One morning, my father and I were out driving. There was a dog running alongside the car. Dad hit the brakes and suddenly the dog had three good legs and one crumpled limb. It howled in pain. The kind of noise only animals are capable of making or knowing. My father simply drove on. He may have grimaced. Or even smirked. Those were bestial sounds. To him, he had achieved something. One small cut of cruelty. To what end? I don’t know.
That was one of my earliest lessons in cruelty. Or, how to be mean just because you can get away with it. As I grew up I noticed that it also applied to people; the whole cast of children who teased others, and grown-ups who lied, cheated, backstabbed, gossiped, alienated, and besmirched one another. These people were part of my family solely virtue of being human.
Many of us have this idea that our minds have the sense to sift out the unpleasant memories and hold on to the better ones like a raft on choppy seas. We all know it doesn’t work that way. Things we want desperately to forget never really leave us. Or, they manifest in other ways. Substance abuse. Rage and violence. Fear. Cancers. Today I am over forty and I have never forgotten the things I have seen, known, or been subject to. Cruelty is like a brand on your skin. You just don’t forget how you’ve been hurt before. And each time something feels anything like that old hurt, you find yourself spiralling down a hole, not unlike the one before.
I decided to write about cruelty because I got sick of myself and my near-Pavlovian response to it. The rancour. The heartlessness. The way I have stooped lower than I could respect myself for, because of, what else? The hunger. The perfect thirst that is love.
In school, kids hid my lunchbox and emptied my bag out of the window. They made fun of my name. Invited me out and stood me up. Took me to malls and asked to me wait and never came back. So what is a little condescension today in light of all you’ve endured before as a child? How much damage could it possibly cause today if a loved one decides to shut a door on you, avoid your messages, and refuse to speak to you? How does the world change if they choose to ignore your pathetic pleading? In your monumental panic, all someone wants is to get as far away from you as possible.
In my head, I sound now just the way I was told I sounded then – like a whiner. Someone with no backbone. This was all character building. Stand up and face it, they said. But let me tell you, it builds nothing in you but anger. Question is: how do you matter? Where do you figure in this little earthquake of one’s own personal making? You’re impacted. You watch your furniture come apart and the hidden cracks in the plaster come hidden no more. That ridiculously cultivated façade? That’s a shambles. It’s over. You’re on your knees. It doesn’t get lower than this. Not even when you’re praying.
Sometimes a person can leave you in a way that makes you feel widowed. You’re broken. Just like anyone else, you want to have a serious conversation about why this earthquake happened. I doubt you will come away with anything that will help you feel like you weren’t the reason it happened. So. The best you can do is say, “thank you for the hours spent with me. They were remarkable. In the end, we all get the love we deserve.”