In seventh grade, I wanted a leather bomber jacket so bad I begged my parents every day for months to buy me one for Christmas. Tom Cruise looked ultra cool wearing one in Top Gun and wanting desperately to be cool, I had to have one. My parents surprised me with one Christmas morning. On the first day back to school after too short a winter’s break, I wore the light tan suede bomber jacket. I walked the halls that morning with a little extra pep in my step and a slightly increased sense of self-confidence. That was until lunch.
After going through the line, I headed to my usual spot to enjoy the cafeteria’s culinary delicacy: square pizza. Laughing and talking with my friends, I had no idea what scheme was being concocted over by the soft-serve station. This was pre-Michelle Obama cafeteria clean up era so ours was full of square pizza, burgers, fries, and even soft-serve every single day.
One of my classmates fixed himself a large cup of vanilla soft serve, walked across the cafeteria, slapped the back of my bomber jacket with the ice cream and called me a “fat witch” in front of God and everyone- although he didn’t say witch. You feel me? In that moment, all the times I’d ever been called Miss Piggy or teased for being overweight culminated into me standing up and yelling the worst word known to man, the word that the kid in the Christmas Story had to suck soap over, the word that got the black and white “Explicit” label put on rap music, and the word that if my Moma found out I said would cause her to slap my jaw teeth clear out of my head.
I said it before I even realized I would say it. I said it so loud it echoed off the plate glass windows on the other side of the school. The cafeteria let out a collective gasp as I sat back down shocked. I had never so much as said a bad word before and this one was the worst.
I went home that day demoralized. My jacket was ruined. My self esteem was shattered and my Moma was going to beat me if she found out. No teacher heard me so Moma wouldn’t find out. It would be my dirty little secret.
I didn’t have to tell Moma. My middle school’s gossip game was strong. By the time I stepped off the school bus, she knew. That night while Moma tried to clean my jacket and Daddy tried somewhat hypocritically to scold me for cussing, they told me how my self worth was not determined by some kid in the cafeteria. They told me that I was smart, funny, and loved. Their collective voices became louder than the ugly remarks yelled at me that day in the cafeteria.
Kids are mean to kids. Maybe one day, they won’t be, but until then, our voices have to be louder than those of the bullies. Our voices have to be loud enough to let the kid behind the counter at HG Hill’s struggling to make change know that he matters. Our voices have to be strong enough to let the Sonic carhop, unsure of herself as she hands out an order, know she’s important. Our voices have to be powerful enough to remind the neighbor kid left out of the pick-up game that he’s got a friend.
Your voice could make all the difference in the world. Get loud.