A couple of weeks back, I got a like on my business page from a name I couldn’t quite place. Turned out to be a classmate from my first high school – 88-91. I’d not seen him in 25 yrs. I’d probably spoken to him maybe a dozen times in total while we were in the same class. He’d somehow remembered my name and tracked me down. It was pretty damn cool, but it made me think.
I lost touch with literally everyone from those three years of my life – easily done pre-internet when you move continents a lot and have no money, but I didn’t even try. I got the hell out of Dodge and never looked back, even though Dodge had some pretty cool people in it. Even while we were shoved together for up to 8 hrs a day 6 days per week, though, I never really got close to a bunch of people I actually quite liked. Apart from a handful of extremely close friends, I was pretty damn insular. The endless question is: what the hell was wrong with me?
I got talking to the Minion, who’s a million years younger than me but had a similarly shitty time in school. Although our circumstances weren’t identical, we pretty much had to deal with the same issues: bullying, violence, sexual harassment, the tendency of bad teachers to punish only the good students because it’s easier and makes them feel powerful, families incapable or unwilling to assist, etc. In response to these stimuli, she zigged where I zagged. She became quiet and withdrawn, trying to make herself too small to be a target. I got rabies.
About ten minutes into it, we realised that we were both regretting our chosen strategies. I regret building an exoskeleton and allowing myself to be powered nearly solely by hate, anger & spite. She regrets “not telling enough people to fuck off and just doing her own thing.” We both look at our lives since and see what our strategy has cost us. We compare our current lives to what may have been, and add up the losses. What neither of us has done is project the results of a different strategy, and add up those possible costs. And we have both forgotten the immediacy and seriousness of the issues we were facing. We’re armchair quarterbacking our kid selves.
Back then we did what we could to deal with what was in front of us. We used the resources we had. We could have done something else, or nothing, and maybe that would have worked better for us long-term; but short-term, maybe it would have gotten us beaten into a bloody pulp, or raped in a shrubbery. Arguing the toss now about how those were bad calls ignores the fact that those bad calls were in a very real sense survival strategies, and that they quite obviously worked because we’re still here to bitch about them. That kind of thinking is not only unfair to us; it’s also futile. We don’t have a time machine. We can’t go back and fix ourselves. But we’re here now, and we can work with that.
I’m reminded of my favourite bit in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Chris Hadfield decided when he was 9 that he wanted to be an astronaut, even though at the time it seemed impossible because Canada didn’t have a space agency. He didn’t let that deter him:
There was only one option, I decided. I had to imagine what an astronaut might do if he were 9 years old, then do the exact same thing. I could get started immediately. Would an astronaut eat his vegetables or have potato chips instead? Sleep in late or get up early to read a book?
I can’t fix my teenage life. I can’t time-travel to my school, beat the everloving shit out of a few guys, crucify a couple of teachers, take myself home, scream at my mother until her ears bleed, and then move my teenage self to a place where she can grow up without having to deal with all of that ever again. That’s not doable. But I can imagine what an Anna who didn’t spend three years of her life dodging perverts and trying not to get beaten up might do if she were 42 years old, then do the exact same thing. I can get started immediately.
That seems like the best strategy for right here, right now. And here and now are all I’ve got.