48: Equally Beautiful

48: Equally Beautiful

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Equally Beautiful

Share our similarities, celebrate our differences.

~M. Scott Peck

“Hey, do you want some fried rice-ee?” I bit my lower lip and pretended I didn’t hear. “What’s wrong? Don’t you understand any English? Eee-ngrish?”

I slammed my locker shut, clutching my science textbook to my chest. Rooted in front of locker 163, I blinked furiously to prevent tears from spilling down my face and giving them the satisfaction of seeing me cry.

“Stupid, what are you staring at?”

I stood still. The pretty, teal blue that the school had painted the lockers with in the beginning of this year was peeling, revealing a dreadful, bleak gray — its true colors.

When I was eleven years old, I was teased for who I am.

Prior to entering middle school, I had never been self-conscious about my differences; I didn’t understand why my classmates teased me about my “Engrish” when I spoke English like everyone else. As far as I knew, I was just as American as anyone else. I was born in the United States. I wore jeans, T-shirts and sneakers; I liked hot dogs, mashed potatoes and ice cream. I giggled on my hot pink phone to my best friends and developed crushes on cute boys. I listened to Britney Spears, *NSYNC and was in love with Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys. The only differences that I could see were in my appearance; my hair was black while my friends’ hair was blond, red, and brown; my eyes were chocolate and theirs were green, blue, and honey-colored.

One spring afternoon, I hopped into the passenger seat of my mother’s Jeep and hid my bloodied palms underneath my legs. Earlier, a group of seventh grade girls had followed me down the hall during lunch break, yelling one particular derogatory term. When I didn’t respond, they snapped. “Don’t you know it’s rude to not respond when someone’s calling your name?” They pushed me onto the asphalt, where I scraped my hands.

“How was school?” my mom asked.

“Fine.” I looked out the window.

“Lots of homework today?” she cast a quick glance at my dirtied backpack.

“Some,” I muttered.

As soon as my mom pulled into the garage, I hurried into my bathroom and washed the brown, dried blood off my hands. Sneaking into my parents’ office, I uncovered a roll of gauze, which I carefully wound about my hands. When I returned downstairs for my afternoon snack, my mother was standing in the kitchen waiting for me.

“Pearl,” she began angrily, her left hand on her left hip. “Why didn’t you eat your lunch? You just wasted food that I took so long to prepare for you.”

I hid my hands behind my back and sat down in the dining room chair. “I didn’t have enough time.”

My mother stared at me for a moment, as if deliberating whether this was worth a reprimand. Finally, she exhaled. “Eat your snack,” she said quietly. Relieved that the discussion was over, I forgot about my hands and lifted them to the table. My mother suddenly gasped.

“What happened to your hands?” she cried, rushing over to the table.

“I fell,” I began, watching helplessly as my mother unwound the gauze.

My mother stared at the scrapes piercing diagonally across my palms. “How?”

I lowered my head, pausing for a moment to make up an excuse. I could have said that I tripped during physical education. Or that I tripped over untied shoelaces. But I heard myself whisper, “Some girls pushed me.”

My mother’s gentle, steady breathing abruptly ceased. I looked up at her quickly, out of concern and curiosity. She was standing over me, concentrating her eyes on my face, with an expression that I’ve seen only during the rare moments when she accidentally slices her finger while preparing vegetables.

Suddenly, she was kneeling in front of me, holding onto my wrists so tightly that the pink beds of her nails turned into a milky white. “Listen to me,” she began fervently. “And listen to me well. Do not let others hurt you in any way, and if they do, do not allow them to think that they can get away with it. Do not believe that you are somehow less than them, because you’re not. We are all equal, each blessed with a brain that keeps you going, hands to do your work and feet to carry you far. These years are difficult because you’ve been given something different and others around you don’t know how to respond to it. But do not despair, even for one moment, for I can assure you that this too shall pass, and if you keep your head on straight and embrace the person that you are, you will go far.”

Seven years later, I graduated high school at the top of my class and chose to attend a prestigious university in Southern California. I made lifelong friends, whose hair colors varied from blond, brown, and black to red, purple, and green. I learned that appearance was only skin deep, and personality, intelligence and humor are the true treasures of each soul. I met people who not only tolerated differences, but also embraced them, and I have learned to embrace mine. My black hair-brown eyes-fair skin is just one combination in a vast melting pot of physical features, all of them equally beautiful, equally valued, and equally respected.

~Pearl Lee

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