You know those people from your past for whom you still have a bad taste in your mouth? Even though it was years, or sometimes even decades ago? Yes…well this is one of those stories.
I went to college at a small liberal arts school in St. Paul, MN. When I got there I was so eager to meet everyone. In high school I’d been friends with almost everyone regardless of the “group” they were in. I expected college to be a natural extension of that, allowing me to be friends with all sorts of people, and expanding my ever-growing group of good friends.
I had two roommates. One was in a serious relationship with a boyfriend that did not attend our school and she was rarely home. When she was, she spent her time making out with her boyfriend in our large walk-in closet, so we didn’t see much of her. My other roommate was a lovely girl who grew-up in Iowa. She’d had a challenging upbringing with a mom who suffered from alcoholism. Needless to say, when she ended up holding my hair as I threw-up after my first drinking adventure (first week of school), she was less than pleased. She and I remained friendly but after that first week I think she’d had quite enough of me thank you very much.
The number of students at my college was smaller than that of my high school and resembled the culture of movies like Pretty In Pink when it came to cliques and groups of friends. I ended up finding a good group of girlfriends and we, in turn, found the hockey team. Oh not like that…behave. We simply found a great group of guy friends who happened to make-up the hockey team.
My roommate…the lovely one, not the making-out-in-the-closet one…had a strong group of friends too. And they were not so fond of me. I’d try to chat with them, or say hello in passing, but their responses were cool and detached. One girl…I’ll call her Jeanette…was particularly nasty. She wouldn’t respond if I said hello, would whisper about me after I’d passed, and was openly hostile when visiting my room. As in most cases of judging books by their covers, she assumed me to be a) an idiot, b) a girl that hung out with only the hockey team (for reasons other than friendship), c) someone who partied all the time (this was true…but primarily because I was so unhappy), and d) clearly not on her level. She was snotty to me every single time I saw her. In classes, in my room, and everywhere in between.
I left college (or…umm…they kicked me out) and never gave that girl another thought. My old roommate, I think about her from time to time and likely owe her a large apology, but Jeanette hasn’t crossed my mind once. That is…until last summer.
Each summer Ess takes me on an adventure to her hometown…a small town in South Dakota. Someday I’ll have girls’ weekends in Vegas, or Napa Valley, or Paris, but for the time being it’s South Dakota. Whatever…don’t judge. Last summer we were on our way to South Dakota and we stopped for drinks/snacks at a gas station about an hour outside of the Twin Cities. I was wandering the store trying to decide what to get for the rest of the trip, and loading up on Diet Coke (sigh), when I saw her. HER. Horrified, I made a bee-line to the bathroom where Ess was waiting her turn.
Ess: (Looking far more startled than she should have based upon my tendency to be a bit over dramatic.) What?! Jeannette???
Me: Wait…WHAT?! YOU KNOW HER?!!!
Ess: YOU know her???
Me: She was HORRIBLE to me in college.
Ess: I graduated from high school with her!!!
After much confusion, and high-tailing it out of the gas station in an effort to avoid her (because that’s what normal 35 year old women do…right?), we were able to piece it together. Ess had also seen Jeanette in the store before I did and was hiding back by the bathrooms for that very reason. Ess and Jeanette went to high school together. Jeanette and I went to college together. And while Ess and Jeanette were distant friends, she understood her treating me the way she did, and we had a good laugh. For the whole weekend I fantasized about running into Jeanette at one of the townie bars where I could really give her a piece of my mind. We never did run into her and my dreams of making her see what she’d done were dashed. Damn.
I had lunch today with Ess. We hadn’t seen each other in weeks due to work schedules and the holiday and my trip to Phoenix. She told me a very sad story about one of her classmates having passed away and how she had been at the funeral recently where she sat by…wait for it…Jeanette. She told me about the long conversation they’d had, what Jeanette is up to these days, and how now…as 36 year old women…Ess has new respect and appreciation for her. As I listened, I logically understood, as I’ve had experiences like this myself with people I knew long ago. And yet, a little part of me still wants Jeanette to know what a hooker she was to me when we were in college. Even though she may have had her reasons. Even though it’s nearly 20 years (pardon me while I recover from reading the sentence I just typed) later.
Over the past several months I’ve been thinking about how I perceived people in high school, how they perceived me, and likely how very little any of it had to do with who we all truly were. I’ve been thinking of friends who went to my high school and had a horrible experience while I had a great experience. Or people in college who thought I was a complete b-tch or a complete idiot when I don’t think I was either. It’s such a good reminder of how we all see and experience things so differently, how we all are going through our very own sh-t, and how it’s so difficult to know what exactly is going on in other peoples’ lives/minds/worlds. As an adult, one who claims to be open minded and hopes to be kind, I think I might have to re-evaluate how I see people from my past and let the hard stuff go. Because honestly, how Jeanette treated me in college or how mean that bully was to me in high school? Those things have zero impact on my life now.
I’m heading back to South Dakota tomorrow with my girlfriend Ess and there is a chance that we could run into Jeanette again after all. I’m going to let go of that tiny piece of me that wants her to understand how horrible she was and simply be kind. My mom always said…kill ‘em with kindness. Maybe I’ll go really crazy and just be kind for the sake of being kind.
TODAY: What if the people I remember as being challenging to deal with just don’t matter anymore? What if hoping to achieve some sort of justice or understanding with them…10 or 20 years later…I just treat them with kindness and forgive those I feel were unkind to me?