When I was in the eighth grade, there was a boy in our class who loved to do pen and ink drawings of battle scenes. He was smaller than the other boys, got good grades and kept to himself. I was new to the school that year, but I think it was a painful year for almost everyone in my class. There were two girls and two boys that the rest of us were all afraid of because it was only a matter of time before everyone was the target of their mockery. Most days it wasn’t too bad because we all shared the wealth pretty equally when it came to being teased. When it was your turn in the ring, if even for a few minutes, it was excruciating.
We were in art class one afternoon and the number of the boy who loved to draw, was up. Someone walked behind him and swiped a brush loaded with blue watercolor paint across the collar of his button down shirt. Someone else did the same. Another pulled the drawing from beneath his hands and tore it to pieces. He looked down at the detailed rendering, now destroyed and I heard him say, very quietly, that took me two weeks. By the time class was over, everyone had put paint on him or done something. I had done something.
We had a history class after art was over and as the humiliated boy climbed the worn wooden stairs to the third floor, I heard him say to himself, this was a brand new shirt. I imagined he had to go home and explain to his parents what happened to the shirt and I thought they would be angry and want to call the school. He, of course would have to beg them not to because it would only make things worse.
It’s been over 30 years since that day and I can still remember that boy’s name and his delicate features. I remember the white shirt with the blue pattern and his corduroy Levis. His 13 year old image comes into my mind every once in a while and I feel new shame at what I did. In my mind, I've told him how sorry I am a thousand times and I've hoped that by some miracle, he'd hear my thoughts. I wonder if he remembers what happened and if he’s angry when he thinks of it.
We inflict and receive a lot of pain over a lifetime. When we’re young, all the hurt is magnified and we remember every thoughtless, cruel thing that happens. If we’re lucky, the feelings fade over time and we realize it wasn’t so bad. Sometimes it is bad and if we can, we forgive the perpetrator. Sometimes we can’t forgive and we can never release the pain.
There are things that were said to me as a child or a teenager that I took great offense at and felt angry about for years. In a child’s mind, adults should be infallible and never make mistakes. My stepson, a wonderful young man of 26 has reminded me of things he now finds funny that were said in the heat of emotion when he was an adolescent. I am so grateful for his easy going nature because in the retelling, I recognize they were exactly the kind of heated words that I would have burned into memory and held a grudge over for years. I feel sorry for ever being mad at comments made by people who were just doing the best they could.
We’re all doing the best we can. It’s my mantra when things become emotional and people act irrationally. I’ve forgotten or forgiven all the real and perceived wrongs done to me. But I’ve collected memories over decades of things I wish I could take back. I don’t know how many people there are in the world who don’t forgive me.
I have a story idea that I like a lot, but I may have an insurmountable problem. My main character is flawed. She’s fundamentally a good person, but I'd have her make some pretty big mistakes. I love this character because she's fallible and I want her to have the chance to eventually get it right. Real people, interesting and likeable people, make mistakes and they hurt people and hopefully, they eventually find themselves and do the right thing. I've tried to think of books with flawed female characters and all that comes to mind is Madame Bovary and The House of Mirth -- look what happened to those two ladies!
When you read a story, can you forgive a flawed character her mistakes and allow her to seek redemption, or must she always come to a tragic end? Maybe we're more forgiving with real people than the ones we want to read about. I’d love to hear what you think.