Building off of my last post on the subject of words, their power, and the responsibility that comes with them but we seldom think about, I give you:
The Day I Destroyed Someone
At thirteen years of age, I was nothing like the confident, well-rounded young teens you read about in books or see on kid TV sitcoms. I had moved from state to state, from school to school, and was in a constant state of trying to define myself. Being required to integrate into society so often, I had reached a point where I didn’t care about integrating anymore and if I happened to make friends I gladly seized upon the relationships. I also tended to be socially reclusive and awkward, and that particular year I made some big mistakes.
While not going into all the details, backstory, or build-up, I reached a point where I stepped over the line from victim of circumstances to an active maker of new circumstances, and I’m sad to say, these were not mostly good.
It’s a funny thing. When you’ve experienced ostracism, ridicule, and verbal bullying, you learn a lot about how to turn around and do it yourself. The justification in the back of your mind is that you are the victim still and you’re just defending yourself. It’s only in hindsight that I realize how deceived I was.
So here is the worst of my experiences that year:
I had a class that mixed two grades. An older girl started talking to me, befriending me, and I was glad for the attention and kindness. It wasn’t too long before she caught up to me on my way to class and with best of intentions told me that the boy who sat behind me had a crush on me. I think she thought I would be flattered and excited. I was horrified.
Not that this boy was terrible, lewd, obnoxious, or even ugly. He wasn’t someone I was afraid of, but I was not attracted to him. Back then, and for many years afterwards, I had the deluded notion that if someone liked someone else then they deserved to be liked back. Funny how that never worked out for me; the boys I liked usually didn’t reciprocate, even if they always seemed to for other girls. The idea of liking and being liked by a boy was still relatively new and foreign to me. I had no clue what to do with those emotions.
So I suffered in silence for a long time, self-inflicted torture, as I imagined that boy sitting behind me every day, his gaze drilling into the back of my head, his thoughts—no doubt—plotting how to make me like him back. Yes, it sounds utterly ridiculous now, but to a very impressionable and sensitive thirteen year old, it made perfect sense.
He also had another class with me, later in the day, and thankfully that class didn’t have an alphabetized seating chart. I took great care not to acknowledge him or sit anywhere near him, desperately hoping he would transfer his affections to someone else.
Well, the older girl made another remark about his liking me a couple of months later. I think she was hoping I would open up and confide to her. Instead, her words were the last straw. That night I concocted a plan to free me from the unwanted devotions of this boy. Please note, so far he’d done nothing amorous towards me except smile.
I wrote him a note. Oh, what a note! While I can’t remember the exact wording anymore, the general gist ran along the lines of saying why I couldn’t stand him and that he had to leave me alone, in the most virulent terms I could think of. I was heated and shaking as I wrote it, and I continued to feel heated and shaky the next day as I carried the note with me. I decided to give him the note at the end of the second class we had together, since it was the second to last class period.
I still remember how elated he looked as I walked up to him, called him by name, and handed him the note. Then I hurried off.
The next time I saw him, he wouldn’t look at me. He couldn’t stop crying in class, and had to be excused.
At first I felt relieved. No more romantic thoughts from him! I had a wicked sense of empowerment. Not long after the girl confronted me and scolded me for what I had done. I stood my ground defensively and needless to say, we didn’t really talk to each other anymore after that.
I went on to make a couple more horrible social mistakes that year. It was growing into a trend. Try to imagine a dark black cloud hanging over your head because that’s how I felt from the moment I first saw that boy cry. I refused to acknowledge the cloud for awhile, but soon my conscience broke through my stubborn, stupid sense of self-preservation, and over the summer I came to terms that what I had done was wrong. Very, very wrong.
I had destroyed someone with my words.
The next school year I found myself again sharing a class with that boy, the first class of the day. We carefully avoided each other, even though we sat in close proximity due to our last names. I tried to move on as if nothing had happened, but I couldn’t let it go. That letter haunted me.
One beautiful morning I was walking outside toward class when I happened upon the boy coming from the opposite direction. Heart in throat, shaking, I stepped in front of him and forced him to stop. Then I apologized and asked him to forgive me. And he did.
It in the seconds after that exchange that the black cloud lifted. I felt light and good inside—still shaky though, because social exchanges were my weak spot. That boy and I were able to participate in group projects after that without awkwardness or bad feelings.
My words were able to heal, him surely, but mostly me. I had destroyed myself even as I tried to destroy him. Our words can delude us, and repeated often enough, our opinions, assumptions, and personal mantras become hardwired into our thinking and actions.
About a year ago I happened to run into my past on a social media site. I saw a picture of the boy all grown up with a beautiful wife. I felt so happy for him, and had another twinge of shame at my past behavior. My note had made him feel worthless and rejected. I don’t think I could face the woman he married without wanting the earth to swallow me up. I will say that after that disastrous year I never did something that horrible to anyone else.
So now you can all run for the hills. I’ve been a villain and know how to get into the head of one. Remember some of the key points of a good antagonist are that they believe they are in the right, or are the victim, and that the protagonist is the villain.
If I haven’t scared you off completely, stay tuned for part three in which I’ll share an example of words having authority and how that authority can override a person’s moral code.