When I was fourteen years old, my family made the decision to move out of the city because of the violence in the city schools. We moved to Woodbury. Most people were welcoming, but I did encounter some who weren’t so happy to have diversity in their suburb.
I was a problem student in grade school and junior high for many reasons, but mainly because I only wanted to read and write. That’s all I wanted to do. I wrote stories and read books every single day, in school and out. I skipped classes sometimes. There were fights. I was opinionated, but that’s not the point.
In the suburbs, 9th grade was still junior high school, so thankfully, I had my brother in 7th grade with me. Irish twins, you know. The other two were in grade school with their own issues. But my brother, who has much darker skin than myself, would meet up after every class. Kind of in solidarity, kind of because my mother told me to take care of him.
People were afraid of us. We were dark, Jewish, our hair was all kinds of colors and we dressed like hippies. We weren’t used to normal school, we were used to having bottles being broken over our heads, so we may have been a little defensive. I made friends right away with the “alternative crowd” and some “nerds” because I’m a nerd myself. If anyone was up to talk philosophy or science, I was interested. I’m also made friends with outcasts, misfits, people of color and later on, the jocks and cheerleaders- who were actually really nice. It was a shame that I believed in stereotypes back then.
Anyways, there was this one kid, Adam. He was tall, scrawny and pale as a ghost. He always wore black and I didn’t pay much attention to him at all until one day…he stopped me in the hallway between classes and SPAT on me! Called me a “dirty Jew”!
I could not have been more shocked. I had never interacted with this guy. How did he even know I was Jewish?? I was with a friend and we went straight to the bathroom and I scrubbed my skin like it was infected. That’s how I felt. Infected. Intruded upon. Assaulted. And I was angry.
A few weeks later, I was in an “in school detention group” with him. He was sitting right across the table from me. Like 3 feet away. All 6 foot plus of him. I was simmering angry and objected to being placed in a room with this beast but they wouldn’t let me out. So…I jumped across the table and beat the shit out of him. They had to pull me off of him kicking and screaming all the way to the principals office. Where I was suspended for my behavior.
A year or so later, I had discovered marijuana. And I was in a group of people including this guy. The other people there were like “um, do you remember who this is?” I said “yes” and they said “we can ask him to leave”. I said “no, people make mistakes, whatever. Pass him the bowl I packed with weed”. There was this weird hush. But truly, I did not care anymore what he did to me. I beat him up, it was over. I had no further issues with him.
20 years later, my best friend in junior high (who is a black man) said to me “hey guess who I saw mopping the halls of some school the other day?! ADAM!! HAHAHA! Isn’t that great?!” I said “why should that be great that he’s a janitor? Why should I hold a grudge for 20 years? Why would you even bring it up like that? That’s sad or if that’s what he wants to be doing, good for him”.
I couldn’t and still don’t understand why my friend was so taken aback by my response. Why is forgiveness so difficult?