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I watched. We were all seated in a circle like school children, or ancient philosophers. I
watched as my peers spoke. I didn't respond with my own words because I was too fascinated with theirs. I watched as other students spat their words out; weird shaped things, they are. Some words dribbled from their mouths and down their fronts, or fell heavily on the desk in front of them. Some words took a lot of effort to get out; students sputtered and struggled before producing the word they were searching for. Other words gently swayed like feathers in their descent to the dirty linoleum floor. The words that coiled off desks and made their way across the room or out the door were swiftly forgotten. Perhaps someone might happen upon them in the hallway. The words that danced were my favorite. They rolled off the tongue, and always left a sweet taste in your mouth. Then they danced through the air like fish do in water; with graceful, elegant dips and turns. If the speaker was lucky, a few of their words would shoot across the room, and someone else would catch them. After the words were caught, however, one could only guess what the catcher would do with them. Most people treated others' caught words with kindness, but I'd seen a few people chew them up and spit them back out without a care. Mutilating words like that must leave an awfully bitter aftertaste. Mostly, the students' words crawled to the center of our circle, piling up, unnoticed. Some interacted with each other on their own accord, with no one to take note but me.
A few people, the brave ones, the usual suspects, took the risk of picking up words from
the pile, then sent them back with more new words to play with. Some were careful with their choices. They took their time, looking all the words over before finding one they could work with. Others picked up words at random, then spewed out even more at random. These people ruled the massive word pile. Others like me only watched, knowing we had no right to come near the pile let alone add to it or take away from it. Some of us were caught in the crossfire; punched in the face or nailed in the chest when someone used a word without knowing what damage it could cause. Those people walked away with a cut, a scrape, a bruise; a story to tell if they dared to. I knew better than to get in-between two people shooting words at each other. Even a casual conversation could cause casualties if it got out of hand. Me, I was careful with my words. I cared for them and made sure they caused no unintentional harm. I used only words that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle; words that made sense. I spent a lot of time with my words in my head before I let them roam free from my mouth. Anyone wise enough to do the same was easily identifiable: they spent more time with a pen in their hand than with words spilling from their mouths. You see, words on paper can be different. They're more like blueprints; they have time to evolve before they're actually sent into the world. The words in our circle were far less developed, which is what scared me. They were said with little time and no preparation. They were impersonal, which made them dangerous.
I saw it coming. Others did, too; anyone not too busy using their mouth was using their
eyes and saw it coming. It was one of us, one of the quiet ones, who suddenly dared to do it. I don't know what made her do it, but she clearly knew what she was doing. She clearly had a goal, a plan. I watched in silence as she swan-dived into the center, the heart of the word pile. The whole world went silent and she dug through the pile. Everyone had their eyes on her. All we could see of her was her bright red hair, swaying and jerking around the words as she searched for whatever it was she was looking for. She emerged triumphantly with a lost gem, held it above her head victoriously. I recalled it from the very beginning of the conversation. It was a beauty; shame no one thought to do anything with it before then. I was glad she'd found it. It was stunning enough for even I to consider putting my two-cents worth into it. But she was quickly shot down as one of the usual talkers interrupted her, snatched the gem away. She just sat there for a moment, defeated. But then she decided to fight back.
Suddenly, things got out of hand. Out of thin air it seemed, new words flew in,
interrupting the pre-established conversational flow. The quiet ones like me; we ducked in cover while the rulers fought harder and shoved more words at each other. All except the daring new girl; she threw herself into the middle of it all, foolishly thinking she could handle it. She didn't realize just because she'd caught the word didn't mean she had control of it. She was unaware of the life a word took on for itself once it left its speaker's mouth. I panicked and froze. You'd think with my knowledge of words I'd be able to handle the fight, but instead I held my head in my arms, hunched over my desk, and waited for it all to be over.
I was born a writer, not a talker. I had the ability to talk, of course, but I wrote far more
words than I spoke. In a room full of talkers, I was out of place. While they spent time talking, I played with words in silence. I loved words more than anything else. I loved seeing how they looked when I paired them up or made longer formations of them: sentences, paragraphs, pages, all the words fitting together perfectly. My voice was small- really nothing more than a whisper- but still I loved to feel words in my mouth. Each word feels different; makes the mouth move differently. Some words I whispered over and over because I loved them so much. I liked writing words more than anything in the world; the pen gliding across the page or the clickclickclick of a keyboard. I was careful with the words I spoke, because I knew they were powerful. The thing with spoken words, however powerful they may be in the moment, is that they fade away. Written words stay around much longer; some have been around for thousands upon thousands of years. I liked believing my words were small but mighty; they might be around for thousands of years, too.
Gradually, all the built-up words in the room dissipated. They faded, then finally vanished
in a puff of smoke. Some took longer to fade than others. Some didn't fade entirely, but were instead trapped inside someone's head. I slowly lifted my head from my hands, took in the aftermath. The room looked the same as it had when we first entered it: empty, quiet. Anyone bruised in the crossfire of words found the courage to stand up again. None of us knew where to go from there. We all left the room in silence; I, with my pen behind my ear and my mouth shut.