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.