Thursday, February 12, 2009

Did I Do That?

Confession time. When I was eleven years old, I helped tie Emily Calhoun to the a-frame of the Bellini's swing-set. In fact, it was entirely my idea. Emily was a misfit; a pale, chubby girl with freckles, an overbite, and a head full of the frizziest, flakiest, most unkempt hair I have ever seen on a human being. She and I lived a few houses apart. We were the same age and were always feuding over one stupid thing or another.
I had recognized her poorly disguised voice, just a day or so before on the opposite end of a prank phone call made to my home. In retaliation, my brother and I, and a scruffy band of younger, neighbor kids had found a large, black and yellow salamander that someone had stepped on, and we somehow thought it would be appropriate to restrain Emily and scare the sass out of her by sticking it in her face. Our gang accosted her gang in the woods and being the larger, stronger group, we took her captive. We marched her to the rusted old A-frame like a prisoner to the gallows, and proceeded to tie her to the crossbar. Her blood-curdling scream caused us to cut her free just a few seconds into the torture. We scattered to various hiding places, but the damage was done.
When I remember this now, it does not seem possible that I could have actually been responsible for something like this, but I was. The thought of it horrifies me now.
According to the grapevine, at some point during her high school years, Emily became a resident groupie to the local motorcycle gang. She later dropped out of school all together and off my radar. Then, years later, I saw her one day at a pizza place a few towns over. Our chance meeting led to an impromptu lunch during which she revealed that she was completely estranged from her entire family, and her new, slim shape was the result of ongoing amphetamine abuse.
Although I suspect there were many factors from her early life contributing to her troubled state, I still can't help wondering what part(however small)I may have played in shaping it. I will never know for sure. I can hardly believe some of the things I said and did when I was a kid, but there it is. As alien as that person now feels, it was definitely me in some earlier, larval form. I am sincerely contrite and remorseful for the actions of the younger, meaner, stupider me.
Now, I am the champion of the underdog. I support several charities for the homeless, and as I write this, I am preparing to go to my weekly stint teaching religious education to an unruly mob of thirteen year olds whose parents belong to my church. Maybe on some level, I see this a sort of penance for the sins of my past life. Proof that anyone can change.


  1. I see this a sort of penance for the sins of my past life. ~Maybe you do see it that way, but I think you grew, changed, learned- things many people much older than you have not yet done(some may never). If everyone did charity work as penance for past wrongs, I suspect we'd all be out doing charity work all the time. I was emailing back & forth with someone the other day who puts a spin on EVERYTHING so it is her mother's-father's -ex-bf's fault. I doubt she's doing penance for anything because she doesn't allow herself to believe she's has ever done a damn thing she'd need it for. I suspect(some) other people who have done what you did as a kid, and much worse, just pretend they didn't. ~Mary

  2. its not how you start, its how you end up.....and i think you ended up just fine. thats the thing about life,there are no guarantees, no easy answers...jc

  3. It very well may be your misdeed left a deeper a mark on you than it did her. And it obviously shaped you into a better person.

  4. It's almost as if we all belonged to "Lord of the Flies". And then by Grace and the desire to become better, we did progress. I hope!
    Happy St. Valentines Day.....

  5. I strongly believe that when we are younger, much younger, a kid, we are able of terrible things. How can we learn without making mistakes? Impossible. There is a Brazilian saying that is: Better regretting about you did, than regretting about something you never tried. We all made mistakes in our lives. What is relevant now is that you have a nice story..the story of your life, your family, your abilities, your kindness. Be happy!