A Different Blue Page 38

The class was following now.

“Her worth would diminish, but what about her freedom? In some ways, a woman who is no longer beautiful, no longer competing for the hand of the richest or most eligible man might have less to lose. A fifty-year-old crone in the 1500's might not be as afraid to speak her mind as a fifteen-year-old girl who feels the pressure to marry and marry well. In that way, the less attractive woman might be more free, more independent, than the beautiful girl.

“Nowadays, women are still judged according to their physical attributes, moreso than men. But times have changed, and women don't necessarily need men to provide for them. Women today have less to lose by speaking their minds, and calling someone a witch is fairly ineffective. So we use the same tactics that were used long ago, just different words. I find it interesting, though, that the label used to discredit a strong, independent woman has only changed my a mere letter.”

The class laughed, and Wilson smiled with us before he moved on.

“Which brings us to our end-of-year project. What label do you wear? Why do you wear it? Many of you are seniors and will be moving out into the larger world. You don't have to continue wearing the label you've worn. Will you choose to drag it along with you and don it in your new circles, or will you choose to shed it and make a new name for yourself?” Wilson looked at the attentive faces surrounding him.

“Sadly, in school, and often in life, we are defined by our worst moments. Think about Manny.” The room was silent with contemplation, and Wilson paused, as if the memory was difficult for him as well.

“But for most of us, who we are is made up of the little choices, the little acts, the little moments that comprise of our lives, day after day. And if you look at it that way, labels are pretty inaccurate. We would all have to wear a thousand labels with a thousand different descriptions to honestly depict ourselves.” Wilson strode to his desk. “Here. Take one and pass them back. Go on.” Wilson handed a stack of heavy white pages to the first person in each row. Each page had about twenty labels on it. I took a page and handed the rest to the kid behind me.

“If I told you to peel each label off and stick it to yourself and then walk around the room and let different people write something about you – just one word, like witch, for instance – on the label, what do you think they would write? Should we try that?”

I felt dread pool in my belly like hot wax. There was a general unease in the classroom, and people started to grumble and murmur under their breaths.

“Don't like that idea, eh? Lucky for you, I don't like it either. For starters, people would either be too nice or too brutal – and we'd get very little honesty. Secondly, although it DOES matter what others think of you . . . yes, I said it, it does matter.” Wilson paused to make sure we were listening. “We all like to throw out those cuddly cliches that it doesn't, but in a business sense, in a relationship sense, in a real-world sense, it DOES matter.” He emphasized “does” and eyed us all again.

“So although it matters, it doesn't matter as much as what we think of ourselves because, as we discussed earlier on in the year, our beliefs affect our lives in very real ways. They affect our story. So. I want YOU to label yourself. Twenty labels. Be as honest as you can. Each label should be one word – two max. Make it short. Labels are just that . . . short and unforgiving, aren't they?”

Wilson opened a huge box of black Sharpies and proceeded to hand one to every student in the class. Permanent marker. Nice. I watched as everyone got busy around me. Chrissy had eschewed the Sharpie for her gel pens and was busy writing words like “awesome” and “cute” on her labels. I felt like writing KICK ME on one of my labels and sticking it to her ass. Then I would write SCREW YOU on the rest of them and smack them one by one on Wilson's forehead. He was so aggravating! How could someone I liked so much make me so angry?

The image of Wilson with labels on his forehead made me smile for a second. But only for a second. This assignment was seriously messed up and seriously degrading. I looked down at the little white boxes in front of me, just waiting for me to tell it like it is. What would I put? Pregnant? Knocked-up? That would qualify. Two words, right? Or how about Skank? Maybe . . . LOSER? How about Screwed? Done? Finished? Game over? The word that popped into my head next had me shuddering. Mother. Oh, hell no.

“I can't do this!” I said loudly, emphatically.

Everyone looked at me, Sharpies paused, mouths open. And I hadn't really been talking about the assignment at all. But I found I couldn't do it either. I wouldn't do it.

“Blue?” Wilson questioned softly.

“I won't do this.”

“Why not?” His voice was still just as soft, just as gentle. I wished he would yell back.

“Because it's wrong . . . and it's . . . stupid!”


“Because it's incredibly personal! That's why!” I threw my hands in the air and shoved the labels onto the floor. “I could lie and write down a bunch of words that mean nothing, words I don't believe, but then what would be the point? So I'm not going to do it.”

Wilson leaned back against the chalk board and stared at me, his hands clasped loosely.

“So what you're telling me is you refuse to label yourself. Right?”

I stared back at him stonily.

“You refuse to label yourself?” he asked again. “Because it that's the case, then you've just passed this little test with flying colors.” A protest started up around me, kids feeling like they had been given the short end of the stick because they had done what they had been asked to do. Wilson just ignored them and continued on. “I want you to throw the labels away. Peel them off, rip them up, scribble them out, throw them in the rubbish bin.”

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