Today’s post is prompted by a writing challenge. It spoke to me. I’d love to hear about your thoughts on this challenge.
You have the choice to erase one incident from your past, as though it never happened. What would you erase and why?
It was 1986, a temperate Summer’s day in Johannesburg, and it was almost time for the school bell to ring for break. I was crazy-obsessed with playing elastics with the girls in my class and looked forward to the chanting, jumping, giggling joy only a ten year old knows.
That bell rang, it’s Pavlov’s Dog effect causing excessive shrieking and laughter, and we were dismissed. I ran with a gaggle of little girls to sit under a tree and eat our lunches as quickly as possible (I was not one to ever skip a meal – even for elastics). As we ate, we talked about the important things in life, like whose mother packed them a chocolate (not mine) and who was wearing what colour knickers (don’t do handstands in a dress).
Then it started.
She was sitting by herself, eating her egg-mayonnaise sandwich. She looked sad. I wanted to go and sit with her because she was my friend. I wanted to ask her to play with us because I knew it would cheer her up. I wanted to make her stop looking so sad.
I didn’t go. I sat and witnessed her sadness. Her thick glasses had slid down her nose and her piggy-tails were lopsided.
I wanted to fit in.
So I sat with the gigglers and I giggled. I told myself it was okay and that she should look after herself. My inner voice was hollow, but I pretended all the same.
“Yeugh! Look at her! She is eating egg-mayonnaise and her mouth is open. Gross!” They began to torment her. “Her glasses are so thick, they won’t stay up!”, they laughed. “She shouldn’t sit here! Eeew, I can smell her yucky sandwiches!”, and they got up and began to walk in Cool Mean Girl Formation to wards her.
I was horrified.
She looked at them. She looked at me. They looked at me.
They looked at me with raised eyebrows. This was my test: Join them and be one of The Gang. Join her and join the nerdy, smelly-sandwich club.
I got up and joined the Mean Girls.
She looked at me, got up and left, a brave tear escaping down her cheek as her shoulders slumped with the realisation that I wasn’t her friend after all.
That was twenty seven years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel crushing guilt about that day. I am still so deeply disappointed and ashamed of the action of that ten year old version of myself.
I tracked my old friend down a few years ago, hoping and praying that I had not – on that day – caused her the kind of pain that follows you and moulds you and warps you. Guilt had been eating at my heart for twenty years, surely pain had done the same to hers?
I blurted it all out: the regret, the shame, the guilt. I apologised and asked for forgiveness.
She laughed. She didn’t even remember. Not at all.
She was happy and successful and remembered me with fondness. No scars. No pain. Oh, the relief.
Here’s the incredible part: I still remember that day. Acutely. I remember the breeze, the Billy Idol lunchbox next to mine, the smell of Summer in the air. The guilt is still there, as is the shame. It’s as real as it was the day I watched that tear roll down her cheek. I may be forgiven, but I can’t forget and I don’t want to.
I’ve never picked the Mean Girls again. I never will.
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