Rest In Peace, L.R.
I don’t glean a lot of life-changing information from Facebook, but by now I should realize if I am open to messages they arrive through many different channels.
So it was when I read a post from a friend regarding someone we’d gone to school with. His point, a good one, was that there was much garment rending, wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth over the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, but not a peep – perhaps not even an obituary — regarding L.R., who I will identify only by initials as I do not know her family, nor do I wish to objectify her in any way.
I knew her briefly, 40 years ago, in a speech (and erstwhile drama) class at Gresham Junior High. We weren’t friends, but were friendly. Like all oddballs and budding outcasts, we recognized each other by our common neediness and overwhelming desire to fit in, have friends, live the life we thought everyone around us was living. What should have drawn us together kept us apart, as I was certainly not going to make friends with the girl the cool kids made fun of. I will say that I never joined in, but neither did I step up and defend so my guilt is perhaps greater than that of her tormentors.
Her death has me thinking of quite a few people from those days, young men and women who very much wanted to befriend me, and whose advances I often spurned, or accepted halfheartedly, because they weren’t the friends I wanted. I spent decades harboring, nursing and growing resentment about the way I was treated by some people in junior and senior high. I carefully nursed my self-composed image of the misunderstood artist and loner, rather than taking a clear-eyed look at the guy whose switching between neediness and disdain was so off-putting to the confident, successful people I emulated and wanted to be with. In chasing them, I ran by many an outstretched hand. I’ve had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with some of those people who I did not treat well in those days, a most rewarding eperience.
Now, to be clear: I was physically and emotionally abused by two people throughout junior and senior high. Many, many people, including teachers and administrators knew and saw what was going on, and I received precious little support and assistance. I was told, more often than not, just “not to egg them on, or encourage them,” as if I was doing any such thing. In my rage as this treatment, I have never stopped long enough to realize how my desire to be out of that environment manifested in chasing what a friend called “the shinier, more interesting people” at the expense of smart, funny and kind individuals who would have, and could have, been my friends. In short, I sought protection from the very people who enabled my abusers, and spurned others who would have stood by my side. By high school, I had hardened into someone who just wanted to be done and gone, and my social circle dwindled to a handful of people. (I would, mercifully, bloom in college and, once away from my tormentors, begin the fumbling steps toward finding peace and happiness with, and for, myself.)
I remember being told, not too long ago, by someone from those days that she enjoyed my company, but my bitterness at a situation that she was powerless to change just made it too hard to be around me. I wonder, if just once I had stepped up to the bullies who tormented L.R. with the myriad pranks an 8th grade kid can come up with, my arc would have changed. I’ll never know, but now I can own my part in my own history, recognizing my bad choices that led to unhappy outcomes. I can meet a kind word or gesture with gratitude, not dismissal because I’m on the prowl for something “better.” I can be more aware of unkindness, and swallowing my fear say something in the moment, and provide help and comfort afterward. And for that, L.R., I have you to thank and I will be forever grateful.