She came bouncing in the cream-colored hallway, busting through the paint-chipped red metal door beaming with excitement. An equally beaming voice comes booming through the hallway speakers: “This is your principal speaking, wishing you a great first day! Welcome back, Tigers!” Her thick, curly brown locks are bouncing with excitement, settling just beneath her shoulders. Her round black glasses are firmly fitted on her face, clearly two sizes too small. Her mouth is wired from top to bottom in an assortment of colors. Her shirt is a plain black, with residue of morning toothpaste crusted down the middle. A yellow and black checkered skirt bounces with each of her skips. Atop her shoulders and cast along her body lies a black cape that has been folded in the dresser for too long.
Leaning against the blue rackety lockers is a group of three boys, each of them dressed alike. Their legs are clad with skinny jeans with rips that expose their scrawny legs, their arms crossed across their pre-pubescent chests, with unkind smiles draped across their faces. Their eyes are intently following Matilda bouncing down the hall. As she passes them with nothing but delight on her face, they all snicker.
Matilda reaches her locker, which is the same locker as she has had in the past. Half-torn flower stickers and white sticky paper covered her blue locker; the janitor’s attempts over the summer failed to remove all the stickers completely. She opens her locker, unzips her sequined unicorn backpack, removes her lunch, and gathers her books.
“Are we all ready for the first day of school?” she exclaimed. The boys who are still intensely watching Matilda burst into fits of laughter.
“Who are you talking to, Matilda?” one of the boys asks as the others muffle their laughter behind their small hands.
Puzzled to what the boys are asking, Matilda stutters back, “Uhhh . . . my, uh . . . friends.” Matilda is uncomfortable with the boys confronting her, but she is puzzled as to why the boys don’t understand who she is talking to. Her friends are standing around her locker, ready for school. The boys are laughing, because the only thing surrounding Matilda’s locker is a half-chewed pencil and a small spiderweb that formed in between the bottom of the locker and the ground. “Well, uh . . . we have to get to class.” The boys laughed, and their laughter echoes in Matilda’s ear.
Later that day, Matilda is sitting in reading class writing about what she did over the summer. Surrounding her lone desk are empty chairs, although to Matilda those chairs are filled, filled with her friends. On her paper she accounts her many adventures that she and her friends had. She is diligently scribing on her paper, which has quickly turned to multiple pages. Her handwriting is so large that it takes up two lines, not one. Matilda is interrupted by a girl who rushes by her desk, the girl has her legs crossed and her hands holding herself. As the girl whizzes by, she causes a gust of wind that blows Matilda’s story across the classroom, settling in the boys’ area. With a sly grin one, of the boys picks up Matilda’s paper.
This summer I played with my freinds. There names are Sparkly McMuffin, Fluffer, and Puffle Paulie. We went on lots of adventures. In the beginning of summer, we went to the lake. Sparkly McMuffin weared the prettiest bathing suit. Puffle Paulie doesnt like the water, he is afraid he will drowned in the water. My brithday is also in the summer. All my freinds and I celebrated by brithday. We had special cake with sprinkles on top. My mommy and my daddy and sparkly mcmuffin and fluffer and puffle paulie all sang to me. It was a happy day. The bestest day was when we played in the tree house in my backyard. We were adventurerers. I was the leader. Sparkly McMcuffin was my side-kick and fluffer and puffle paulie were also there. That was the bestest day ever.
All three of them quickly scan the words on the page. After finishing, the boys glance up toward the teacher, who is fascinated with a book behind her desk. The boys share common glances and begin to snicker. All the while Matilda has gathered up the courage to approach the boys and ask them for her paper back. “Heeeeey, uh, can I . . . uh, have my, ah, uh, paper back, p-please?”
One of the boys responds sarcastically, “Sounds like you had soooooo much fun this summer.”
Another boy chirps up, “Yah, your friends sound like they are sooooo cool.” This statement causes the boys to erupt in laughter.
The teacher snaps her head back from her book. “Boys! What is so funny over there?” The teacher’s stern look isn’t enough to put the boys in their place.
The third boy, who up until this point has remained silent, acknowledges the teacher. “Oh, we were just telling Matilda how cool her summer sounded.” The teacher knowingly glances at the three boys and back to Matilda.
“All right, back to your seat, Matilda. Boys, pipe down, you still have five more minutes of writing time until some of your classmates share.” The five minutes quickly pass. Matilda finishes her summer story, and the teacher begins to call on some of her classmates to share. The teacher knowingly calls on one of the boys who were previously causing a ruckus in her class. The boy gets up and walks to the front of the class as the other two boys laugh at his discomfort.
“Well . . . I went to this really cool football camp. We got to sleep in cabins and play football all day. One day it like rained a lot, and we were so muddy. But that honestly was the best day. We could like stay up really late and eat like so much junk food, and we were allowed to drink as much soda as we wanted. Oh, and like I meant a ton of NFL football players, not like the ones that sit on the bench but like the ones that play on the field.”
“Very well now, sounds like you had a fun summer. Thank you for sharing, Garrett. Would you like to pick on the next person to share?” Garrett glances around the room, seeing twenty hands dart up in the air with their fingers spread wide. However, his eyes fall on Matilda, who seems to be the only one in the classroom without her hand raised. With great satisfaction, Garrett calls on Matilda.
Matilda’s eyes widen with shock. She stands up, trembling in her Velcro shoes. She slowly makes her way to the front of the classroom. She remembers what her mom has told her. She takes a deep breath and begins. “So, I, uh, played with my, uh, friends this summer. Their n-n-names are Sparkly McMuffin, Fluffer, and Puffle Paulie.” The class erupts in laughter. The teacher’s attempts to settle the class fail. Shaking in her shoes in the front of the classroom, Matilda begins to cry. She doesn’t know why they are laughing at her, but she is terrified of the amount of attention she is getting. The teacher now tries to console Matilda.
Matilda goes home that day with puffy eyes, feeling sad.
The rest of the school year isn’t so great for Matilda. The boys start name-calling and hurting Matilda’s feelings more and more every day. Matilda often goes home with puffy eyes.
That is her nickname. The boys start calling Matilda “Puffy Eyes” and soon got the whole grade to start calling her that. It’s gotten so bad that some people have forgotten that her name is Matilda. Matilda doesn’t like the name-calling. She doesn’t like people making fun of her. She tries to stand up for herself, but whenever she talks, she stutters. This causes whoever she is talking to to laugh in her face. Since this is always the outcome, Matilda eventually stops talking.
Matilda’s teachers and parents notice the change in Matilda. They are worried. They collectively decide that they are going to enroll Matilda in speech therapy. It turns out Matilda has a speech disorder, which causes her to stutter. She is also diagnosed with social anxiety, which consequently makes her stutter worse. The doctors present Matilda’s parents with multiple options. Matilda’s parents decide it would be best if they start her on anxiety medication, so that can help her stutter. After a few months they will reevaluate.
Matilda still won’t talk when she is at school. By now it is almost Christmas; the children in her class won’t stop talking. Yet Matilda, at her lone desk, is as silent as Santa coming down the chimney. Just because Matilda stopped talking doesn’t mean the boys did too. Unfortunately, it gets worse.
Every day it is something new.
Every day it is something worse.
And every day Matilda cries harder.
It is approaching the end of the school year. Matilda has been enrolled in speech therapy for almost six months. Her progress is amazing—almost no stutter. But the boys at school don’t know that, because she continues not talking as if her mouth is wired shut.
The cream-colored hallways are brightly lit. The suns’ rays are streaming in. The freshly coated red door swings open, revealing Matilda. Her hair frizzy and tangled, her brown curly hair moving as one chunk. Her glasses, still two sizes too small, are fastened on her face. Her shirt is covered in dog hair, and her pants have various stains on them. Her shoes are fastened on the wrong feet; her smile is worn upside down. She makes it to her locker, which is now a plain blue like the rest of them. The janitor was finally able to remove all her stickers. The boys, now five inches taller, stand in the hallway watching her intently. Almost in synch, the boys move toward Matilda. Sensing what is happening, Matilda straightens her stance and prepares herself.
She has been practicing in therapy how to stand up to bullies. Her therapist and her mom worked with her on what to say. They had all come to the conclusion that Matilda would tell the boys exactly how she felt.
When the boys approach her, she is ready. She says, “Look, you guys have been very mean to me this school year. I am very quiet, and I have a speech problem. That’s why I don’t like talking. You boys have made me cry every day. But I have realized that I have gotten a lot better with how I talk. And even if you boys are mean to me, I should be proud of who I am. And I am proud. You guys can continue to make fun of me, but know it’s not going to bother me anymore.”
The boys look at each other and laugh.
“Whatever, Matilda,” they call back. Matilda watches them walk away. There are no more tears lining Matilda’s eyes—she is happy with who she is. She is not ashamed of herself or her friends. Matilda can’t wait to go home and tell her mom what she accomplished today.