Monday, March 11, 2013
On Bullies, Apologies, and Making A Real Difference
I'm going to take a break from my normal posts to talk about something that's very important to me. It's a tad long (even for me), but I hope you'll stick with me.
I had a dream last night that surprised me. I was at a bookstore near where I grew up, signing books. And that's not the surprising part. I have dreams about that sort of thing often, and they're always wonderful. That's what every writer dreams about, right?
No, the surprising part was that a boy (now a man) who made fun of (bullied, teased, tormented, tortured) me in elementary and middle school showed up. He smiled and said, "You don't remember me, do you?" So I gave a small, polite, embarrassed smile and asked his name. Recognition and anger flitted across my face when he gave it, and he said, "I guess you do remember me."
"Yes, well, it's hard to forget the person who systematically destroyed your self-esteem for six straight years. So, you know, there's that." Insert not-so-polite smile here.
And he winced, and said he was sorry, and that he'd come to apologize. That he'd wanted for years to apologize for what he did to me, but he didn't know how to get in touch with me until he saw my picture on a poster at the book store. I told him Facebook would've maybe been a better option than showing up at my book signing, and that he was holding up my line.
Yes, there was a line. Because it was my dream, and in my dreams, I always have long lines at these things. ;)
So I woke up, and as I clawed my way out of the haze of sleep, I found myself wondering what on earth had caused this dream. This is a person I haven't spoken a single word to since eighth grade. Seriously, guys. That wasn't even in this millennium. But apparently my subconscious isn't ready to let the past go, even if the rest of me is.
And I really am ready to let it go, though that wasn't always the case. For the longest time, I intended to be published under my maiden name. It was a pretty unusual name, and I wanted all of the people from my past to know that I'd made it. That I'd done something with my life. That I was somebody.
Then a little over a year ago, I found myself wondering why I care. What does it matter to me what people I don't know and haven't seen for years think of me? It's not as though I think of them. (Except, I guess, in my subconscious, but I didn't know about that until I woke up this morning.) It's not as though I need their approval for anything ever. I didn't become a writer so that I could get back at people who were mean to me or to prove anything. I became a writer because I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. Since before people decided I was fat and needed to be laughed at and embarrassed and made to feel like garbage on a daily basis.
So why am I dreaming up apologies from my former nemesis? Would that help? Would it really change anything fifteen years later? Because, honestly, I don't think it would. What good does that do? How does that help me? I don't need apologies to feel good about myself. Not at this stage in my life.
However, I couldn't seem to let this dream go. I couldn't help thinking about what I would actually do if such a thing came to pass. And I figured it out. I would tell him that apologizing to me doesn't do anything. But if he has kids, or nieces and nephews, or God children, or anything else, he could try to teach them not to do to others what he did to me. That he could teach them to respect other people. Even if those people are overweight, or unattractive, or don't have nice clothes, or aren't super smart, or are gay, or are "different" in any other way you can imagine.
Trying to help me is a waste of time. I figured shit out on my own. And with the help of some amazing people, including the best friends I could possibly have, and the most wonderful husband I could ever have imagined. So no, I don't need an apology. I'm already good on that front. At this point, I don't need any help.
But there are plenty of people who do. People who feel like they'd rather die than have to go to school and face everyone. People who are constantly on edge, knowing that insults and barbs are coming, and it's only a matter of time. People who cry every single day, because they're hurt in some way every single day.
There are kids being bullied and teased and made to feel like shit about themselves right this second. So what would I say to this person if he magically showed up and apologized?
You want to make up for what you did? Do everything you possibly can to keep it from happening again. Even if only one other person doesn't have to go through the crap I put up with, the world will be a slightly nicer place. That's what would really make a difference.