middle-school world. Mary's teeth were tugged and pulled by the wires she'd now gotten used to, and her mind was cushioned from feeling hatred for a few short months. As her parents watched, Mary's shape shifted slightly -- they'd been right about her growing out of her heaviness. She grew a bit taller. Some of her roundness lengthened and she started to look like any other thirteen-year-old: neither startlingly developed nor stunningly beautiful. Mary was just Mary, but she wasn't weighed down with extra heaviness anymore. She became average on the outside.
The startling and stunning part was that she didn't notice.
The new school year started as usual, with Mary ducking through hallways and staying quiet in classrooms. If she'd felt the sting and prick of hurtful words for the past several years, now she felt the silence and inattention of her classmates like a wisp of cotton batting. She was untouched. Almost unnoticed. Slowly, she allowed her eyes to raise from the ground, she looked around herself, and started tasting the world again. The sweet, syrupy joy of having her eyes met without malice. The crumbly, thick taste of daydreaming. The smooth, spicy taste of being puzzled by a math problem. And something new: the cold, bitter taste of seeing hatefulness being thrown at someone else.
She'd gone for so long as the recipient of harsh words that she never noticed what had probably been happening all along. Other kids were enduring the same thing she'd endured. She heard them being taunted and it amazed her that she felt the pain of their torture. Some kids were too skinny, some were branded with too much acne, others wore thrift store clothes -- all wore the smudge of charcoal moods in the depths of their eyes. After a few months of finally recognizing that her own world had shifted, Mary was strong enough to remember her theory: Being Nice Matters. She just had to find the strength to put it into practice.
That strength took her by surprise one day as the students were being released for the weekend. A girl was hurrying down the staircase, head bent, arms clenched tightly around her books, and she left a wake of laughter and gasping shouts behind. Mary saw the telling bloom of an unexpected monthly flow on the girl's white shorts, and started to sink away. As if she could be infected by the girl's unfortunate fate, Mary steeled herself to feel the carving pain of hurtful words. But then, strangely, the girl turned with a glance, and met Mary's eyes. The syrupy sweetness of locking eyes with another -- a nice other -- spread through her, warmed her, and filled her with purpose.
Mary sped up, walked behind the girl to shield her from view, and followed her closely. The laughter faded into the stairwell, and Mary thought she heard heavy metal tossed behind them. She didn't feel it, though. She was determined to not care. The girl's shoulders started to relax just a bit, and her steps became more sure. They made it to the bathroom together, and Mary smiled a tiny smile at the girl, whose face was streaked with tears. Mary dug into her backpack, pulled out her gym shorts and a zippered bag of feminine products, and handed them to the girl.
She waited by the door until the girl emerged, noticing when she did that her charcoal mood had faded to a lavender-tinted gray.
The soft color of thankfulness. The timid color of friendship.