One day when I was in high school I was sitting on a bench in the locker room of the girls' gym waiting to go outside and play tennis.  Well, play tennis is kind of a stretch.  Try and play tennis is more like it. Several of us were sitting on the bench tying our sneakers when there was a very loud thump on the bench behind me.  It shook the entire thing.  I said, "Uh oh.  Must be [Jane.]"

She was a fairly heavy girl in a grade or two above me. My remark seemed funny, if mean, to me at the time because I was sure it was just someone else monkeying around the lockers.  But my friends didn't laugh.  They looked horrified.

Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach and it felt like my face was on fire.

I turned around to see [Jane]  sitting right behind me. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes, picked up her shoes and purse and ran out of the locker room into the bright afternoon sun.

The only good thing about hurting someone, if you're lucky, is what you learn as a result: that you simply never, never forget it and as a consequence, try never to do it again.  Ever.

I ran after her and begged her to forgive me.  I knew that I didn't deserve being forgiven, but I had to tell her what I said was inexcusable and that there was nothing else to say and that I could never take the words back.  She just walked away. 

As weeks and months went by, she and I found a kind of comfortable zone in which we could make small talk like teenaged girls do,  but I don't think she ever really liked me again and I can't blame her at all.  I didn't like me much either whenever my thought dared to wander back to that day in the locker room.

The truth is that I don't even remember her real name now. Obviously it wasn't Jane.  But what I can remember in painful detail is how horrible hurting someone felt.  I can remember that feeling like it was yesterday.

I have been thinking about this lately because some days when I'm perusing websites where people can post comments for and about other people, I am reminded how easy it is to remain completely detached from the object of our remarks. Words that on the spur of the moment seem clever or glib are often just sarcastic, belittling and mean.  But since these words hit their target in cyberspace, we don't get the lesson I got that day in the locker room; because our computer screens won't suddenly look up at us with tears in their eyes. 

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Tags: Chris Shea

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Comment by steve sund on June 30, 2011 at 5:05pm
Very good point indeed.
Leaving a snarky comment never moves the dialog forward. I have mostly stopped reading the postings on websites because of this very thing.
Well done.

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