A friend of mine was tagged in a Facebook picture recently. It was one of those school pictures with all the kids lined up according to height, with the smiling baby-faces of those with whom we grew up beaming outward with ours. At one point, these pictures were mere formalities of the school year. We’d dress up for “picture day” just because it was expected. We didn’t really consider that one day we’d be looking down time’s corridor at our faces staring out at a camera in the school gymnasium.
My friend was tagged, but so was another face I recognized. His face was once one of terror for me — because at one point, this face belonged to a kid who singled me out for serial persecution. He was a big kid, seven feet tall in fact, stooped shoulders, and with a mane of white-blonde hair like that of a lumbering beast. I can still picture him in this incarnation, fierce and terrible.
One time as I was sitting on the lip of the school blacktop, he kicked me right in the back on my kidney. He slapped me in the face another time, sliding down a snowhill, and pretended (when caught at it) that I’d been in his way as he was trying to ‘balance’. For a while, school itself was a terror because of him.
My mind went there to that time briefly as I looked on the picture 30 years later. Then I was back to the present in an instant, safe and sound.
Staring at me from the Facebook comments, also there for all to read, was this monster’s comment. “Yeah, that’s me,” he had written, simply. The voice of the Beast himself! And yet, not a beast at all.
I looked upon his face and suddenly, with surprise, I saw a little kid; just a boy. He was tall for his age, placed in the back row with all of the other tall kids. But he was a boy, not the Grendel that I held in my mind. I wondered if he remembered some of the things he’d done. And I wondered what drove him. Who had kicked him, and slapped him, either literally or figuratively, enough to make him want to do it to another kid? I wondered what it was about me that he saw and railed against so vehemently?
It made me think too about my own life, that even though I’ve gone through some hard times, I’ve had a rewarding life since I was that terrified 11-year old. I wondered about him, and his comment. In writing it, he transported himself for me into the present as well. He became another human being just like me, staring at an image of his former self on Facebook. I wondered if he’d been as satisfied with his life as I was with mine. I found myself hoping that he was.
Social media sites like Facebook make struggling with the burden of memory into a unique exercise. In one’s mind, when considering one’s persecutors, it’s easy to construct revisions of history, and the revenge fantasies that often accompany them. I could have dredged up the past, if I’d wanted to right then and there. Comments were open. I could have written whatever I wanted to, and my former bully would have seen it.
But, it made more sense to look into the face of that kid in the photo, just a child, hoping that he found a way through as well as I have. And thoughts of recriminations these many years later seemed silly, petty, almost cruel. “Yeah, that’s me,” he wrote. Yet, not as the beast of my past, but rather as a man considering the course of his own life, and all the mistakes and triumphs along the way.
And that’s what we all face, in the end, no matter which row in the school photo we happen to have been placed in on picture day.
“Day 107/five” the half-blood prince @flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
“facebook wesite screenshot” Spencer E. Holtaway @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. All rights reserved.