This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.
I didn't have what I would have thought of as a "happy childhood". Suffice it to say that there was enough pain in my life that I chose to live almost entirely in books from a very early age. Also I think it's fair to say that I had a lot of difficulty making friends even under the best of circumstances. The neighborhood kids and I didn't get along, and where I'm what we now call "geek", they were all what we'd call "jocks". Family dynamics at home weren't "nourishing", and I spent almost all the time I wasn't in school, alone. That didn't change till junior high, when I finally found a safe place to make friends of my own, friends that my sister didn't know about and couldn't mercilessly tease me about.
It will be a surprise to no one that I was regularly bullied almost every day in junior high school.
So, I was humongously awkward. An ugly duckling in so very many ways, lacking in social skills and without confidence to make proper conversation with new people (which was *everyone*) at my new high school.
Somehow, eventually, I did find a few people who warmed up to me, starting with one friend who'd just moved into town and didn't know anyone else, and gradually getting to know some people I'd known slightly in junior high. I still had huge amounts of anxiety around social interactions. Thinking of my freshman year in high school is enough to bring the memory of metallic-tasting panic to the back of my throat, even
(God, this is difficult to write.
There was this small group of what I would now call geeky guys. Robert, Mark, and Erik.
My lack of experience in any kind of social interaction, my extreme anxiety (that I was fighting to overcome on a daily basis), and the, well, let's face it, neglectful home environment, all meant that it was easy for me to mistake attention of any kind for positive attention. My sister and I were used to hitting, punching, hair pulling and scratching each other on a regular basis; my dad was either emotionally distant, physically not there, or verbally abusive; Mom had her hands full juggling the whole household and a full-time job, and my brother was just a kid, four years younger than me...
Any kind of attention, really, was a novelty, and nothing I was used to at thirteen. (I was really just thirteen when I did this. Someday maybe I can forgive myself.)
These geeky guys began to pay me attention. It felt ... familiar. Trading verbal barbs and sarcastic jabs, was second nature. It was how we talked at home.
It did eventually get to be mean, moved from notes in lockers to them learning my combination and leaving things for me. Once a pile of brown apple cores. Once, actually, a dead bird. *shudder* (If I knew then what I know now...I would have done some things differently.
Once, I returned to my locker, and my books were neatly piled as though on a bookshelf, upright. Which I knew full well was not how I had left them... With a sinking feeling of dread, I noticed wet white glue, and sawdust, all over the bottom of my locker. I guess I was lucky to have found it all before the glue dried and set, in retrospect.
(In retrospect, I now feel a blazing and righteous anger at Robert, the boy who I knew even then was the ringleader.
At this distance, I've no idea what the chronology of events was, where in the school year these different things fell. I distinctly remember, however, that it was a hot day on the afternoon I missed the school bus home and realized I had to walk four miles home with a heavy backpack and crappy shoes.
I had had a rotten day to begin with and missing the bus felt like the cherry on top of a shit sundae.
This was in the early 80's, before anyone thought to carry a water bottle around with them regularly, and it didn't take long walking in those crappy shoes under the Sacramento late spring/early summer sunlight before I was hot, sweaty, thirsty, and even MORE cranky than I had started out.
I was turtling HARD. Head down, armor up, not noticing the world around me, stewing in my own misery, when someone goes by on a bike.
... and turns around, and heads back towards me, panting.
Pulling somewhat out of my turtle shell, I glance up.
It's Erik. Little blond dude on a bike. He's sweating. I wish *I* had a bike. I'd be home already instead of only halfway home.
He says, "Here!" and holds out a water bottle. There's beads of condensation on the sides, it's obviously nice and cold, it's everything I wish I could have but I have learned that NOBODY does nice things for me, period, unless they're going to snatch it away and yell "PSYCHE!" afterwards.
Something COLD and MEAN shifts in my chest.
I question his motives to his face. I say mean things about the water bottle even, that it's probably dirty. Wide-eyed, he stammers something about he just bought it at the gas station when he saw me walking home and thought I looked hot and thirsty. (He wasn't wrong.) The MEAN in me doesn't let up, and I think I say something about he probably already drank from it and he probably has herpes and as it leaves my mouth just as MEAN as I can make it, the MEAN in me shifts, twists and oozes away, leaving a horror in my soul. Did I actually SAY that?
His face slams shut. His eyes get dark, his jaw juts out, he jams the bottle (delicious cool bottle, that I wanted so much, I want now to say "yes, please", I want to erase the last ten minutes SO BADLY) back in his backpack, wheels his bike around and rides off.
Erik never spoke to me again.
There are things for which there is no apology possible.
And that is the lowest I have ever sunk. That is the person I have striven to make amends for, *shakes head* with basically my entire life.
One single moment of intentional, focused cruelty in a time of my own soul's pain.
I was in the gutter for so long
. It took me many years to be able to know that there even WERE
stars, much less figure out how to see them.
I'm sorry, Erik. I wish I could have seen your kindness for what it was, instead of what I expected.
This has been my entry for therealljidol
, Last Chance Idol, week 3. The prompt is "We are all in the gutter."
You can read my colleagues in Last Chance Idol, and vote for me (and some of the other wonderful writers there), HERE