The Power Of Words

I learned the power of words in a painful way, but a way I have never forgotten:

March 2, 1997

I was resting quietly with Laura , feeling so content. Something about this moment made me want to snatch it out of time, and pin it down forever.

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Just enjoying the moment,
I lay spoon-style
with Laura, napping.
Feeling my belly press
against Laura's back
with each inhalation.
Feeling my tongue slowly losing  
its burn
from spicy hot spanish rice.
In, out, press; in, out, press.
This simplicity
fills me completely.

JAL, 3-2-97

later this day...

We watched an intriguing movie this evening. Harriet the Spy wasn't the greatest movie we've seen, but, oh, did it cut to the core! Harriet had a little notebook in which she wrote down everything she saw and thought. She wrote observations of all her school mates. Even her friends did not escape her scrutiny. And she recorded some very unkind things. This book was supposed to have been private. But kids being curious, it was soon an open book. When everyone found out what she'd written, she became very very unpopular.

This resonated so well with my childhood, for I too had taken pen in hand to defame. It was the freshman year of high school. Our assignment for English was to describe someone we knew in such detail that everyone could tell what they were like. I didn't have a clue who to write about. After class, I discussed the assignment with a friend. K. and I had a good laugh as we described another friend. Yeah, wouldn't it be funny to write about C.? She always told us tales in which she had met some boy who took a liking to her. I'm not sure why, but I was certain she was making up the tales to impress us all. Was it because the idea of getting all excited over some stupid boy was foreign to me? I'm not sure, but I was certain the stories were at least exaggerated. K. egged me on, "Yeah, you should really write about C. She really deserves it!"

By then, my head was swirling with all sorts of things to put in the article. We revelled in the 'fun' of this. I went home and honed the article as best as I could. I thought the mystery of who the person was would be a secret to K. and me alone. So when I read it out loud in class, I was totally shocked when the aftermath occurred. Somehow everyone in the class knew I had written about C.! I was mortified. And most certainly C. knew I had written about her! She had one final conversation with me before she never spoke to me again. She told me how she had thought I was so sweet and innocent, and how her grandmother, who was raising her, thought I was so sweet and innocent. She said her grandmother was always telling her, "Why can't you be nice and sweet like Joan? She'd never say or do anything to hurt anyone." "Well, my grandmother was WRONG!" By then, I felt so terribly bad. Unlike Harriet, who managed to patch everything up with her friends, there was nothing I could do to undo what I had done. Even K. didn't have much to do with me after that. In fact, after that, I was pretty much the loner all through high school. All my friends were suddenly busy with boyfriends. I felt totally deserted.

It is the one thing in my life I wish I could do over. I wish I had really thought over the consequences of what I had done. If I had any clue at all that she would know I had meant her, I would have never done it. I would have never wanted to hurt anyone's feelings, much less the feelings of someone who was a friend. It was a very painful lesson. But I learned never to put anything in print that you would mind if it got to be public knowledge. You just never know, and you can't take it back. Those words are out there, forever.

© Joan Ann Lansberry
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