For decades, I’ve avoided The Past. I’m talking about the time before I had a solid sense of self, a time of bad self-esteem and worse acne. For many years, my line about The Past has been that I appeared fully-formed at age 22 in California. The rest just didn’t exist.
A couple years ago, I started to look at this ideology I had invented and saw how obviously false it was. I saw that distancing myself from the friendless, self-hating teen I used to be wasn’t doing me any good. I had been that person, like it or not. It was time to accept that. It was time to admit to myself that once I was weak and naive. People took advantage of me, people were cruel to me, and I didn’t have a way to stop them. That was me. That’s the way it was.
The beginning of the end of this time in my life was a person named Irene. When I had no friends, and no hope of ever having any, I. wanted to be my friend. I was very suspicious of her. What did she want from me? Could I trust her? I had so little belief in myself, I no longer believe that anyone could actually like me. But I. was not dissuaded by my doubts, and persevered until we become friends. From this friendship came many others, and eventually I no longer saw myself as unlikable. I went off to college and made friends with a whole new group of people, people who didn’t know how unpopular I had been a few short years ago.
Although my college years were filled with friendship and fun, there was still the appearance that, on some profound level, I was not considered girlfriend material. I could not, for the life of me, get anyone interested in me, and I graduated a virgin. I felt that although I was likable as a friend, I was very unattractive in some way that I couldn’t understand.
That ended when I arrived in California, and I moved on to a new level of confidence. I seemed to be popular immediately. I was beating them off with a stick. Sort of. Or something. In any case, the spell was broken. I could make friends, I could date, the lonely, self-hating times were over. I had lots of other problems still to be worked out, but I never felt again that I was unlovable. And then I felt that I never wanted to be reminded of that feeling of being unlovable. I wanted to forget all that. I wanted to get rid of anything that reminded me of that.
So I got rid of Irene.
There was 3,000 miles between us. It wasn’t hard to just stop answering calls and letters. Not hard at all.
A few years ago, a horrible sense of guilt fell down on me. It felt like a wool blanket being thrown over me. I would think of I., after almost a couple decades, and feel so terrible that I had cut her off in a completely insensitive way. This feeling plagued me, especially around her birthday. So I decided to finally write her an apology. I thought she might be furious and I’d never hear from her. But, no answer was an answer. I had to apologize, and whatever happened, happened.
I. wasn’t mad at me at all. Like a normal person, she had gone on with her life. She had a family and she was very happy. She wrote me back immediately, delighted to hear from me. The sense of relief was immense.
Now she and I have had an ongoing correspondence for a few weeks. We talked on the phone for the first time today. And it feels to me that this is not a whim; we are going to be friends again. Thirty years after our high school graduation and our worlds become so different and we became so different. It seems somehow that here in my late 40s those differences don’t mean so much anymore. It seems that whatever it is I wanted from her, that I felt I couldn’t get from her — I don’t need it anymore. I just need to know she’s there, and she’s okay.
Life does get stranger and stranger. I feel this to be true in many ways, but in this case, I feel it to be true because I have discovered something that no human being should forget: I remember now how much I love I. How could I have forgotten that?
The Past can’t hurt me anymore.