They Call Me Red

I'm writing this for every single friend of mine who has ever been ridiculed by society. So basically...I think that's all of us?
I love you.

They Call Me Red

"You don't know Red?" he asked me, shocked. "I thought everyone knew Red!"

I shook my head. "Never heard of her," I replied. "Does she have bright red hair or something?"

Laughing, he crammed the rest of his books and papers into his satchel. "You'll have to see for yourself," he answered vaguely, throwing the satchel over his shoulder. "I'm gonna be late to class. I'll see you later."

That was the first I'd heard of Red. Kayla Andrews, that's what he'd said her real name was. But they all called her "Red," for reasons I didn't know. I waved goodbye to my friend and headed over to the cafeteria, where I was meeting some friends for lunch.

I had more important things to think about than why Kayla Andrews was called Red.

The drill was the same as always. Swipe the ID card. Place my backpack at the table where my friends were sitting. Get in line for food. Stuff my face with whatever "food" the caf had to offer. If it was my lucky day, I'd actually like some of the food and go back to get more. I'd just sat down at my table with a plate full of pizza and canned fruit when the friend next to me raised her hand in the air and called out, "Red! Hey, Red! How're you doing?"

Craning my head to see who my friend was greeting, I was shocked to see not a redhead but a brunette walking by. She wasn't wearing red, either - just a cute little blue sundress and coordinating arm warmers, complete with just normal brown sandals. 

The girl stopped and scurried over to my table, where she squeezed my friend's shoulder and exclaimed, "Hey, gorgeous! I'm great, how are you?"

As the two of them talked, I tried to pinpoint just why this girl would be called Red. She wasn't wearing red lipstick. She didn't have a volatile personality. Her backpack was just plain black. Nope; nothing red about her.

Well, whatever. I shoveled the rest of my food down my throat and headed out of the cafeteria, needing to use the bathroom before my next class.

I entered the bathroom and saw Red standing there at the sink, arm warmers removed so that she could wash her hands without getting her clothes wet. She smiled and said hello to me, and I, feeling the need to say something back, decided upon the first conversation-starter to enter my mind.

"So. Why do they call you Red?"

It was then that I glanced down at Red's arms. Crisscrossing streaks of broken skin slashed their way across her forearms, signs of former angst. The scars were healed, but there was no hiding it: a razor had been dragged across her skin, countless times before. They couldn't have been more than a few months old, those scars.

Red followed my gaze and smiled ruefully. "That's how the nickname started," she said. "People saw the scars on my arms - they were fresh and sometimes even bleeding, back then - and they decided to make fun of me by calling me Red. I usually don't hide the scars, but today's a cold day, and I wanted the extra warmth. But yeah...that's why I'm Red."

I was taken aback. "That's...that's awful."

"Yeah, it was. Being labeled by society like that is no fun. But you know what? I haven't cut for four months. I stopped, right before college began. But when college rolled around, I introduced myself as Red. Know why?"

"Why?"

"Because I want people to ask me about my name. I can tell them about how I used to be low, but now, I found my way out of it. That's the thing about labels - you can turn them into something meaningful."

I swallowed. "Is that so."

"Yeah. Do you have any labels?"

I fingered the edge of my cardigan and looked away. "Actually...yeah. I've always been the nerd. I'm smart, but I don't have all the social graces other people have."

"Nerds are some of the best people I know!" Red laughed. "Who was it that said 'Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff'? John Green, right?"

I shifted uncomfortably, and she headed to the door. "I've gotta run to class, but before I leave, I want you to know something." She leaned in and looked me in the eyes. "Don't be ashamed. Take your label and make it something beautiful. I know I did."

I watched as Kayla headed out of the bathroom, a spring in her step. Maybe she was right.

The End

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