I am staying in the country this weekend. I am making podcasts and sitting in country pubs and having a generally lovely time with a friend and her parents. I am working, I am creating and it feels really good. However, yesterday, for a brief moment, when I woke up from a heavily red wine-induced sleep I did not feel good. I felt terrible.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, this was not an effect of the delicious Rioja, but entirely to do with Facebook. Upon waking, I rubbed my eyes and did what I always do first thing in the morning. I looked at my phone. I noticed I had a few notifications that had come through in the night from a woman I went to school with a lifetime ago; someone I haven’t seen in person since 1992 and even then, we had little to say to each other. This piqued my curiosity greatly. I was keen to get into my account, but sadly, as I am vey much in the county, the wifi is sporadic at best.
Once my friend and I had eaten our yummy avocado breakfast and had begun to set up our makeshift studio in one of her parents’ many rooms, this one filled with old books and a relic of an exercise bike from the late 70’s, we managed to get a signal. I opened the tagged post and saw a lovely group photo of my school class taken in 1992. I searched the faces eagerly until I found my own, My mom had curled my hair that day and I was smiling like an idiot. Something about seeing myself, so small in my lace dress, amongst a sea of faces made my chest ache.
I saw I was tagged in a further photo and opened that as well. This was a smaller photo of my class; everyone’s image neatly contained in little boxes in little rows. Some were outlined by hand in green and pink and some were left alone, but in the top right corner, there was one person’s photo with a thick black X drawn through it. Before I zoomed in on the photo I wondered fleetingly if anyone from my class had died, as if that would be a logical reason for the X to be there. However, upon closer inspection I saw that it was me. It was my 12-year-old face that had been so viciously crossed out.
I stared at the image for a moment trying to figure out what I was seeing. I looked at the other faces too, smiling into the camera, oblivious that their neighbour had been defaced. I noticed that there was a code for the colours around some of the photos; green meant “best” and pink meant “good.” This girl had very carefully selected those that were for colour coding and although some were left unmarked, which I assume meant she was ambivalent towards them, mine had earned its own, unique mark, which sadly, was not indicated in the key.
I am 35-years-old. I am successful and I am happy in my life. But seeing that X made me feel incredibly insecure and as confused as that 12-year-old girl once did. Seeing that photo made me incredibly sad. But not because someone drew an X over my face, but because at that time in my life I’d done something to cause that X to be drawn. I decided to comment on the photo, so as to acknowledge that I’d seen it and to apologise for whatever I did to make her 12-year-old self do that. She brushed it off and blamed herself for being “bitchy” as a child, which made me feel better, because weren’t we all? However two other people chimed in and labelled me as “terrifying” and “weird” and that’s really what I have the most trouble understanding.
If we, as adults, can’t look back on ourselves as children and forgive ourselves, what chance do we have? The fact that other grown women couldn’t leave the poster’s initial excuse alone is disturbing to me. Of course, I remember some of those pictured children too. The ones that ate garbage, the ones that pushed other kids down the stairs, the ones who threw metal garbage cans at teachers…But I would never, as a grown-ass woman, recall those children as anything other than children. My brain has developed since I was 12 and luckily, so has my capacity for compassion.
I wonder now what was going on for those kids at home and I know it couldn’t have been good. I know it wasn’t for me back then. I hope that as adults they have been able to find happiness and that they have forgiven themselves for being difficult children. I hope no one ever tries to make them feel shitty about himself or herself as an adult for being that damaged child. I hope that we can all just be a little kinder to each other. Because we all made it. We all survived and are here, with our scars from mean girls, with our memories of eating alone, with the pain of going to school in the clothes that didn’t fit and the fact that we made it is a miracle enough. So why try and make it harder? Let’s celebrate each other instead.
I could never have posted that picture on the Internet, not in the state it was published. Because that girl with the X through her face might have been battling depression, or have recently miscarried. She might be going though a divorce or having a hard time with her own children. She may even be struggling with a terminal illness the way my mother was when that photo of me was taken. That woman, if it wasn’t me, might have seen that image and seen the unkind comments other adults made and feel like she still is that hated child and that she is alone. I could not take that chance just to share a picture, which is much more than just a picture. It is a record of a part of the woman’s life that posted it. It shows us who she was and it very much shows me who she still is.
To you who posted that picture, you have children and I hope you are raising them to be kind. I hope that they never experience unkindness themselves and I hope they don’t see that you’ve put that photo on the Internet in its current state, because that was not a nice thing to do. To those who don’t have any fond memories of me at that age, I’m sorry. I hope you are happy and that you have fulfilling lives that allow you to see that there is more to the world than just what you know. That there is more to everyone’s story, so please be more considered with your thoughts and words and let’s try and understand that everyone has their own shit. To all of you who ignored the fact that there was a giant X though my face, thank you. That was nice and I’d have done the same for you. I might have even asked her to take the photo down.
The Internet can be a wonderful thing. It’s a place where you can access immeasurable information and connect with people all over the world. But there is a dark side to it as well. It’s a place where things can live on forever. Where people can be cruel and people can be victimised. I’ve often been thankful that my childhood existed in a realm before this was ever possible, but alas, it appears the Internet can still expose my youthful vulnerabilities and exploit them long after childhood has passed. I’d like to ask that we, as adults who know better, don’t do this. I ask that we set a good example and that we behave better towards each other, because we are not children and because our humanity is our greatest gift. Let’s use it wisely and use it often.
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