Words Matter

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***

I knew Artie for his stories.

He'd always been the star of English class, but these weren't school projects. They were personal, stitched together with words you could tell came from the heart, not the prompt on an assignment.

Incidentally, English class was where I discovered them. We all hated having to stand up and read aloud what we'd written—all except Artie. He'd stand there unfazed, and the words that poured out were strung together with such delicate talent that I found myself hanging onto each one. The excerpt ended with a heart-wrenching cliffhanger, and I was left longing for more.

"You have to finish that," I'd told him, when he sat back down. "I need to know what happens."

He smiled gratefully, but didn't tell me. Instead, he passed over a slip of paper, on which he'd scribbled two things: a website and username.

Later that evening, I looked it up. My laptop opened his page, and I was faced with a whole collection of fiction: full novels, patchwork anthologies, passing thoughts just half a page long, all hidden in his own small corner of the internet. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop.

For a while, I was the only one that knew. It was just me on the edge of my seat, silently enthralled, craving the next installment.

But a few months later, someone from school found out, and they weren't so kind.

The news spread with the speed of light. Apparently, even in this day and age, a guy with an incredible talent for romance stories just couldn't be left alone. Steady encouragement in the comment section turned into a tirade of ugly, unnecessary abuse—all from cowards hiding behind anonymous avatars.

Reading it made me feel sick; I couldn't imagine how Artie felt. He never replied, never once gave them the satisfaction—but I did notice how his posts became gradually less frequent. What once had been a chapter a day became barely a hundred words a month. They were winning.

I missed the stories, the worlds, the way his writing made me feel. Most of all, though, I missed the way Artie would come alive beside me in English class.

I'd spent months holding silent appreciation, but that had to change. I knew that much. So one evening, alone in my room, I found my voice. The words escaped through my fingertips, dancing across the keyboard, setting free what I'd never before let Artie know.

I wasn't quite brave enough to attach my name, but I did sign off with something I thought spoke louder.

Your words matter.

It was one message among too many others, but it seemed to shine.

I didn't know whether Artie read it, let alone what he thought. He wasn't one to bask in compliments. But his words kept coming, which meant so did mine.

It was several years later that I had a shock in the bookstore. Still a broke college student, brand new books were a luxury, so I was taking my time choosing what was worthy of my birthday gift card. As my gaze flickered from one to the next, a name suddenly jumped out—and recognition made my heart skip a beat.

It was Artie's.

It felt weird to see the words on paper, not a screen, and I couldn't help smiling. I was flicking through the pages when something caught my eye, and my insides flipped. The dedication page.

Dedicated to someone special, it read. Someone who once told me what I needed to hear: that my words matter.  

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