The Power of Words

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A few days ago, this post on one of the blogs I read daily brought back a memory from a couple of poems I wrote in high school. While Karen‘s post warned of being mindful about what you write and how you write it, the point of the written word being more powerful than the spoken word reminded me of the first time I realized this fact.

M was the guy I liked off and on from eighth grade to senior year. One time, during my freshman year, I was stupid enough to tell him this, and what happened afterward was a fiasco. Being only 15, immaturity prevailed. He practically ignored me, and I got royally pissed at him — so pissed that I didn’t speak to him for the entirety of our sophomore year.

When our junior year began, I was ready to end the silence. A couple of days into the school year, however, I learned that he liked someone — a freshman no less. She was a skinny, perky, preppy freshman who knew that M liked her, and I think she took a bit of delight in stringing him along.

But I digress. This whole scenario sucked because I couldn’t be buddies with M with this chick around. To vent my frustration, I did what came naturally. I pulled out my trusty five-subject notebook and wrote a poem. I think it talked about how we used to be friends but then she came in the picture, so I would just step back and wish the two of them lots of happiness. (Oh yes, the drama — and this was BEFORE “Beverly Hills 90210.”)

I was pretty proud of the finished product — so proud, in fact, that I thought he should read it. However, I couldn’t just walk up and hand it to him. That was too forward, and reeked of desperation. So I gave the poem to one of my friends who was willing to take the fall for me. I instructed her to give the poem to M and tell him that she thought he needed to read it. When I saw her a couple hours later, I asked how it went.

She stammered for a second then said, “He kept the poem.”

I felt my face turning pale, “He what?”

“He read it, folded it up, and put it in his pocket.”

I don’t remember what I anticipated his reaction to be, but I knew that his keeping the poem was not part of the plan. Worse yet, I would see him in my last class of the day.

We didn’t speak during that class; however, we weren’t on officially speaking terms yet anyway. After class, I lagged far enough behind him to see that The Freshman was waiting on him. They started to walk off, but she saw me and turned toward me. He noticed what she was doing and grabbed her arm.

“I just want to talk to her,” she said.

I kept walking, not looking in their direction, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw him leading her away. So not only had she read the poem, but she also knew who I was.

That night, I called and told him (well, flat out lied) that he wasn’t supposed to see the poem.

“Oh,” he said.

“And neither was anyone else,” I said.

“Oh… I’m sorry.”

We were quiet for half a minute, then he asked, “Why did you write it?”

So I explained that I missed being friends with him and that I had hoped we could be friends again, but when I saw the two of them together, I figured that friendship was impossible.

“Oh,” he said. He was never a big talker when things got serious.

Then he started talking about Greg Louganis whacking his head on the diving board. (The ’88 Summer Olympics were going on then.) And just like that, we were buddies again. Eventually, I began calling him every night when he got home from work, and we’d talk. Most importantly, The Freshman faded away.

In December, I wrote another poem. While I gave my closer girl friends presents, I didn’t want to give M an actual gift — that seemed a little too close — but I didn’t want to give him just a card. So I wrote a poem about us, about how we were such good friends, and I put that poem in a card and gave it to him.

While he read it right then while we were in class, he never said anything about it, and I never brought it up. Then, a couple of weeks later, I read him another poem I’d written.

“It’s good,” he said (although what was he supposed to say, “God, your stuff sucks! Just hang it up right now. Promise me you’ll never pick up a pen again!”).

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah, and the other one you wrote was good too.”

I thought he was talking about the poem I wrote about him and The Freshman, so I tried to act nonchallant by saying, “Well, that was a totally different situation.”

“No, I mean the one you wrote at Christmas.”

“Oh, that one,” I paused for something to say.

“I liked it,” he said.

Up until that point, I’d had at least a dozen people tell me they liked one of my poems, but on that night, with his simple words swirling around in my head, I realized that something I had written affected him — someone I never thought I could impact. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that what I felt was more than a crush. It was deeper than infatuation and stronger than friendship.

Then I got scared.

I changed the subject, to what I don’t remember, but I can recall mentally scurrying to avoid spilling my guts and making what I was certain would be another mistake.

Years later, I would realize that that night was one of several instances that proved M also had some sort of feelings for me. I was too caught up in the fear of being rejected again to see it.

(And some people actually want to relive their high school years? F*cking freaks…)

I don’t know how long he kept the poem, but that surreal feeling has stayed with me all these years. I’m so lucky that I had the guts to share my writing (as cheesy as it was back then) with someone I really cared about and that person in return was truly moved by it.

The written word is indeed powerful.

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