A highlight of our family vacation was a guessing game wherein the above title was a winning clue for “Of Mice and Men.” It may or may not be applicable to the following story.
So, a few weeks ago, I was contacted by my high school boyfriend. Sure, there were several high school boyfriends if you want to get technical, but he was the common denominator, the boyfriend I wanted to make jealous of the other boyfriends, the one who bothered me in the most persistent internal way.
Back then, I had a disordered self-consciousness, and it caused me to split my attention, often quite unevenly, between my own perceptions and the perceptions of a boy, or occasionally a rat who looked like a boy. I dressed for his attention, joked for his amusement, or pouted for his inquiry, “What’s wrong?”
There are an array of problems with this. For one thing I couldn’t possibly know the perceptions of my target, I only ever held the imaginary impact of whatever I did, said, or didn’t say. It’s easy to get lost in that much smoke and bubbles. For another thing, it mean that instead of forming my own ideas, I was burning up my brain power on guessing someone else’s ideas.
Despite all the decades in between, when I had a message from that boy, I was genuinely pleased, surprised and immediately and blessedly skeptical. It seemed most probable that I was dealing with an imposter, that anyone else from that time in my life might have devised a way to trick me for laughs.
Each time I have tried to reconnect with friends from decades ago, it has been exquisitely disappointing. Either they actually hated me, or didn’t remember that we were very close, or completely missed all the ways I had secretly resented them. It’s more work than starting to get to know someone from scratch when all your preconceptions are wrong.
With all that in mind, I didn’t rush to reply, but waited until I was certain that my curiosity deserved some more information. In response to his message that he wanted to know how I was, I cordially explained that I was fat and happy. That should put a stop to it, I thought.
The reply was swift and pushy, but also contained a telltale misspelling. More skeptical than before, I used my favorite approach to fakes and scammers. I demanded that he pay into my Ponzi scheme.
Solemnly, he agreed to invest, but he also insisted on a conversation. He had things he wanted to tell me, things he wanted me to know. When I didn’t immediately reply, he popped into another inbox I had not offered. He was spreading like a virus. He said that he had spooked me and that I should not be afraid.
Right. This was taking on the shape of a horror story. I provided a polite brush off and corrected his assumption, I wasn’t spooked–revisiting the past is simply not for me.
I’ve worked hard to shelve all the useless parts of the experiences that wounded teenaged me. Rummaging through it again might be someone else’s nostalgia, but I am not showing up for that yard sale.
If I had grown into my full potential based on who I was back then, I would have enthusiastically dived into the rabbit hole of getting reacquainted with someone I didn’t know to convince them I was someone they wanted me to be.
Instead, I was carefree, truly. I did not care about the way I was perceived by the boy (or rat), behaving in the way I would hope my daughters approach such things, heeding my own better instincts and taking zero crap, in a fond and detached manner.
At last, I know I am very different from the girl who posed. She’s still with me, and she stood by and pouted that I didn’t drum up a world class drama scene, but she knows that we’re better off staying planted in the here and now. We’re better off chatting up our own teenaged daughter and our own grown-up partner instead.
If I told you that boy was Johnny Depp you might snap your conclusions into a different zone, but that would be a mistake. Even though he is totally not Johnny Depp, the point is that it does not matter who he is or what he wants from me.
In the very best case, I have lived half my life already, and as it is I do not make enough time for the people who I truly want to fill the next 55 years. Never mind the rats who may be boys.
Be true to yourselves, kids!!
p.s. Firmly closing the spooky crawlspace door on your past feels wonderful. Try it!!
Obligatory book linky thing: