Every person we encounter has a different version of us that they have built up in their own mind. This means that there is a good chance that someone has formulated their entire view of who we are based upon our worst days. All they may remember about us are the rare moments when we were the bully, or the asshole. They may have based their entire impression of us around our one slip up, no matter how seemingly insignificant or unintentional. In their eyes, we are defined by a single moment we may not even remember, because for them it was a formative, traumatic experience that planted a seed of misery in their soul.
The version of us that they may have created in their head and heart might not align with who we really are, but we are still responsible. We are responsible for leaving a bad taste in their mouth and giving them a negative impression to build the entire foundation of their understanding of us upon. We can never take back how we affect people, but we can acknowledge when we have hurt them. We can validate their feelings, accept the consequences of our actions, even in the fleeting moments, and apologize for the damage we unknowingly inflicted. The truth is, those tiny glimpses that other people sometimes build their entire view of us around are partially accurate. They are also our responsibility to acknowledge and correct within us, instead of trying to hide, deny, or gaslight the truth from ourselves or each other.
In high school, there was a girl who I felt didn’t like me. I wanted to know why, so I started a conversation with her. I tried to be as gentle and open about the situation as possible so she would know that I was coming from a place of understanding rather than accusation. What she told me broke my heart. In middle school, she was severely bullied, and on one of her worst days, I was among the group of kids who laughed at her. I may not have been the one who made the joke, and I may not have been the one who shoved her, but I was the one who laughed with everyone else. I couldn’t even recall the day or event that she was talking about, but I did remember people bullying her. I remembered witnessing disturbing behavior toward her and never doing anything to help. When she told me I had laughed at her during one of her most traumatic experiences, I didn’t try to defend myself or deny partaking in that kind of behavior, because I honestly couldn’t remember. I simply listened, acknowledged that I was capable of unintentionally hurting her in that way, and I sincerely apologized for how I contributed to her negative experience. I owned the behavior and the consequences they had on her, despite not remembering exactly what I had done.
Remembering the specific details weren’t important to me because I knew well enough that during those vulnerable, transformative years of middle school and high school, many of us were all a mess for different reasons. I truly believe we were also the rawest versions of ourselves, down to our core, because we hadn’t yet learned how to mask the ugly parts of ourselves away from the world. We hadn’t figured out how to assimilate with societal standards of fake smiles or polite kindness. We hadn’t developed the art of basic human decency. We hadn’t yet learned how to perform in front of screens or present as less shittier versions of ourselves. At that time and age, many of us only knew misery and how to take it out on each other. We only knew how to temporarily keep the spotlight of the shit show away from us. We were all too thankful to not be the target for once, not realizing how we were only contributing to the problem for someone else by hiding among the laughing crowd.
That conversation with the girl from high school has stayed with me for years. I always wonder who else I may have unintentionally had a lasting, harmful impact on during my worst moments that I don’t even remember. So, if any of you are reading this, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry for any heartbreak or personal tragedy that I may have contributed to, or simply witnessed without offering to help. I’m sorry if I laughed, basking in the freedom of not being the victim that day. I’m sorry if I wasn’t the one to stand up for you. I’m sorry if I avoided eye contact and simply kept walking down those halls. I’m sorry if you were ever the collateral damage of the war that was taking place within me as I fought to become a better version of myself. I’m sorry if you are unable to see who I am because you are still hyper focused on your wounds, inflicted by the fragments of who I was during those moments in between. I’m sorry my metamorphosis was so messy as I was letting go of who I was, and becoming who I wanted to be. I’m sorry my edges were so sharp during that transition. I’m sorry if you are still bleeding.
If there’s anything I can do to help you heal, please let me know. I hope someday, I can set both of us free from the version of me that you have built up in your mind. I hope someday you’ll grant me the honor of seeing myself through your eyes.