Day 25: Something someone told you about yourself that you’ll never forget (good or bad)
The attack was completely unexpected.
Katie and I were friends. I sat directly in front of her in a special early morning 8th grade advanced algebra class at the high school, and we’d chat about typical 13-year old topics as we unpacked our homework and waited for the rest of the middle school math nerds to filter in. We also acted as each other’s fashion police. If my 80s-era stand-up collar was falling down on one side, she’d tell me. If her oversized sweater was inside out, I’d tell her. It wasn’t as if we were fanatically searching for flaws like monkeys grooming each other for fleas. We just generally kept an eye on each other’s appearance so we didn’t look foolish in front of the older high school kids when it came time to board the bus after class for the ride back to the middle school.
One morning I turned around for our normal chat and mentioned that she had a big white string on the shoulder of her navy blue sweater. I thought I was acting within our normal fashion parameters, but I apparently crossed some line I didn’t know existed. She totally went off, accusing me of nit-picking and being overly critical and I don’t know what else because my mind went numb with shock. I’d never been dressed down like that in public, and never, ever by a friend.
From that day forward, I preplanned and carefully weighed every single word that I said to Katie, so that nothing could possibly be construed as critical. I played back countless conversations I’d had with Katie and others, to see if there was any kernel of truth to her accusations. I became more hesitant about offering any opinions or advice in any situation, even when asked directly.
To this day, there is a terrible internal struggle about whether or not I should intervene if a family member has ketchup on his chin or a stranger has toilet paper stuck to her shoe. Will they take my well-intentioned attempt to save them from embarrassment as meddling and/or criticism?
Katie’s words way back in 8th grade have made me second-guess my own words and actions for nearly 30 years. I wonder if she knew back then what kind of power those few short sentences held?