If I'm going to write about forgiveness, you're probably going to hear some stuff I need to be forgiven for.
I'm not good at listening.
I sometimes yell at Nick to get him moving.
According to my mother, my unforgivable sin is that I moved away from home. I'm here to tell you that, even if I did it to save my own life, it's hard for me to forgive myself for this.
And one time, I nearly punched a twelve year old girl in the jaw.
I'm not all that interesting, really. I haven't had any affairs. I never hit anyone though I came very close once. My ex-best friends in seventh grade kept yelling, "brain does not compute, beep-beep" in my face. Over and over, these two would line up in front of me and scream it. The year before, they'd loved that I was smart. They'd been nice to me. We'd giggled about boys, talked about our clothes, and worried over grades. Then, a summer passed, just six weeks, and we went to a different school together, junior high.
Suddenly these two were an exclusive gang and I wasn't in it. They told secrets that I wasn't supposed to hear. They turned their backs on me when I joined them by our lockers. It was hard not to join them because I shared a locker with Yvette and Toni's locker was the next one over.
I was miserable. What had happened to my friends? I was the same girl I'd been the spring before, I thought. In retrospect, I probably was quite different. My dad had been diagnosed with cancer and I imagine I was more serious than I'd ever been though no one at school ever knew any of our family's troubles. I probably looked a little rough around the edges too since my mother no longer had time to choose clothes for me or do my hair. So, I probably looked and acted differently, but at the time, I didn't realize that and I just wanted to know why my best friends were suddenly enemies.
Being shunned was painful.
Worse than that was the taunting. In grade school, it had been mostly okay to be a smart girl, but somehow in junior high, it wasn't any more. Toni and Yvette began to yell at me instead of ignoring me and excluding me from their conversations.
"Brain does not compute, beep-beep, brain does not compute, beep-beep" they yelled. The words weren't actually all that mean, but their faces said it all. I burned with shame whenever they approached me. I could even tell when they were about to begin, their beautiful faces would transform and the ugly words would come out and assault me.
Sometimes, I tried to run away, but they ran with me, chanting as they ran. I tried not to be noticed but it was as if they had radar for my presence. I couldn't get through the lunch line and outside to eat my tenderloin sandwich and French fries in peace without them at my heels.
"Brain does not compute, beep-beep. Brain does not compute, beep-beep."
What could I do? I couldn't bother my mother. She was always at the hospital with my dad, either before or after a surgery. At night, after I'd walked to the hospital and waited for all of them until visiting hours were over, my mother was exhausted and could only talk about my dad, if that.
She peppered her conversations with words like, "If we have enough faith, your father will be okay." It was almost a mantra to get her through each day. She couldn't even think things all the way through the possibilities. How could I possibly bother her with my trivial concerns?
So, during the day, I experienced Toni and Yvette's assaulting words, "brain does not compute, beep-beep." And at night, all I knew to do was get my homework done and stay out of the way so my mother could concentrate on "having enough faith so Daddy will survive."
One day, I'd finished my lunch and was sitting on the edge of the old stage at school reading a book when I saw that Toni and Yvette were stalking me. I could try to leave, but I knew that would be futile. I had to do something different.
"Brain does not compute, beep-beep, brain does not compute, beep-beep," they screamed. Toni came so close, I could have l put my hand over her mouth.
Something was different in me. No one was going to help me. Nobody cared. I had to solve this problem on my own and I could feel my power rising. It was as if lava came up into my throat and arms and was going to blow out the top of my head and out through my fingertips. My elbows went back and my right fist closed tight of its own accord.
Toni saw me shift and leaned in closer, spittle landing on my face.
"Brain does not compute, beep-beep! Brain does not compute, beep-beep! Brain does not compute, beep-beep!" she chanted. Seeing that something was different, Yvette stepped back behind Toni and her voice dropped down. Toni's was commanding enough. All of the kids stopped eating and watched us at the stage. Sitting on the edge of the stage, I had a height advantage over the two of them. Everyone else was rooted in place. No one stood up to help me. I was completely on my own in this life.
Suddenly, the lock holding my elbow sprung and I let out a right hook toward Toni's jaw. I knew this was going to hurt and hurt a lot. I was not a little girl. I could feel everything in slow motion, a globule of Toni's spit hanging in midair, the full power of my fist moving toward her jaw, the look on her face shifting from fury to fear. Inches from her face, I brought my fist around her chin and followed through without ever touching her. She knew I'd pulled the punch. I glared into her shocked face. Her chant died away and Yvette grabbed her arm and dragged her away.
Truthfully, my memory of these two, except that they continued to be together all of the time, faded away. I ignored them when I got books out of my locker. I ignored them in the halls and in classes. They never looked in my direction again. After a week or so, it got more and more natural to ignore them. Eventually, they meant no more to me than the day I learned how to shut someone down without actually hitting them.
I was raised that it was wrong to get angry with people. It doesn't make sense now, but back then, standing up for myself was the worst course of action I could take. So, I felt bad that I had nearly slugged a girl who had once been my best friend. I never felt bad enough to apologize, but I felt bad showing Toni and Yvette how mean I might get.
For years, I felt that I should feel bad about the whole thing. After I graduated from college, I immediately moved to New Jersey before I lost my nerve to move out. Once there, I had to learn to stick my elbows out and put a 'don't mess with me' look on my face. I learned that it was okay to channel my inner grizzly bear. And I stopped feeling bad about that look on Toni's face just before I almost hit her.
Okay, this isn't truly about forgiving myself. I haven't had an affair, killed anyone, or even injured anyone. I'm a terrible listener. I sometimes yell at Nick to get him going. And sometimes I blurt out the most insensitive thing I could possibly say to someone.
So why do I wake up at three in the morning sometimes feeling so incredibly bad?
I talk to God, but I don't trust the answers that I hear are divine, are anything but my own voice. I don't seem to be able to let some things go. Forgiveness isn't too hard with other people. I don't doubt that Toni and Yvette are decent people with their own problems now, and they don't honestly figure much into my consciousness.
So why can't I forgive myself for running away from home when I left for good reasons? Why can't I let it go? Why do I have to work so hard, and repeatedly fail, to forgive myself for things that I know have saved my life, have made me a happier person, and have not been done in an attempt to injure someone else?
Why are these my sins? The other things, talking too much and yelling at Nick sometimes, are easy in comparison. I will admit to you that forgiving myself is a concept that I just don't know how to resolve.
Thank you for listening, jb