Written for Fandango’s Provocative Question #100 : “How do we make peace with ourselves, knowing that, being the basically good people we are, we also have a side to us which we know isn’t the best — our “dark side”? Can we overcome these parts of our lives that we may not be proud of? Or do we simply accept them, learn to live with them, and move on?”
I was the bully in middle school. I made mean girls cry.
At first it was probably second-child behavior run completely amuck. I was always a pest but around age twelve or thirteen, my attitude deteriorated rapidly. Perhaps I was acting out some things that happened to me at the time. Certain things perpetuate themselves. These behaviors are born in a place of pain. When you hate yourself, as a defense mechanism you lash out and make other people hate you, too. Preempt them. Give them a reason to hate you before they come up with one on their own.
Even though many of these events (but not all, by any means) were nearly twenty years ago, I still feel guilt and have no peace.
One particularly bad incident that stands out was when I bullied a certain girl. I went after her all the time. We were in a running club and we were jogging along a trail. I don’t remember how it started, but somehow we got into it while running and she tried to hit me. I shoved her back and she fell and rolled backwards into some leaves. Later she confronted me, crying, and in her confusion she said something like “at least I wasn’t the one that fell,” and I just laughed at her and said “Uh, yeah, actually you were!” Even more than the shoving, it was my tone of voice and derisive laughter that haunts me.
In high school I calmed down a lot since I was able to start over. I didn’t have too much drama except a few incidents here and there I’m not proud of. No one really picked on me either, although there was one time this guy came up and told me I was ugly. But he was the kid who jacked off during class, so I could hardly shed any tears over that.
Over time I’ve tried to reform myself but I still struggle with the urge. My efforts have ranged from therapy, affirmations, and a variety of painful Catholic practices.
The Gospel says: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23-24)
But no amount of religious fervor can change the past. A character flaw or sinful tendency can be worked on but not the commission of past deeds, especially those that hurt other people. Whatever I leave at the altar is worthless. I don’t really believe in God’s forgiveness in my circumstances because there is no possibility of reconciliation with them now. Only their forgiveness matters to me. Penance doesn’t change anything.
I can’t make peace with myself because the issue will always remain unresolved. I often wonder what happened to them, how badly I fucked them up, and hope they found more happiness than I did. Dear victims, remember, not that it’s much comfort, that whatever you have suffered, you have the opportunity to understand it’s not your fault and heal the wounds, whereas bullies must live with what they’ve done forever and can never have any closure and therefore no peace. All we have is a life filled with regret. Being in the position to extend forgiveness, no matter how difficult, is a luxury compared to this.