Monday, January 02, 2012

The Mouths of Babes

I've been cleaning house. It's been an on-off project for the last year. Streamlining, doncha know. I have a lot, a Lot, a LOT of stuff and I, sometimes, think to myself "Ste, you really don't need all this stuff. Why don't you sell it on Ebay?" And I DID. I sold a lot of stuff on Ebay during the last decade. Old theater programs, old books, old vhs tapes, etc. And it just made room for more stuff. To tell you the truth, I miss some of the stuff I sold. (Lesson: if you are going to sell your stuff, give your stuff away or throw it out, make sure you really don't want it anymore, ok? Cause I had to replace some things - which is a bore - and recognize that some things couldn't ever be replaced - which is painful.)

In my house cleaning project, I came across something I can never throw away. I don't know why. I suppose I could; but I bet you fifty bucks nobody would throw this away.

The yearbooks.

I didn't have (in my memory) what I would call a particularly good school career. There were happy moments. I liked my second grade teacher, Miss Kokle and my third grade teacher, Mrs. Bartle. I made a good friend in fifth grade, Teresa Mitchell, moved away for sixth and seventh grades, tried to kill myself in eighth grade, moved back to the same town and school for the second half of eighth grade and was still friends with Teresa Mitchell (thanks to the social network, we are still in touch and still dear friends). I was the school drama queen in grades 9 and 10 and pulled myself together enough to lower my status to drama lady-in-waiting for grades 11 and 12 and I actually made a few friends (again, thanks to the social network, I'm in touch with some of them and happy to see how lovely their lives turned out). It was those earlier school days that were the worst, though. Once I got it together and began to learn who I was and how to be that person, I could (reasonably) expect (or, at least hope) people would like and accept me for myself. They seemed to - in fact, my memories of High School seem to differ, greatly, from the way my social network alumni seem to remember me (I have learned through online chats and replies to my blog stories and status messages, etc.)

It was the middle school days and Jr High School that were most troubling.

I have managed to forget those days. Or block them out. Or something. I know they were rough on me and I know I was a pill to my classmates. So why do I keep the yearbooks? I should throw them out. Truly.

Discovering them, buried in the closet, behind the clothing was proof of that.

Please note the two scans of autographs that I found while reading the yearbook. Aren't they appalling? Please hear me when I say this: I feel nothing when I read them. These two comments have no power over me when I consider them. This was a long, a superlong time ago. I have no pain or personal thought about them, when I read these two autographs from my 8th grade yearbook.

What I do feel, or think, is something that I mentioned in my last story: it is amazing the things that people will say to you without considering your feelings. Isn't it? Now, it's one thing to be a grown up, an adult, and have somebody say something hurtful or disrespectful to you - you have the strength and eloquence to make an appropriate retort. Consider, though, being a 13 year old and asking a classmate to sign your yearbook and getting it back and reading:

--"I am glad that you like Grant school even though a lot of people don't especially like you."


--"I feel real sorry for you the way people talk about you." (I have corrected the spelling error in the original autograph).

There are messages of friendliness within these two samples, though, and I recognize that and appreciate them. At the age of 13, though, I would imagine the only thing I could see in these missives would have to be the two sentences above. It's difficult to be a child, a teenager, and want to express yourself and not be (mentally, emotionally, socially) mature enough to say to yourself "Helen/Shelly, don't write this - don't say this - it will hurt this person's feelings". The problem is that people grow up and NEVER learn to think this way; I know this because it was during this same era that my horrible Aunt would demean and humiliate me (verbally) in ways that an adult should never inflict upon a child. And let us never forget my college professor, Ed DeLatte, whose modus operandi was to condescend to and insult, publically, as many students as possible (I, being one of his favourite victims).

I don't remember myself at 13. I have seen photos. I know (inherently) that I was troubled and that I was a handful; but I do not remember my thought processes. I am, though, accutely aware of them now - and I am proud to say that, at least once a day, I stop myself from saying or doing something because I know "that will hurt this person's feelings." And I am proud of my evolution as a person. I am also, again - accutely, aware of each and every time that a person says or does something that tells me that they do not, perhaps cannot, think beyond the narrow limitations of their self-awareness.

In the film ORDINARY PEOPLE (one of my favourites, as far back as I CAN remember the person inside the shell) Donald Sutherland yells at Mary Tyler Moore "Can't you see things except in terms of how it affects you?!" and she yells right back "NO! And neither can you! And neither can anybody else! Only maybe I'm a little more honest about it!"

I was 13 when those girls scribbled their greetings to me in a yearbook that I cannot seem to throw away (but maybe, after today, I will be able to). In a few years it will be 40 years since the ink dried. I know that I see things in terms of how they affect other people BEFORE the terms of how they affect myself. And I am, personally, acquainted with some people who are (not only) the same way but who take it a step further. No names. That isn't necessary. What is necessary is pointing out that there are, indeed, people who think before they speak, who think before they act. I know it isn't ALWAYS me (YES, I can be self centered and, indeed, outright selfish) -- but sometimes it is.

Thank God I evolved. Thank God I left behind the childish mentality that opened itself up to me that day, recently, when I opened up that 8th grade annual and read those comments and said 'WHAT THE FUCK??!!! What kind of thing is THAT to write to a 13 year old??!" I would like to think that I didn't write anything like this in anyone's yearbook (was I asked to sign any yearbooks?) I would like to think that this mentality was one that I never had.

I just don't remember. I've blocked it out.


Blogger Keleigh said...

Wow, Stephen. I can't imagine ever being so oblivious to the feelings of others to immortalize such hurtful sentiments. I guess that perhaps they felt they were just stating the obvious and that they didn't feel that way about you. But still...

The sad 13 year-old me remembers a hurtful prank phone call with cruel rewritten lyrics from a Blonde song being sung by three or so girls. And I sat and listened to the whole thing. Kids are remarkably cruel. And masochistic. Throw away that annual.

Because you've grown into a handsome man with a phenomenal love that most only dare to dream of. You are one blessed guy. And I can't imagine anyone not loving you!

11:12 AM  

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