In a building lobby a few days ago, I saw a face that, after 30 years, still made my heart race out of fear. A scruffy beard, deep wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and a look much older than his years couldn't disguise that face. When a lady called his name, it confirmed his identity. Three decades later, I was looking at the man who was once one of my worst childhood bullies.
He called me horrible racial slurs, played keep-away with my belongings, spat in my hair, and vandalized my house a few times. He was what my nightmares were made of in grade school. He took so much pleasure in tormenting me to tears, and I never knew why, although it seemed like my race was his favorite toy to play with. He had a group of followers, too. The chorus of teasing made life almost unbearable. But even then, I was a positive thinker. To cope with the agony of it, I'd come home, pull out my notebook, and write stories. In them, I'd turn him into a mythical creature that I'd slay a hundred different ways. The more I hurt, the more I wrote, and the more I read books to escape it all.
That day in the lobby, he was yelling at a customer service agent who'd done nothing wrong. He was being insulting and unnecessarily rude. His hair and nails were unkempt, and he smelled like he hadn't showered in weeks. His clothes were dirty, his boots were muddy, and he looked utterly miserable. In those few minutes, I wondered if he ever went to college, had a job he liked, if he had girlfriends, ever got married, had kids, if he had good friends, if he ...
Then I stopped myself from wondering. As an adult, I'm able to see things I couldn't have seen as a child. Perhaps he had problems back then that made him the way he was. Or maybe there was no reason at all. Maybe he was just plain mean. And apparently, nothing much has changed. Nonetheless, looking back at those days through my grown-up eyes, I see that he hurt me, but he also helped me. Because of him, and those like him, I became a tough cookie. Little did I know, the obsessive reading and writing was the foundation of a life-long passion and today, a career.
Life is precious. I won't waste a moment of it thinking ill of him or reveling in his misery. Nope. Whatever the reason behind his unpleasantness, I only hope he finds his inner peace, and I am thankful for the lessons I learned and the person I am today.
Dear bully, you're officially forgiven.