Oh, how I hate the memories that can still reduce me to tears. I seriously wish that I could amputate those useless thoughts. Yet there they are, taking up rent-free space in my head. I can keep them quiet for fairly long stretches, but that doesn't reduce their power. They still get a seat at the board meeting every time I assess my worth.
Tonight is one of those nights when such a memory has come back full force. It has actually come up several times this week, not really by my choice. Ignoring it has not made it go away, although I have put some serious effort into that. I wish I had the kind of faith that thought even having these memories was happening for a true purpose, but I'm not sure I can stretch quite that far.
I called a friend when the memory came back up. I was sniveling and not making much sense, but I finally got the story out. I asked her, "Wouldn't that make you feel pretty bad about yourself?". She said, "Yes, but you know your truth now". I do? What is my truth? Is it that what other people say about me doesn't make a difference? Or is it that the opinions of me held by my loved ones really do matter and shape my world? Is my truth that I'm good enough, smart enough, and darn it, people like me? Or is it that I have been a wasted effort for many years? Better yet, which one of those ideas is supposed to be my truth?
Let me tell you a story. Maybe you can help me decide what to think about it.
I was 12. I was a pale, freckled, nerdy child who was socially awkward in many ways. I was also melancholy and emotionally fragile. There was no outside help for me because the church that I attended believed that everything was a faith issue. So counseling was out of the question for the emotional problems and charm school was too expensive to be able to fix the social problems. Prayer was my only avenue and not one I believed in strongly at the time.
He was 14. He was a good-looking, tanned, popular kid. He was talented in sports and music. He surfed as well, which was a big thing at the time. He did not just fit in with the right people. He was the person you wanted to fit in with. He went to church too, but the only thing I can say for sure that he believed in at the time was having fun.
I worshiped the ground he walked on. He tolerated me sometimes, but mostly ignored my existence. He actually was rather embarrassed by me, but I was like a loyal puppy that just did not care as long as I could be near him. I just did not know how much I embarrassed him. That was about to change.
The day came when I evidently pushed the limit. He was surrounded by friends. His girlfriend walked up to me and asked me a question. He could not hear what she said or what I said in reply, but evidently he did not want to take any chances. Almost without knowing how it happened, I ended up with him holding a lethal-looking knife to my throat. His face was red with anger and his rage was so great that his whole body was shaking. He told me that if I ever talked to one of his friends again, he would kill me.
Let me stop here to say that having a knife held to your throat is never fun. Having a person who is shaking hold a knife to your throat just ratchets up the fear by a factor of 10. I am going to optimistically assume that you will never have to deal with this, so let's get back to our story.
His friends were all pretty freaked out. I really don't remember who managed to get him backed off or how they did it. Hopefully you can understand that I was a little shocked and therefore my memories got a little hazy.
If you had asked me about 10 seconds before he pulled that knife what I thought he would do if I embarrassed him, I could not have ever imagined something so extreme or dangerous. Neither of us had violence in our daily lives, so this was totally unpredictable.
I told an adult that night, but I just got a shrug and a "he shouldn't have done that". No serious shock. No calling the authorities to figure out what was going on with this knife-wielding teen. Not a "you should never be around a dangerous kid like that again". Especially not a "that isn't who you are even if he says so".
I was already getting signals from many sources, including inside my home, that there was something wrong with me and that it was my fault. Evidently the popular theory was that I had chosen to be nerdy, socially awkward, melancholy, and emotionally fragile. And my motive for choosing those traits? So I could make trouble for the people around me. So the knife-pulling incident just reinforced those thoughts and gave me a new one: I was so embarrassing that I was worth killing.
I actually got the nerve to ask him years later about why he would do something like that. He got mad at me. He used that handy way of blowing off hurts by saying, "You're just holding on to things. You should have let that go a long time ago." Yep. He evidently had no culpability in the issue at all. AND he swore that I should have known that he would never have actually hurt me. Really? Because I had so much experience at twelve years of age with people pulling knives on me that I would know who was serious and who was not?
I think he was right though. I should have let go of it. The unfortunate fact is that I've always thought that by letting go of a hurt, you were telling the person who hurt you that what they had done was okay. You were letting them get away with it. The sad truth is that he had already gotten away with it - there were zero consequences for him. The other kids and the adults in his life simply were not concerned about the depth of his anger. And holding on to the hurt has not brought one ounce of justice to the situation. It has not brought any mercy either. It certainly has not helped me walk humbly with my God.
He has moved on. To the best of my knowledge, when he thinks of me at all, he still finds me a bit strange and embarrassing.
I am still melancholy and emotionally fragile (probably still nerdy too). I still hold on to old hurts and let the horrible things people have said about me determine my self-worth. When I look at it that way, I'm not sure that I know my truth.
What is your truth?