Living in Paradise

Hurtful Words Linger

Hurtful Words Linger

It’s the little things that people say to you that linger. Sometimes forever.

Recently, I found my man in the closet staring at a row of long-sleeve shirts as though he wasn’t sure what to wear.

“Got a problem?” I asked.

“I haven’t worn that blue and white shirt for at least a year. Every time I think about putting it on, I remember what Jerry said to me about it … that it looks like the top to my pajamas.”

“Ridiculous,” I responded. “He was probably joking. I’m sure he doesn’t remember saying that. Don’t let that off-hand comment keep you from wearing that expensive Brooks Brothers shirt I bought for you.”

He nodded and chose something else.

Over the years, I have fallen victim to the remarks people toss off and then promptly forget. They are often innocent enough but can have a devastating effect.

Back in the late 1960s, I was in Florida interviewing baseball players in spring training for The Indianapolis Star. The sports editor thought it would be “fun” to have a woman writing about sports. (That’s another story.)

Pete Rose was young and cocky and making a positive name for himself as a hitter for the Cincinnati Reds. I was wearing a short-sleeve green top and firing what I thought were snappy questions his direction when he said: “You’ve got big arms for such a little girl.”

Big arms! I was in my early 20s and weighed about 115 pounds and Pete Rose was denigrating a part of my body to which I had never given a second thought. I managed to finish the interview, thank him for his time, and head back to my hotel room … all the time thinking about the size of my arms.

It was the last day I wore anything sleeveless. Decades have past and you still won’t catch me without my arms covered. Now I have valid reasons for keeping them hidden. It’s not like they have gotten smaller in the ensuing years.

When in 2008 I saw the commentary about Michelle Obama’s muscular arms – some positive but other’s annoyingly negative – I remembered Pete’s casual but hurtful words.

Fast forward to today and an approaching literary panel discussion at a local venue involving me, a best-selling author, and a noted historian. I’m still asking myself how I got invited to join that esteemed group. Apparently, others wonder as well.

“I have advance copies of my new book,” I texted. “Can I bring them to sell?”

“I think not,” was the reply.

Countless authors have spoken at this venue and had their books available for purchase. The “I think not” was a stringing rebuke of my literary efforts and the twelve months I put into making Under the Sand something readers might enjoy. Suck it up and move on, I told myself. But the words linger.

Maybe I should stop thinking about what was said and focus on getting my arms in shape. Or better still, I’ll work on not caring about what thoughtless words sometimes come out of other people’s mouths and watch what I say, as well.