Another angle on the matter of forgiveness: craving it for yourself, and why I have mixed feelings about absolution.
When I was a skinny young blonde thang, I had a cruel streak where boys were concerned. The goal at the top of my mind was to make them happy, make them feel strong and confident. Even if they didn’t care for me or what I was shaking, I figure that it’s like leaving the campground in better shape than you found it. I was already seeing the effects of boys who had been treated poorly by girls in junior high turning into cruel woman-haters by high school. It occurred to me that boosting male morale wherever I found it would be a benefit to girls everywhere, and might add lusters to my own Boy Scout badge.
My favorite guys to shower with admiration were geeks, and those who looked like geeks. Wisecracking boys with big brains and scrawny bods. The admiration was honest. There was nothing like an “A” in Physics to carbonate my hormones — and I had been out with a few gorgeous meatheads who never had had to cultivate what might be euphemized as a large hat size. So it was a natural inclination on my part, but I did try to go out of my way to pay attention to the overlooked guys who seemed as if they had something going on. Not many had received direct gazes and slow smiles from skinny blondes who didn’t need help with their homework, and some of them stood a little taller after getting a grace note from a pretty girl. I tried to pick only good guys who didn’t have the permanent resentful sulk some perpetually underrated people developed.
So whence the cruel streak? It was because I used to be a plain Jane in ugly clothes with a few extra pounds and an earnest, doormat demeanor. All guys ignored me, even the geeky ones. But between junior high and high school, I determined that I would make my last few years before college memorable and enjoyable. So I lost 15 pounds, which I definitely need to lose, plus another 15 that I couldn’t really afford. I asked my mom’s cousin, a hairdresser, to bleach my hair and perm it large. For the first time ever, I spent my birthday money on something other than books: clothes, makeup, jewelry, and perfume. And I cultivated self-control, in action and reaction, with a constant awareness of how I would be perceived.
I had the best teachers: Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn. Not to mention Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman, Jack Benny, George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Groucho Marx. Always look good, always play to the room, be able to seduce or dismiss with a glance, and never let them see you sweat. Smile. Be a glad girl, as Pollyanna was, and everyone will be glad to be around you. Be self-deprecating, and take nothing too seriously. On and on.
It wasn’t fake, not really; it was all the me I wanted to be, and trusted myself to become. And I was. But it was such a severely bowdlerized version of me, edited for content and compressed for time, that I became unconsciously bitter and eventually very lonely. I wasn’t accepted for who I was, so I edited myself, and became accepted — but not for me; only for That Girl. So fuck alla y’all. You don’t have time for the chubby girl with the mouse-brown hair and the blitzwits? I’ll be a skinny blonde who perpetually laughs. I will try to love on the male versions of myself before the change, and eventually despise them for not having liked me when I was one of them.
This occasionally led to making dates with more than one boy at once, and requiring them both to hang out in my dressing room (a spare bedroom with a vanity and extra seating) while I swanned around in my paisley bathrobe, making frothy conversation with both of them while I got ready, each of them wondering which one would get to go out with me. Sometimes a girlfriend would help with this, and each guy would be thinking the other was going to be paired with the friend for a double date. Sometimes, the friend and I would double team a single guy, which led him down the wrong path, for which crime we would torment him even more. On and on.
Eventually I decided it was hogwash, unfair, that I had to grow up and be a man, if you will. It was a hard year for a lot of reasons, and being a decent person required masterful effort sometimes. But I didn’t want to be a fritterhead for the rest of my life; I wanted to be a mensch. During my junior year of college, I came downstairs in my p.j.’s and sat at the breakfast table with a bunch of my roommates and their friends. I realized that I was wearing a nightgown my high school sweetheart (who became my college albatross) bought for another girl while he was cheating on me with her — it was too small for the Other Woman and non-returnable, so he gave it to me; naturally I didn’t know the backstory at the time I received the lovely and expensive gift, but there I was, wearing it, at a table where he and she both were guests. Also present were my live-in boyfriend and the girl he was cheating on me with, who was pretending to be my best buddy while he was goosing her under the table. Across from me was the sweet but spoiled roommate who referred to me as a slut behind my back, but was always coming on to me when no one was around…and his girlfriend, who also thought I was a slut, and thought I was at high risk for poaching her boyfriend. A skinny Irish girl with five years of field hockey can throw an icy glare, let me tell you.
So, no shit, there I was, the turd in the punchbowl, not speaking to anyone, ignoring the sly glances, ignoring my cereal as it sogged in front of me. I thought: maybe this is karma. Maybe this is payback for the boys I hurt in high school. Maybe I’m free of that debt now and can move along blithely in my life, unburdened by my foolishness.
And then I realized that’s bullshit. The guys I hurt really did suffer, and I hope they got over it quickly (or just wrote it off like a sunburn) — but I’m going to have to live with the burden that I hurt someone, on purpose, who did not deserve it — which is pretty fucking low. Guilt is part of the cost.
Likewise, the people who hurt me weren’t jolly angels who just happened to be agents of karma; they were flaming assholes.
My (low) self-esteem from that score was only elevated over a long period of time, and through long dint of effort to treat everyone fairly, and to be as kind as possible. Not snarking, not jumping into fights with both feet, not letting my temper rise, not lying to or cheating on anyone, and a lot of other things that didn’t come naturally at first, let’s put it that way. It’s what I have to do to live with myself after hurting people. I am now a better person than the fucked-up unit who decided to be the life of the party instead of an emo shoegazer.
But if I had just said, tra-la! Karmic payoff! I’ll be good from now on, but I no longer need to worry about what I’ve done! Sorry, boys, you understand, right? — I would have been a schmuck.
Two assholes don’t make it karma.