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  • One morning when I was small, a teacher told me, “Repeat a word too many times and it loses all meaning.”

    I remember looking down in a daze at the tiles below my feet after hearing this. I thought, upset at the idea, “Repeating a word should make it mean more. We can’t lose meaning. Meaning means. That’s what it does. That’s what words do. …What do you know?”

    A sometimes petulant child, I was described in my early report cards as “Thoughtful, Bubbly, intelligent…but sharp.” I’ve often imagined they meant “and sharp” – thinking back to that morning, though, its clear what they meant. And its true.

    What do you know?

    Later that same morning, as I halfheartedly played foursquare on the hard top everything seemed to darken. Words jumped out of world around me, tugged at me, pulling me out of the game – pulling me out of focus.

    Ball. Square. Net. Boy. Worm. Sky. Pink. Line. Brick. Hair. Shoe. Net. Game. Ringing. Ringing! Bell. Bell!

    I jolted, the metallic clang piercing the fog and followed the others inside, the last to the brown steel doors.

    At lunch we left made our way out again to play soccer but, as I reached the field – a word, a knowing floated up.

    “No.” No.

    I couldn’t play – wouldn’t…and it bent our team out of shape – the perpetual underdogs chasing at the heels of the next grade couldn’t do so without a goalie.

    “Well why not?” Scott shouted, but I couldn’t answer – wouldn’t speak. When he persisted I shouted back at him as I ran, “Leave me alone!”

    I went as fast as I could to the bluffs, a set of crumbling clay cliffs overlooking lake Ontario my school sat back from. Pulling the long grasses that covered the outcropping, I dropped down, remembering the play we performed the previous year and its triumphant finale. Hidden from the prying eyes of the teachers, we had declared ourselves kings in construction paper crowns – casting them down to the rocks below when the bell had finally rung.

    No royal notion swelled in my chest that day. Hiding again in the grass a foot from the edge, my feet hanging off, I rubbed the tendrils over my face. That day I was a warlock. A mage. A witch of words. A peasant.

    Looking out over the lake, I began to say, to chant, to whisper the first word that came to mind.

    “Scott, Scott, Scott…”

    Ten, twenty, a hundred times. Onwards, more, bending the letters around each other – a machine of consonants and vowels – until as I spoke I saw all the meaning blown out of the words, away like steam from a cauldron.

    Scottscottscottscottscott

    Scott

    It had no meaning. He had no meaning. “Scott?”

    Focusing on the sound, the rolling of the syllables of my tongue – I knew.

    The repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition is just a device. A light to show what’s already there… whats not.

    Behind me on the asphalt, the large red bell rang again. Teachers called out, clanging their smaller hand bells to herd us in. And the words came again.

    Late. Detention. Worried. Trouble.

    I trudged back through the wet field. The mud and clover.

    I went with a new knowing, all my other words fell out – out of my pockets, out of my hands. Slipping from the crook of my neck, drifting away at every exhale from my b-r-e-a-t-h-e – a trail of litter behind me blowing in the wind. A thousand empty Candy bar wrappers.

    You. Me. Grass. Rain. Mud. Friend. Caterpillar. Post. School. Love. Truck. Dress. Bell. Hall. Door. Teacher. Desk.

    Desk.

    I sat down and looked at the teacher standing by the chalk board. I looked over at Scott.

    S-c-o-t-t. F-r-i-e-n-d. S-M-A-R-T. S-h-o-r-t. I gathered all all the other letters I could amass to name, to describe Scott. To name Scott. To know him. His of-ness. And when all the letters stacked up
    A skyscraper towering far above
    Our tiny desks
    it wasn’t enough.

    I stared. I stared at Scott. His of-ness. And I rhymed

    All the words high above still can’t describe my best friend’s of.
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