Those three words have been in my mind a mighty long time.
The kind of thing a parent says when you’re sad over something some kid at school said.
What we tell ourselves when we’ve created something and someone says just how much they hate it.
What you’ve got to think when a stranger feels they should yell something as you walk on by.
Words. Just letters and noises that people string together.
I remember a time when I received hate mail from someone who took offense to a piece of writing I submitted for a competition when I was still in school. The ol’ boys’ club wasn’t impressed, but the judges were and I got a special mention. But I was copping some serious shit over it. I’ll admit it was a decidedly opinionated piece about my experiences within religion, and it rendered some people utterly furious. It was easy to ignore it when it came from someone my age, but this particular one was from someone whose opinions I used to respect, so it totally gutted me.
So Ma tries to comfort me, but I’m still livid.
And in my teenage behavioural splendour, I went off the fucking wall at her.
“Just words? JUST WORDS? ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS? Can you even hear yourself saying that? If these are just words, then it’s the same for what I write. The same for what you say. The same for that book you give one day per week to. There’s no such thing as a completely pointless word. It may not always matter, but it was said for a reason, by someone who meant something. As all words are. Piss off with that. PISS OFF WITH ALL OF THAT. FUCK YOUR SHIT. FUCK IT ALL. ALL OF IT.”
I apologised later because I felt awful. It’s not right to lose your temper at someone who cares enough about your feelings to want to say something to make it all better. And it’s an asshole’s move to pick their words apart and fire them back if they were said to you with pure intentions. So cruel. I felt really low about that. So I said sorry in my signature awkward way and went away to sit in my room, to go pick apart more hate mail and feel a bit more empty, I guess.
Then this slips under the door:
My girl, you need to calm down. I was pretty offended about what you said about the Bible, it’s more than ‘that book’ to me and you know that. It’s my business and it’s your opinion. But really, it’s OK. Thanks for saying sorry. I know that was hard for you.
I think what’s going on here is you’re thinking the whole human race thinks words are as important as you do. It’d be interesting if that was true, but a lot of people don’t. They say stuff that isn’t true and that doesn’t mean much and they don’t care. We all know words are your thing. The things you write, sing and say are really important to you and you mean them. But not everyone is like this. I know it’s hard for you. It’s hard when you care a lot and others do not.
Language is like a wild horse given to you as a child. You harnessed yours and you care for it. You were patient with yours and now it serves you and you’re friends now. You found horses from other places and like them too. But outside, there are people who neglect and abuse what they got. There’s sadness in stables and by the pen. Some people let their horses shit everywhere, don’t they? But here you are, screaming THE WORLD IS NOT A TOILET. And it’s true. But not everybody cares and you take it to heart, which looks painful. I know it ‘sucks’ and it is ‘lame’.
But we like you and your words, even if you don’t always use your inside voice.
And don’t forget, we’d still like to go out for tea because you won something today.
Don’t let some bastard’s hate spoil your day.
And don’t call yourself stupid because you’re not. I have no stupid children. I made sure. Now you make sure.
We’re proud of you.
Don’t be too long in there, you muppet. No prizes for sulking!
I still laugh at the “no prizes for sulking!” part because it’s so true. That was really nice of her to do, and I ended up emerging from the brat-cave before long. The comfort of what she wrote to me will last through the years. I swear it’ll never die.
I learned something pretty important. People won’t always acknowledge what you hold dear. They’ll pick the parts that they take exception to and go on about it in ways that don’t always make sense to you and that’s just how it is. Not everyone cares about nuanced meanings and abstract concepts or even grammar and punctuation (a lot of hateful people don’t know how to spell, huh? Oh well, it’s hard to get mad when someone writes ‘go komit sewerside you bitch your going to Hell’. Sewerside, motherfucker! Hahah, oh help…). And when people like what you do, you’ll know. If they don’t, that’s their thing.
I managed to get over myself in time for dinner. And I ended up having a really nice evening with the very people I swore I hated with every fibre of my being just a few years before.
At one point, I was overwhelmed by how I used to hold on to the horrible things they used to say and how they had forgiven the shitty things I used to say. So much so that I was fighting back tears for a minute or two. Sometimes it felt like it was water off a duck’s back, other times it felt like phosphorus wounds I had to clean off and cut out of my flesh while pretending it didn’t hurt because WAR IS NO TIME TO BE A BABY. It still felt like something was missing, but it was also something we’d get back and wouldn’t hurt us for being gone. Just over ten years later, I think I was right.
Sure, I won a book and a certificate and the hearts of some local poets for a week or two, but those things don’t comfort me when I feel like headbutting a wall.
And as I gave a toast to words, the brother mumbled “what a fuhhhhhhh-king nerd” and got cheesecake on his pants. Well, that’s what you get when you talk with your mouth full of ridicule and dessert. OK, it was a dorky thing to say. But I totally meant it.
P.S.: Didn’t the Bee Gees have a song about words? Now I wanna find it. Isn’t it sad that only one of those guys is still around? But that’s also a happy thing. YOU GO, BARRY. Nobody gets a CBE for nothing.