Earlier today I was describing how I used to make fun of my brother and cousin for not having a girlfriend, about how much I’ve grown since then and how glad I am that I can be more considerate now.
My best friend came back with this: “You sound like you used to be a real bitch.”
I hesitated. “From how I’ve described myself to you?”
“Yeah. This and other things you’ve said about yourself.”
“Yeah, well I was.”
I’ve been thinking about this observation, and I’m sure sure that’s the whole truth. I really was a selfish, manipulative, little bitch. That’s true. But it’s an incomplete picture.
Sometimes I like to think that I am a completely different person than who I used to be, but that’s not the case. I’ve always been me. Distorted by pain, but still me. There are so many unwitting mistakes that litter the landscape of my past that it’s easy to spend all my time turning over and inspecting each piece of garbage, voicing every detail. But those mistakes were not and are not who I am.
I’ve always had an unusual ability to empathize with and care about people. Until after my first suicide attempt, until I really spiraled out of control and began lashing out at my best friends, I don’t think I’d ever had anyone ever really dislike me. It’s not that I was really special or something; I never had many close friends either, but I could listen. That counts for something. Even towards the end of high school and college, close friends would eye me with confusion and say something like, “I can’t believe you’re friends with Zach Goldberg. He’s such a douchebag.”
I’d shrug and offer, “I think there’s more to him than that.”
I didn’t fit neatly into any clique and was always befriend people that couldn’t stand to be in the same room as each other.
And then even when I was (or am) mean, I describe my mistakes with the benefit of a LOT of knowledge and self-awareness in retrospect. Many, many of the things I describe as inconsiderate or selfish, other people wouldn’t blink at. That doesn’t make them any less inconsiderate or selfish, but it does put it into the larger perspective.
When I say that I made fun of my brother and cousin, I don’t mean that I verbally ripped them to shreds. I mean that I teased. I’d bet them that I could find a boyfriend before they could find a girlfriend and my cousin would shake on it and tease me back about something else. Seems innocuous to a lot of people and certainly it seemed that way to me then. But now that I’ve cultivated a greater sensitivity to others, I wouldn’t ever dream tossing around those jibes again. And I know that they can feel the difference because of the way that they act in my presence and their willingness to freely share more of their lives with me.
I did a lot of shitty things to a lot of people and nothing will undo that. I was remarkably spoiled and short-sighted. I don’t carry around any guilt. I don’t have the space or energy. I did the best that I possibly could and I never intentionally set out to hurt anyone. I was completely and utterly unaware of the consequences of my actions, and really, how could I have been? I was kid lost without direction and in so much pain– more pain than I knew how to deal with.
The purpose of me saying all this? I’m not entirely sure. Let it be known that I am not actually an inhuman freak of nature. The opinion you draw of me doesn’t matter so much, but the your ability to relate to me does. There are certainly ways that I was more extreme and more damaged than the average person, but the majority of the things that I describe do not fall into that category. This is just what honesty sounds like. Maybe you can take a look at your life and try and identify the ways in which you make the same mistakes I do. I can tell you that my life is much happier this way. This is what allows me to keep learning.
So was I a bitch? Yeah, sure. But I was also a frighteningly alone little girl. The power that can be had when you are no longer alone is a formidable one.