Never be afraid to know what you know. Never be afraid to do what you do. Never be afraid to say something that gets stuck in your throat, because if you don't, it will choke you. Force it out.

We once exchanged words, out on the play set, and I don't mean the good kind of words. I mean the kind of words that tremble and tumble and embitter and suffer. I don't think we really knew who we were. How could we? We were children. In our world, children are supposed to be something and do something even when they're so little they still tumble over walking about. Isn't that what society wants? It wants everyone to be something. Definitions adorn every aspect of our lives: black, white; wrong, right; smart, stupid; big, small; poor, rich; fast, slow; different. Isn't that what it all comes down to? They question is never "How are we alike?" it's "How are we different?" Everyone wants themselves to be unique, for their children to be unique. It's not such a bad thing, until different becomes bad becomes wrong. Different is not wrong. Different is just different.

Back on the subject of my story, we were just children when we "exchanged words." I was such an angry little brat. You were so small, but surprisingly, full of fire. I probably shouldn't have insulted your older brother. High school drop-out turned solider, I supposed I thought he was a failure. I didn't know you'd just received news he'd been injured in battle. That doesn't justify my actions, of course, but I probably would not have been so callous, had I know. Probably. Kids can do some pretty mean things. God, we were so little.

I suppose, in the end, we exchanged more than words. I didn't hit you; you didn't hit me. We hurt each other, though, with our words. I wonder if you ever realized how much it hurt when you said my daddy was a no-good liar. Daddy didn't lie to me. It took me a long time to realize that he lied to everyone else, but he never lied to me, not directly, at least. I guess lies of omission should count, but whatever. I called your brother a dimwitted piece of trash, though. How did we even know some of the words we used? Did we really understand what it means to be "no-good" and "dimwitted"? I don't think we did. We were just repeating vitriol spewed from the mouths of people around us at other people we may or may not have known. We just knew those things were bad. We just wanted to hurt each other. Why is it that two little kids wanted to hurt each other so badly? How is it that we came by the tools, even the necessary malicious intent? Is it just human nature to be cruel to others? Is it part of our genetic code to claw to the top of the pack using whatever means necessary? Are we doomed to forever need to put others down so we stand the highest?

Those two little kids didn't so much as communicate with each for five years, beyond glares directed in each other's direction. Unless you count spreading rumors as communicating, in which case, they did a lot of communicating. Those two little kids knew more about social dynamics and what gets a person ostracized the fastest by the time they entered sixth grade than most people learn in their entire lives. Those two little kids understood hate. They hate seemed to come from nowhere. What separated them from each other? One was female; one was male. One was well-to-do; one was poor. Both were angry. Both were scared. Both were screaming on the inside, begging for someone to wrap them in their arms and keep the monsters at bay. Neither child had such a person in their lives at that point. It was fear that lead to the first outburst. Two little children, that had gotten on amicably, if not terribly closely, had simply opened their mouths and let all their insecure thoughts take rein of their speech. It all started with a simple "Hi."



"Your clothes are dirty."

"Your clothes are weird colors."

And suddenly, those two little children couldn't help but point out the flaws in each other, all in an attempt to hide their own flaws, their own fears. Isn't that what all of us do? We point out flaws in each other and try to ignore our own. The difference between fear that rules and fear that strengthens is how we approach ourselves. Some people never learn to scrutinize their motivations in everything they do. These people can sometimes lead very fulfilling lives, but under adversity, ignoring their own problems often leads these people to slip and fall. It is when we are at our lowest, then, that we strike the hardest at others. Fear is not always wrong. Fear is not even always bad. Fear, however, will always be powerful until it is faced head-on.

Fate threw us together one day, in our tenth grade biology class. Random partner assignments really are irritating. We could do a lot of the work on our own, but there was simply too much for either of us to do all of it. We were forced to work together; we were both fairly decent students, and we didn't want to fail the stupid project. We wanted to pick neutral ground to meet and work, but life had other things in store. Your family's only working vehicle stopped working, and going anywhere but to and from school just wasn't an option. You couldn't even stay after school, because you had to catch the bus. I was so annoyed that I had to drive to your house, but at least I had a license, so it worked out.

One day, I might tell you how I didn't mean to insult your mom, but I was just so dumbstruck by your living conditions that I couldn't make my voice work to reciprocate her greeting. I remember when your mom offered snacks, but you called out before I could accept, saying we'd eaten at school and weren't hungry. For whatever reason, probably that I was angry at having to drive to your house, I had actually noticed you in the lunch room that day. You didn't eat. Thinking back, I can only remember a handful of times I ever saw you eat lunch at school in the four years we were there.

The next time we had to collaborate on that infernal project, my mother, ever the gracious host, decided that she absolutely couldn't let your mother have to deal with two teenagers invading her home twice, and my mother not at all. Really, I just think Mom didn't want anyone having anything to hold over her. Dad did that often enough. But, whatever her reasoning, Mom promised to take you back home once we were finished. You were supposed to be long gone by the time Dad got home, but he came home early. I remember, so clearly, when he walked in the house yelling, demanding dinner be served, and your brow furrowed so deeply I thought for a moment you had a cut on your forehead. I should have been helping make dinner, but we were working. The only reason I didn't get yelled at for that oversight is you were there. I was actually thankful for your presence, because when Dad realized there was someone else in the house, he just grumbled and went off to be alone. That suited me just fine. By the time Mom had taken you home, he'd cooled off and was much easier to deal with, though still angry and annoying.

After we turned that project in, we kept tabs on each other. We'd sit across the lunchroom from each other, sometimes glancing up to meet the other's eyes. Somehow, junior year, we ended up in the same homeroom, and something just changed. Maybe we changed over the summer. Maybe we changed during that project. Maybe fate just decided it had had enough of our nonsense and made Mary Sue spill soda all over the both of us, but words were exchanged, and I mean the kind that marks the beginning of a long, long friendship.