19: Ugly

19: Ugly

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love


Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.


It was the last day of school before winter vacation. Gray clouds drifted across the darkening sky; icy winds whipped outside my sixth grade math class, and despite the fact that I normally paid very close attention in class, I found myself slipping into a reverie. After all, how could one focus when Christmas and all its joy were just a few days away?

The bell rang and students darted out of classrooms. I joined the crowds, in a daze as backpack after backpack thumped against my body and voices roared over my head.

I made my way out of the school, and smiled as I saw my twin sister Meli and our good friend Peter chatting near a frozen tree. I raced toward them, and I found Meli wearing an odd, almost breezy smile. Peter’s eyes glowed with the promise of juicy gossip.

“Hey,” I said, glancing toward our temporarily immobile school bus waiting a good distance away. I didn’t want to miss my ride home, after all.

“Aaron called us ugly,” my sister said. “Peter sits with them in math class and he told me. Sam said you did a weird licking thing with your tongue whenever you talk, too,” she added.

For a moment I was stunned, confused, and sad. In an instant, those emotions melted together into humiliation and shame.

Meli seemed oblivious to my hurt feelings. “I don’t even know who Aaron is,” she admitted and Peter laughed. I thought for a moment. It was our first few months in the new middle school. Both boys were from the elementary school on the other side of town, and I knew Sam from numerous classes we had together. I only vaguely recalled Aaron. He was a jock with a petite girlfriend.

My eyes began to tear up. “Thanks a lot, Peter,” I managed to spit out before racing away from the people who I couldn’t wait to talk to moments before.

I rushed toward the bus, burrowing into the corner of a two-seater. My breath fogged up the cold window I leaned my cheek against. I fought the lump in my throat, the tears behind my eyes. As if things couldn’t get any worse, a girl I was slightly friendly with sat next to me. We had played softball together for the last few years on the recreational team and lived near one another. I turned my face away from her as the first hot tear rolled down my cheek. She said a few things to me, nothing I can remember. It took her a moment to realize I was crying, I believe, and she stopped talking. I silently thanked her.

All my insecurities had transformed into sharp knives, and each one was stabbing me over and over again, a relentless force.

My hair was too frizzy. My eyes too brown. I had uncool clothes. I was fat. I was ugly.


After what seemed like a million years, the bus rolled to a stop in front of my house. Hunching forward, I stepped out, my sister walking quickly several feet in front of me.

I was eager to tell my mom about my horrible day, but my sister sprinted upstairs first, and I couldn’t bear to face both of them at once.

I took a few minutes to wash my puffy face, trying to hide the tears I’d shed. My mother would make it better, I knew. Well, I hoped. At this point, it was the only thing I had left to hold onto.

When I heard my sister heading into the kitchen, I trudged upstairs. My mom was typing away on her laptop, her glasses propped on the straight bone of her nose. She looked up when I entered.

“A boy at school called me ugly,” I said, my voice drained of any pride, my pulled-together demeanor crumbling.

Mom nodded. “He called Meli ugly, also.”

My eyes stung as that awful lump swelled again in my throat. “Well, a different boy said I did a weird thing with my tongue, too!”

My mother switched gears from college professor to concerned mother. “Come here,” she soothed, and I fell onto her bed, as my repressed tears sprang forward.

“Meli said she didn’t care. She didn’t know the boy,” Mom said matter-of-factly.

“He’s in my advisory!” I spit out. This wasn’t working out as I’d planned; my mother simply didn’t understand the pain I was feeling.

She looked at me with wide green eyes. “Do you care?”

I jumped off the bed, wiped away my tears and yelled, “You don’t get it!” I slammed her door and stormed to our bottom floor, past my older brother Matt and into our overheated laundry room, where my sister and I shared a computer.

My heart ached and anger surged through every one of my limbs.

How dare they destroy my vacation, I thought bitterly, cursing Sam and especially Aaron.

The fury was overwhelming and it took up so much space in my body it cast away everything else: my good grades, my loyal friends, any confidence I had in myself. I was a mess, and all because of one little word. A few minutes later, my mom quietly entered the room and sat next to me. “Al,” she said and I looked at her. “I don’t want you to be upset. He’s just a boy. One boy might think licking your lips or whatever is weird; another might think it’s beautiful.” She went on. “And so what if one person thinks you’re ugly? You’re not ugly. Not everyone will think you’re great looking, but no one will think you’re ugly, because you’re not. Even Matt said he’s just some stupid boy.”

I looked at her and nodded. My anger toward her melted away easily, as it always did. We embraced and I felt slightly better. Everything she said made sense. Considering she was my mother, her compliments weren’t the biggest confidence booster, but I could feel my spirits lift a little bit.

Two and a half years later, my life has moved on from the words of two boys I had barely ever spoken to. Still, there have been days when I’ve gone back to that horrible moment in time, and felt myself shrink back to sixth grade. I’ve used it as an excuse to cry, to pity myself. But, I’ve realized over the years that if I render those two boys and their words powerless, then I am the one in power, and I choose when and why I don’t feel good about myself. I am superior.

No one, I think, ever forgets the first person who calls them ugly. But, I’m lucky enough to realize that I don’t need to forget what happened to understand that other people’s words — no matter how cruel — are as important as I make them. In this case, they’re meaningless.

~Ali Lauro

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