The Voice Thief
By Jessica Wisniewski
“She’s so fat! What a pig!”
“I know! She’s like, SO sickening!”
“Why doesn’t she go on a diet?”
“She’s NOT sitting next to me!”
“Quick – put your jacket on that seat and move your books over there!”
“Sorry. These seats are saved.”
Hot tears pressed into the backs of my eyes. I clenched my jaw and breathed deeply to try and keep them from spilling over.
I wouldn’t let them see me cry.
I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing that they’d hurt me.
I couldn’t yell at them to stop acting so ridiculous. That they’d been my friends just last week. That “fat” isn’t contagious, so stop treating me like a disease. It would only make things worse. Silence was the only defense the Sparkly Girls would allow their prey.
I nodded tightly, like a robot, and stiffly trudged to the next lunch table, my tray shaking in my sweaty, clenched hands. They were still whispering about me, just loud enough to let me know that they had not finished with me yet. Managing a deep breath, I strangled back the knot in my throat and began eating my lunch alone.
The tenth week of sixth grade was MY week to be cast off the Island of Sparkly Girls. Each week, they ignored one girl in our class, and were completely brutal about it. They would savage her with both words and silence. They would erect a perimeter of silence around her, not allowing any friendliness in or out. They would tear her apart with giggles and sidelong looks. Their whispers were like bombs, exploding and paralyzing their victims until the shrapnel of their words finally ripped away her lonely voice.
The Island of Sparkly Girls was the only safe place to be…unless you formed your own island, but no one was brave enough to do that.
Every day for the last week, I had gone through this battle. Holding the tears back until I could get home and hide in my room. Then, and only then, would I allow myself to cry and try to devise some way, some plan, some miracle that would allow me to fight back – take back my voice – break their barrier. I was so angry at myself that it even mattered to me – but it DID.
The part that burned the worst, that made me the angriest, made me want to rage - was not that I was the victim, but that I had done exactly the same thing to all the girls whose week had come before mine. I’d whispered and pointed and lobbed those word grenades knowingly in some unlucky girl’s direction. I had stolen someone else’s voice.
Now, it was my turn.
They had stolen my voice. I couldn’t even find a way to defend myself. I could only wait for it to be over – take my own medicine, and pray that it would all blow over someday.
I’m glad to say that it did– three or four years later when I finally stopped listening to their voices in my ear. It began to disappear when I found my voice again and started to speak up for myself. It almost completely went away once I found a group of people who had been through the same war, and we formed our own island, where anyone who was kind to people could freely use their voice.
Back in the sixth grade, the Sparkly Girls stole my voice. Now I’m nearly forty years old, and I refuse to let anyone ever steal my voice again. I simply have too much use for it. Just ask my students. I use it every day to shout, sing, implore, teach, laugh, growl, argue, explain, encourage, sympathize, and most of all I use it to help others find their own voices and defend the ones who’ve had their voices taken away.
Take that, Sparkly Girls.