When I was a kid I thought adults had their shit together. Little did I know that adults are just human; each one with their own story.
I often look back on my high school years with disdain. Yet there is no reason for it. I had good teachers, friends, was involved in school activities – choirs, sports, productions – and I generally had fun. But inside I felt insecure and unsure of myself. I always seemed to be on the outside looking in. No matter where I was, or who I was with, this sense of disconnection remained and stuck with me through me teenage years. Looking back, I wonder if there were a lot of kids who felt the same way I did, but because we never talked about it, we never knew.
Several months ago, when I was swimming with my cute little nephews at the pool, I crossed paths with a girl from my high school and all my fears and insecurities returned in a flash. I had always figured that Isabelle* didn’t like me – my insecurity and unease told me so. In my mind she was more attractive than me, cooler than me, wealthier than me, had cooler boyfriends than me and, given all these things, must be better than me. Looking back, I can see that while I firmly believed this to be true, it was not based on any evidence. In fact, we barely spoke five words to each other our entire college existence so any conception I had of who she was and what she thought was but a figment of my imagination.
As I was walking back to get my towel it became clearer that I was going to have to start up a conversation. I knew as well as Isabelle that neither of us wanted to have that conversation. My deep sense of uncertainty was magnified by my nakedness and strikingly alternative leopard print togs which seemed in sharp contrast to the conservatively clothed person seated at the waters edge. Several years ago I would have simply said ‘Hello’ or possibly even ignored her altogether, but today I was feeling friendly. After our somewhat apprehensive greeting I asked her a few questions and got the overwhelming impression that she would rather be shoveling shit than talking to me. The walls of resistance were up and on this day I was not having a bar of it. Instead of battling on, I took it upon myself to make a speedy exit and, with that, I noticed my family splashing in the distance and with an ‘oh, and there they are now …’ the conversation petered out.
At the time I judged Isabelle for being unfriendly and rude, condemning her for her abrupt attitude patting myself on the back for ‘giving it a try’. Over time though I couldn’t help but wonder what her story was and where she was in her life. She certainly didn’t exude warmth and happiness. I assume that people act the way they do because of me when, in actual fact, the world and its inhabitants do not revolve around me. People are usually too caught up in their own lives to wonder or care about mine. Today when I find myself judging people for the way they behave or for things they’ve said, I try to remind myself to be kind for everybody has their own story, with their own personal battles, that I know very little about.
*Isabelle is a pseudonym