I wrote a hundred drafts. I thought about what and what not to say a thousand times. I called old friends and my high school girlfriend, Marie, to talk about that time in high school to see what they remember, ask them questions, see if they could help me fill in some holes.
After getting that email from (one of) my high school bully(s) my head just spiraled into this place that it never spent much time, if any in the last decade. All of a sudden I felt like I had this right to go back in time and look at it through this lens of “Holy shit, this was terrible” rather than the narrative I used as an excuse to never totally break, “Eh, high school just sucks for everyone.” All of a sudden, after reading Joanne’s email, I felt like I had permission to go back and feel it all in a real way, like I had never considered. I finally gave myself the room to really take a look at what it was like for me to be little-teenaged-me and to be outed and treated the way I was. And guess what I always knew but never really admitted: It was awful! So very terrible. I mean, I knew that. Of course I did. I just never gave myself the chance or the permission or the time to really absorb it, want apologies, offer forgiveness. These are not things I would have ever guessed I would do or need to do or be given the opportunity to do. But I did and I did and I did.
And let me tell you something, an unexpected apology from an unexpected person at an unexpected time is incredible! I didn’t even realize that Joanne realized that she hurt me. I think, to some degree, I didn’t even feel worthy of letting myself realize that I had been so hurt. That sounds so strange, but the degree to which her email had me reeling for days and days and day, still, makes me realize that the validation she offered me in such an authentic and kind admission, were things I had never even offered myself.
Anyway, with all of the drafts I’ve written or imagined, in all of the late nights, early mornings, middle of work meetings, dog walks, brushing my teeth, reading your blogs, just sitting here in my living room, rereading her email, I finally wrote my high school bully back. I kept it simple. I didn’t feel unsafe but I also felt the need for some reserve. The actual letter(s) that I have thought to write her would take months to read, so instead I tried something I rarely do: I attempted to stick to the point, to the facts, to the purpose (very much unlike my style here at jljj) and here’s how it turned out:
November 21 at 5:33pm
What an amazing email just sitting and waiting for me in my inbox. Thank you. I actually received it several days ago but have felt so tongue-tied I haven’t written back yet. I still feel tongue-tied but wanted you to know how much I appreciate you writing me and everything you said. It means so much, I can’t figure out know how to express that properly. Maybe more than you could guess? Maybe not.
High school was most certainly not my favorite time in life. It was actually really difficult for me, terrible at times, and to be honest I didn’t know for sure that you knew this until your email. That email has lifted some heavy weights from some dark places and memories and I admire you for writing me as much as I feel thankful – which is a lot. I hadn’t thought about so much of it in so long, but when I look back and really think about all of the awfulness of being outed and then abandoned and then I read the email you sent me, I start to feel lighter and feel a balance that was never there before now.
I’ve always known that you were a good person, and I want you to know that. I was never mad at you, I just missed you – and I want you to know that too. It makes me really happy to hear that you made it through some hard places in your life and I hope, so much, that you are happy in your life.
xxxxx is telling the truth, I am doing well and have found a good life for myself that makes me feel really, really lucky every day. I’m in Seattle these days and if we’re anywhere near each other I would love to get together sometime and catch up.
Thank you, Joanne, for reaching out. It was more than welcome, and could never have come too late, that is for sure.