When I was in third grade, I got into a fight with a boy named Johnathan. He was a total dick. He’d always pick fights with me. Tell me I was ugly. Hog the swing forever and I’d tell the teacher and get him in trouble.
Anyways, one day we were really going at it and he called me dumb. It hit my fragile third grade ego and I responded by telling him that his mother, who died when he was a lot younger, was “probably looking down on him disappointed.” And you know what he said?
He said, “I know.”
Not a condescending I know or an I don’t care I know. It was an ‘I’m sad’ I know.
I don’t remember much about elementary. I remember little snapshots of sharing Hi-Chews, trading chocolate gold coins for dollars, red fists from playing tetherball too long, and coloring only with pink. Vignettes of childhood. Yet, that memory always stays with me. Maybe every detail in my mind may not be absolutely accurate, but the feeling that I felt in that moment–– I will never forget it. I felt like the worst person in the world.
I got home that day and cried.
I felt like I disappointed my parents who always taught me to be kind to others; that I disappointed my teachers who often took my side, even if I was wrong, even if I lied, because I was a teacher’s pet; that I disappointed myself who wanted to be the best I could be; and that I even disappointed my ancestors for no other reason than I’m dramatic.
I wasn’t cognizant of it then, but this year, facing my insecurities forced me to look at how insecurity is often derived from our innermost, irrational feelings of inadequacies but can metastasis in ugly and subtle ways, ways that hurt others. That day, I hurt someone because he made me feel less than I was but who likely only acted that way because he also felt less than he actually was.
I was 8 then. I’m 24 now. And I wish I could say I have no more insecurities or that I’ve learned to be better at hiding or dealing with them. But I still suck my stomach in when I wear tight dresses. I’m still careful with what I share on social media because I haven’t learned to live without other’s validations yet. I still hide my thumbs because when I get anxious, I pick at the skin there. I still cry at night when I feel ugly, or stupid, or unskilled. I still think my cheeks are too “fat,” my eyes too small, my fingers too stubby. And when someone hurts me, I still want to hurt them back. Like 16 years ago. Like that day on the swing set.
I’ll probably never see Johnathan again and I don’t know if any of the thousands of heartfelt apologies I’ve came up with over the years would mean anything to him. He might have even completely forgotten about that moment.
But if I could go back in time, I would hope to find myself in that same moment. I would let him have the shaded swing set and content myself with the metal slide that literally burned my ass because it was always under the sun.
And if I could go forward in time, I would simply hope to have found myself.