I’m going to let you in on something I’m not at all proud of.
In college, I was a huge dick.
I’m not even exaggerating. I had my moments of NOT being a dick, but overall? Huge, huge dick. I thought I knew everything, and I was drinking, like, constantly, and when I wasn’t drinking I was crying or throwing shit around or overreacting about something and being a total theater queen or going on and on and ON about something and the sheer fact that people that knew me back then still want to talk to me kind of amazes me, to be honest.
Now, I know. College-age is a shitty time for a lot of people. We’re just babies when we’re that age. I look at kids that age now and I seriously think, “OMG, you are just a BABY” and usually I forgive them a lot of things because that’s a really tough age. You’re away from home for the first extended period of time in your life, and you’re experiencing a million billion things for the first time, and you have all this crazy-ass heady FREEDOM, and some people handle that better than others.
And some people come from a very, VERY small town, where their graduating class was 60 people (the same 60 people, give or take, that they started kindergarten with 13 years earlier) and their parents didn’t give them a curfew because why give someone a curfew if they’re not allowed to go out at all anyway? Curfew was whenever I got home from school, and it ended whenever I LEFT for school the next MORNING. And then they got to college, and there WAS no curfew, and there were all these PEOPLE, some of them MAN-PEOPLE, and there was ALCOHOL (even though a person was seventeen) and some of us may well have gone a little crazy. For quite some time. Years longer than was necessary, actually. As if it was ever necessary.
I think of Buffy a lot when I think of myself at that age. (I look to Buffy for a lot of life lessons, actually. Don’t we all? If we don’t, shouldn’t we?) I think of Buffy telling Angel, “I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies.”
I think a lot of us in college were cookie dough. Gooey, poorly-behaved, self-absorbed cookie dough. Waiting to become whoever to hell it is we’re going to turn out to be.
It just takes some of us a little longer to bake, is all.
In college, I had a friend named Josh. Josh and I met in my sophomore year and his freshman year. I believe we met in a playwriting class, or were perhaps introduced by David, who knew everyone who was anyone. It’s been a long time. And I was gooey cookie dough, remember.
We had a lot in common. We were theater people. We were readers, which was perhaps even more important; our mutual Stephen King obsession was HOURS of conversation. We were both writers. We both enjoyed movies, and picking them apart into little teeny tiny pieces afterward. He introduced me to Kevin Smith films, which I will never be able to thank him enough for.
Problem is? Cookie dough.
I don’t think I appreciated him enough. Because I was a dick. Because I was so mired in my own shit and my own broken brain that I found it very hard to pull myself out long enough to give even a moment’s thought to anyone else, or what they might have been going through. I think I put on a good enough front; I don’t think people walked away from me thinking I was a sociopath – at least most of the time. I’m sure some people did. Those people were probably the smart ones. (Smart ones: I’m better now. I promise. I spend most of my days thinking of others now. I most sincerely guarantee you this.)
Not long after I graduated, Josh and I got in a fight. Well, no. That’s kind of strangely overstating what happened. I’m not going into detail; it’s no one’s business but the two of us (and the third person involved, I suppose, even if he was involved tangentially.) I got angry at him for something that, in retrospect, was very small. Words were exchanged. I remember very well the last exchange I had with him, which was on our terrible inter-collegiate email: I told him I would neither forgive or forget what had happened, and I would never, ever speak to him again.
I am quite old-world in my vendettas. If someone is dead to me: they are dead to me. There’s no gray area, here. I erased him from my life. I erased three years of friendship; I erased three years of spending time together almost every day, of longhand letters back and forth in the summers, of constant conversation and sharing of ideas and writing and our lives. I took a big old Pink Pearl eraser and I got rid of all of that. Because I was angry. Because I felt betrayed. Because, as stated? I was 21, I thought I was always right, and I was a dick.
And seventeen years have passed. And we didn’t speak. For seventeen years. Because DEAD TO ME.
We had mutual friends; I knew he was teaching, and writing, and that was about it. I didn’t want to know anything else. No interest. I would have made a very good Italian widow, forking the evil eye and spitting when my enemies passed my doorstep.
And then, through a twist of very, very weird fate, we ended up with a mutual friend on Facebook (who was not a mutual college friend, but a mutual friend we didn’t know each other knew.) And Josh reached out to me.
This panicked the shit out of me.
Didn’t he know he was dead to me? What the hell with this? I waffled back and forth on what the hell I was supposed to do, here. Ignore him? Delete the friend request? Send him a message telling him thanks but no thanks and THEN delete the friend request?
Then I thought, Amy. Amy, it’s been 17 years. You need to be an adult about this.
Also, I don’t know if you’re aware, but carrying a grudge? It’s a very heavy weight. And you carry that alone. No one helps you carry a grudge. No one can. It one of those loads you HAVE to carry alone.
I accepted the friend request. I sent him a message that was probably ruder, in retrospect, than it should have been, telling him I was ready to forgive, and move on. I was bristly, though. I don’t trust easily, once trust has been broken. This comes from years of practice with broken trust. I’m a wary little wombat.
We’d been tentatively in contact for a while when he said he was coming to town for a conference, and did I want to have dinner?
Yeah, you think being friends with the guy online scared me? Invite me out to meet in person. You know I have social anxiety. Rachet that up with this kind of baggage, and I was MANIC.
But I thought it out. Like a grownup. Like a fully-baked cookie. And I thought of that heavy-ass seventeen-year-old grudge riding my back like a jockey who didn’t make weight, whipping me when I wasn’t going fast enough and muttering hateful words in my ear.
Yes, I said. Yes, I will meet you for dinner. Yes. Let’s do this.
Then I panicked quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly, sorry, people I panicked to) for days about this, because, well, it’s what I do.
We met for dinner after work the other night at his hotel. I put on my brave face. I can do this, I thought; I can do this. This is dinner. We eat, we don’t talk about touchy subjects, I am light, I am breezy, I am Monica leaving a message for Richard, I CAN DO THIS SHIT.
And there was Josh. And Josh looked the same, only like a grownup now. Seventeen years will do that to a person. (Seventeen years – a seventeen-year-old is only a year younger than I was when I MET him. That length of time – a bit mind-boggling, really.)
I’m not going to go into detail. We didn’t have a grand adventure; we didn’t take a billion photos. (Or even one, actually. I know. I’m terrible about photos.) We spent the evening reconnecting. We spent the evening drawing back what I’d erased, all those years ago, when I was 21 and I knew everything and was, as mentioned, kind of totally a dick.
There were waffles and a waiter who was possibly with the mob and coffee beverages and terrible music and the sharing of war stories and eclairs that were sexworthy and talk of books and movies and shared stories of the meeting and geeking out over famous people and laughter over possibly inappropriate things.
And guess what, you guys?
It was awesome.
It was awesome because we are the same people who connected all those years ago, but also better.
Because we’re ready, you guys.
Josh and I? We’re cookies.
And as we said our goodbye, much later than I’d planned because I’d had the whole evening mapped out in my head and I was SURE it would be awful and we’d have nothing to say to one another because I (shock! awe!) freak out sometimes, and gave each other a super-fierce hug, I felt this weird thing.
A seventeen-year-old grudge disappearing, that weight being gone, is a nice feeling. A light one.
A better feeling?
Forgiving your dicky younger self for, well, some of the dickishness? An even lighter one.
The best feeling?
Having an old friend back in my life.
The lightest feeling of all.
(Thanks, Josh, for not giving up when you most definitely could – and maybe should – have. Thank you for understanding I needed to keep baking, and for being patient enough, and kind enough, to wait. You’ve baked into a most fantastic cookie, my friend.)