When I was a child my mother advised me to retort, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” anytime another child called me out of my name. It worked for me back then mostly because I was young and I didn’t take what was being said too seriously, but in 2007 this phrase took on a whole new meaning for me. It’d been almost seven months since I’d been burned and my physical scars were still healing. I was still emotionally fragile and rebuilding my self-confidence, but I wanted to enjoy my life. My cousin convinced me that I should get out of the house and go to the club with him that evening. He was right. I needed to get out and be a normal, social person again. So, I went. I was scared to death of what could go wrong . . . awkward stares, invasive questions, or even worse someone just being mean. I feared the worst, but I was proud of myself. I got dressed, put on some lipstick and danced the night away. My cousin was very protective of me considering it was a new experience, but I had a great time. Everything that I imagined could go wrong, didn’t, and as the end of the night neared I was ready do my victory dance. It was a successful night out on the town with no d-r-a-m-a . . . so I thought. As we headed to our cars to go home the night took a turn for the worst. I parked about two blocks away from the rest of the group, so the plan was for them to pull around and meet me. As I walked quickly ahead leaving the comfort of my friends, a truck pulled beside me. A man who appeared to be drunk leaned out of the passenger side window losing his footing as he tried to stand up. “Ayyy baby. Why you walkin’ so fast?!” he slurred in a deep, raspy voice. My steps got shorter and faster synching with my escalating heart beat. I looked straight ahead trying to ignore him and pretending not to hear him at the same time. “Ayyyy Ma! You hear me talkin’ to you. Ugh! What happened to your face, though?” I kept it moving. I could feel a fire burning inside me, rising slowly from my chest to my shoulders, and stopping at my ear lobes. I’m generally slow to anger, but this felt more like pain. Why? I huffed under my breath. I had already pulled out my phone to call my cousin, but I stopped myself from dialing because I knew what that could lead to. He was going to pull around soon anyway. The drunk man pushed himself further out of the window and continue talking at me, and I kept trotting trying to dodge his words like a fighter jet trying to dodge an enemy’s bullets. And suddenly I stopped. “Please leave me alone. I’m not interested in answering any of your questions, okay. Good night.” I said it as calmly and sternly as I could without going off. By now the car stopped in the middle of the street and for a moment there was silence. He twisted his face in confusion and shouted, “Fuck you! That’s why you look like the Bride of Chuckie!” Chuckie! Chuckieeee! Chuckieee! It echoed. He said it so loudly that everyone on the street turned around to stare at us. Pause. The truck sped off like a rambunctious child eager to get away after getting the last lick. And that’s how I felt. Like he slapped me and ran. [Time stopped.] In fact, I’m pretty sure the earth stood still. I watched the tail lights of the car fade into the distance secretly wishing they’d perish in a fiery crash. Of course I feel badly about that now, but in that moment I was so hurt and so angry that all I could think about was vengeance. My head dropped as my heart sunk like a pebble in a shallow pond. All of my faith in humanity dissipated. “Is that what I really look like? Is that who I am now? What did I say to deserve that?” I started talking to myself, repeating what he said under my breath and responding as if he were still there. “NO, f&*k you!” I said as I pointed my finger at an imaginary person. I fought back my tears swallowing them as they welled up in my throat. My cousin and his friends pulled up right as I got to my car and they could see that I was visibly shaken. “What’s wrong? What happened?” They riddled me with questions, but I didn’t have any answers. “Nothing,” I said calmly. ” You know, just someone said something ignorant. It’s no big deal.” But it was a big deal. They pressed me to tell them who it was and which way they went, but my head was somewhere else. I just wanted to go home. It felt like the longest ride ever. I blasted the music and got lost in the lyrics. Why didn’t I respond as my mother instructed, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” (They weren’t supposed to hurt me.) (I wasn’t supposed to let them hurt me.) (They’re just words.) I repeated it over and over again trying to convince myself more and more each time that it was true. “Words will
never hurt me.” But it was a bunch of bullshit. I get the point of the saying and it is useful at times, but in all reality WORDS can and do hurt. And that one derogatory term “Bride of Chuckie” stung me like a pissed off bee. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know what I’d been through. And it was just plain mean. The beauty in all of this is that I can laugh about it now. Does it bring up some old feelings? YES. But does it impact me the same way it did that night? NO. I don’t let words or names have so much power over me today, but when it happened I was in a very fragile and vulnerable space in my life. Someone literally stole my identity with acid and I had to make sense of my life and purpose all over again. I also feared that’s exactly how people saw me . . . not as Karli, but as the Bride of Chuckie. Not so much anymore, though. It turns out that he was more hurt and vulnerable than I was because we all know that “hurt people hurt people.” I used to be ashamed of how I reacted because I’m so much bigger than that hate and anger now, but it was a good learning opportunity. People are sometimes cruel for what seems to be no reason, but there’s always an underlying reason. It’s really a reflection of their own pain and what they’re experiencing, so try not to take it personally. I’m still sticking to what God says about me. So, today I challenge you to speak love, peace, and kindness. The next time you come across someone who is living with a burn injury or anyone who just looks different from you take a moment to make eye contact and smile. You never know what someone else is going through. And remember that words can and do hurt just like sticks and stones, but they also have the power to heal. Choose kindness.