Like everyone else, I have done my fair share of bad things. I have spoken badly about people, I have shared secrets that were not my own, and I have no need to hide any of it—any of my humanity—because the same feelings that have sometimes led me to do bad, have led me to do good, too.
When I was in the third grade, Mrs. Leiker, my 19-month pregnant teacher (I went to a Catholic school and I swear my teachers were always pregnant), pulled the three quietest kids to the front of the room and screamed: “THESE are my favorite students.” I guess we were being loud, I don’t remember. What I do remember is her fury and feeling like a bad kid because I hadn’t been chosen as a favorite. In retrospect, this moment explains the years I spent striving to be the perfect kid. But I can’t pretend like that urge to be the kid at the front of the room has vanished with age.
During that time, what I refer to as “That Time I Should Have Been Reading Harry Potter (Apparently),” I read Beverly Ann Donofrio’s memoir Riding in Cars with Boys. She begins her story in kindergarten, crying in front of her assigned cubby-hole because they were all marked with initials and the kids were making fun of hers. She was B.A.D. She was bad. She spends her life trying to make up for being B.A.D., only to end up pregnant at sixteen and spending the subsequent years seemingly negating all that work she did to be good.
Mrs. Leiker moved to a small town after that year, leaving a forwarding address and weird memories in her place. I only remember two of the three kids that were pulled to the front of the room: one was a girl I got my belly button pierced with in the back room of a salon when we were 18 and belatedly going through our Thirteen phase. The other was a dude who now spouts conspiracy theories and has somehow stressed himself out enough that he has lost a majority of his hair.
And the rest is pointless because you can’t view things through a black and white lens when we live in a Technicolor world.
Even if you smoked in the girl’s locker room (twice, because you were bored and wanted to see what it felt like to be Rayann Graff instead of Angela Chase), skipped school at lunch time and showed up to (a majority of) your high school’s sporting events smelling like winter fresh gum and vodka, were you nice to people that day, without needing applause?
If you went to bed at 10 every night, made sure your skirt hit just below the tip of your longest fingers and always completed the required reading before class, did you do something for the benefit of someone else that week? Month?
I was always a mix of bad and good and I was never too afraid of hiding that because sometimes it’s not that complicated and even when it seems like you’ll never be able to start back at zero with anyone or anything, that’s never really the case. And if it is the case, then maybe you don’t need to be at zero, maybe you need to remember where you’ve been.
The supreme act of courage is that of forgiving ourselves.
That which I was not but could have been.
That which I would have done but did not do.
Can I find the fortitude to remember in truth,
to understand, to submit, to forgive
and to be free to move on in time?