True Confessions

Growing up Protestant, I always envied my Catholic friends because they had confession. They could go, tell someone what they had done wrong, be given a task or prayer or duty to make it right, and go forth knowing that until they screwed up again, they were forgiven. My church emphasized asking for forgiveness through prayer, but my guilty conscience had a hard time letting know when to let it go or when I had made sufficient amends.

Today’s 30 days of truth post calls for “something you need to forgive yourself for.” I thought long and hard, and came up with several possibilities, but today, I give you the event from my childhood that I am most ashamed of.

In fifth grade, our teacher gave us all mailboxes with our names on them so that we could exchange notes, projects, and homework with a minimum of whispering. I skipped fourth grade, so I was the youngest kid in the class by a year, and at least six inches in height. I was an awkward kid, not cute or conventionally pretty by any standard (more about that here), and I wanted nothing more than to fit in with the other kids in my new surroundings.

There was one girl in our class who was even lower on the totem pole than I was- Heather. She had the same glasses and crooked teeth I had, but was long and gangly where I was short and squat. In retrospect, her family probably struggled financially, but at nine years old, it irritated me that she wore the same clothes all the time, always looked slightly dirty, and wanted even more obviously than I did to belong to the pretty girls’ clique. Something came over me, an evil mean girls spirit, and one day I wrote her an anonymous note, telling her exactly what I thought of her. I wrote that she was not pretty. I wrote that no one liked her. I wrote everything I hated about myself that she reflected in nine-year old cursive for her to read, and I put it in her mailbox.

When she read it, she cried. The teacher pulled her aside, read the note, and sat the whole class down until someone confessed. I couldn’t do it. I was too chicken to sign my name and even more afraid that everyone would know what a horrible person I was. Our teacher promised to investigate by matching the notepaper to our spiral notebooks, the handwriting to our assignments. I held my breath all week, expecting to be caught and found out as the perpetrator. Instead, my teacher suspected my best friend. I guess we had similar handwriting and notebooks. But she couldn’t prove it and the matter dropped. I never told anyone what I had done.

When I think back to how hard that year was for me, I can only imagine how much worse it would have been had some other cruel child written out all of my flaws for me. It haunts me how cruel I was and how much it must have hurt Heather then, and possibly even years later. With all of the coverage in the news about the awful tragedies caused by childhood bullying, I feel grateful that as far  as I know, Heather came out the other side of my bullying. In fact, the last time I saw her, she was infinitely cooler than me and had a black leather jacket and attentive and thoughtful boyfriend to show for it.

But I still feel guilty about it. I am writing this in hopes of it serving as a sort of confession. And I hope that I can find a way to forgive myself.

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10 Comments

Filed under Friends, Soul Searching

10 responses to “True Confessions

  1. Thank you to the reader who suggested by email that I seek Heather out and apologize. Unfortunately, she had a very common last name and I have been unable to track her down. And even if I did, having been bullied myself, I’m not sure that she owes me anything or that it would be constructive to dredge up something painful years later anyway.

    What do you think readers?

    • I don’t know about tracking her down, that’s got elements of personal invasion that some people are uncomfortable with…

      …as for apologizing, I’m pretty sure you just did.

      This post has regret, contrition and confession. The words “I’m sorry” are simple and can be anywhere in a range of sincerity, and people tend to distrust them out-of-the-blue without preexisting anguish.

      This post, on the other hand, leaves no doubt about how you felt, how you feel now, and your sincerity and contrition. A catholic priest would be proud.

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  3. I think no matter where you stood on that ladder of social status there was always someone slightly below you that it made you feel better to pick on them. It’s human nature.

    I don’t think seeking Heather out and reminding her of the past will make her feel better, just yourself. So just forgive yourself. You’re already a better person by acknowledging that what you did was wrong, not everyone would.

  4. Anne

    I’m really torn about this one. On one hand, “emotions are not substitutes for actions,” and while your post is rife with remorse and contrition, just feeling sorry isn’t the same as owning your behaviour and taking responsibility for it.

    On the other hand, how would this serve Heather, if you did track her down and apologize? Would it benefit her in any way to hear your confession and apology?

    In the end, I don’t think it’s about Heather, it’s about a lesson YOU can take away from this experience. It’s about how careful we have to be about our words and actions, and how precious compassion truly is. Princess Adora is right: forgive yourself, Wide, and remember to teach Baby Lawns about what you’ve learned.

  5. Anne

    Whoops–I got confused about which blog I was posting to, and I apologize. You don’t have to post my comment, but I do mean what I said: begin by forgiving yourself, and pass that on to your kids.

    And sorry for the confusion.

  6. I participated, through the pressure of a group I was on the outer fringe of, in the bullying of a girl at high school. My sole contribution was once saying ‘yeah, that’s right!’, when one of the ringleaders said that even I didn’t want to have her around. I have felt ashamed ever since.

    We ended up at the same residential college and I apologised for my behaviour. She didn’t absolve me and there was no reason she should have. I’ve never forgotten the way I behaved and her not forgiving me has kept it in the forefront of my mind for over twenty years.

    It is the only thing I’ve done in life that I think was truly nasty and I’m glad that she was strong minded enough not to accept my apology, made out of a desire to absolve myself. I am still disgusted when I think of my behaviour and those thoughts have shaped my actions ever since.

    She gave me a gift that I didn’t deserve. The regret will persist to my dying day.

  7. I did something I was ashamed of when I was young– I stole a $20 bill from one of my very good friends. I denied it and our friendship ended after that, and I saw her recently on facebook. I’d never stopped thinking about what I’d done and several years ago decided if I found her that I would send her a $100 bill and an apology. One day she sent me a friend request of facebook and it just tore me up because I knew it was time to face it. I wrote her a note telling her what I had done, and how much I’d thought about it and needed to make amends. She wrote back right away accepting my apology but saying that honestly, she didn’t even remember the incident, and that she was guilty of doing the same thing to other people in her life. Yes, I needed to absolve myself, and man it felt good.

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