I’ve had periods in my life where the ugly in me has really shown. This was one of my ugliest.
This story in particular has been sitting on my heart for a while, and I do this thing where I talk transparently to random people on the internet through blog posts. SMH.
Cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
In other words, I know what I believe – or say I believe, or say I know it. And then I push my beliefs to the back of my mind when I’m clearly not acting in accordance with what I (say I) believe. Like how I acted towards J when I was fifteen immature years old.
I’m thinking, when I wrote Ephemeron, I did a disservice by only telling half the story – the part that didn’t incriminate myself. But then also, life is altogether too big to fit into one spoken word poem, so I forgive myself, and I’ll just tell the story here. Bear in mind that the poem Ephemeron is about multiple people/couples of people, and the story I’m about to tell involves only one couple.
I was in a best-friendship group for a full year with this dude called N. N is an amazing human being. He’s sweet, funny, kind and shares so many of my likes and interests. More than once, I have been introduced to a fascinating and enlightening part of pop culture, whether news article, piece of history, book series, music album or anything else. N was the best. (There is, by the way, no romantic charge here, as several people assume of all my Ephemeron stories. In any case, N is my cousin, and I have no incestuous interests.)
In our second year, the thing that changed was the introduction of an external factor: a girl called J. J was in the class right below us, so she was new. And she became, as far as I can metaphorically describe it, in everyone’s minds, the 3-D version of the thing I’d only been a silhouette of, among my friends; everything that I was but somehow better in nearly all aspects.
This was a period in my life when I had something of a snowflake complex. I made “weirdness” my god, and being “different” one of my ultimate life goals. Almost every time I got called weird, special or unique, I’d blossom with pride. (These were sad times, but adolescence does awful things to us in phases, you know.) The problem with J for me was how easily and effectively she destroyed my snowflake bliss by being too damn much like me.
People who were and weren’t my friends never seemed to tire of reiterating to me how similar they thought J and I were. I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase “You two are like the same person!” It made me incredibly upset. N had started spending way less time with me and far more with J. It was impossible for me to logically accept that J and I were equal, that we offered the exact same things out of our personalities or presences. If that were true, I reasoned, her arrival should have changed nothing about the actual dynamics of my life; the general reaction should have been more like, “Oh, you’re really cool, but we already have someone who does everything you could do for us, and we don’t necessarily need a duplicate, so we’ll just stick with what we’ve got.” (Foul thoughts, but I’ve had worse, TBH.) This wasn’t what was happening, though. In reality, people seemed to prefer her to me. That could only mean that there was something more that she was offering, which I didn’t have.
Back then, I didn’t have the (self-)knowledge that would allow me to name my affliction for what it was: intimidation. There were a lot of factors that contributed to my intimidation, and though I am no longer intimidated, there are some things I can’t yet pass off as completely false:
- She was/is smarter than me
- She read more books than me
- She was/is prettier than me
- She was/is better at making friends and dealing with people in general than I was/am
- She had more musical talent than me
- She was funnier than me, and kept my (then) friends more entertained than I ever could.
The list could go on.
I reacted in one of the most immature ways possible: going out of my way to be mean to her – out of no fault of hers. I almost wish (but kind of don’t) I could remember some of the nasty, unwarranted, malicious comments I threw her way during this time. I think it’s all so ugly that I’ve successfully managed to obliterate my actual words completely from my memory. Thank God for forgetfulness. But the snide comments were consistent. And there was some serious cognitive dissonance going on because every time I said something awful, the next second, my own brain would be like, “OMG that was evil and stupid – why would you ever say that?” And the shame would be acute, but consequently useless because:
- My pride wouldn’t let me acknowledge or act upon my shame in order to do something sensible like, I don’t know, apologize.
- I’d just go ahead and do it again the next day/next available savagery opportunity.
In this period, what was annoying me about N was that there were moments when it seemed like our relationship was returning to normal, when we could be ourselves again, when J wasn’t there. But it would only last for a few minutes because J had this uncanny ability to just freaking show up wherever N was, and whenever she did, N would rather discourteously leave me and ignore me for the duration of J’s presence. It completely baffled me how he didn’t seem to realize how he was hurting me.
I had one redeeming feature at this point in my life, though, and that was my ability to verbally articulate what was worrying me (in the instances when I actually knew how to define it) to the relevant persons. And so I told N of my woes. Sensible boy that he was, he agreed that something awful was happening with our friendship group (J was only one factor among the multitude of those fracturing us – but she was my personal biggest headache, because N was my favorite friend then, and shh, don’t tell the others), and it needed to be addressed. He even suggested we all have a meeting about it. LOL. A whole meeting, oo, imagine. Anyway, the meeting either never happened or was fruitless, and he continued to act oblivious to my pain – and I continued to be a serious prick to J.
I got increasingly bitter as a result of how good-natured J acted, actually. She behaved just about as oblivious as N was acting, and to me, that was honestly some BS. How can you come and steal somebody’s best friend, watch as she gets hurt, and be happy all through it? Even more annoying was how unaffected she seemed by my meanness. Like, at some points, it seemed like she was for real trying to be nice to me. See, it was not making sense. The thing about bullies (and trust me, I was a bully, just in a more subtle way than we see on American TV shows) is that they need you to be aggravated when they aggravate you, dammit! React! Cry in shame! Flinch! Show me that I have the power to affect your emotions, so that I can satiate my inferiority complex, yo! But she just kept refusing to drop the grace and retaliate. Nothing could have been more infuriating.
The world, or God, or whatever does the orchestrating, has a strange way of arranging the chess pieces of life such that things are sure to happen, whether good or bad. My divine orchestration came in the form of seating arrangements. My high school had set breakfast seating arrangements that changed at the end of every semester. Guess who I found on my table for a semester. Yep, that’s right: J. I had to see her face, sitting right across me every. damn. day. Unfortunately, my meanness went on.
…Until suddenly, one day, she’d had enough. It was during one breakfast meal. All it took was one of my stupid comments for her to lose it, and in about seven seconds, blast me for being so nasty when she hadn’t done anything worthy of such evil, tell me that she was sick of it, and that I better stop – and just like that, all my negative shame melted away instantaneously, to be replaced with positive shame, the kind of shame that actually incited me to repent and change my ways. It was like the breaking of a spell.
I surprised myself entirely with my reaction. Yes, I was ashamed, but it wasn’t my inferiority complex that responded to J’s tirade; it was the self under the complex, the one that had been suffocating, thankful for being spontaneously freed, who replied, “Why didn’t you do that earlier?” (Blow up on me, that is.)
And from that point onwards, it was an upwards process, fixing myself and coming to terms with my ephemeron in relation to N and J, both of whom are pretty awesome people, both of whom I am not particularly close to (anymore).
Is there a moral of the story? Maybe not. But if there is, maybe it’s something like “Yell back at your oppressors so that they can finally see sense.” But that’s probably not it.
Anyway, I hope I’m never, ever this ugly again. Low point. Very low point. Also, may God give me the strength to deal sensibly with fracturing friendships in the future. Amen.