Making amends

I was a rotten kid. I was mean. I was a bully. I lied and manipulated and snuck and did things that I shouldn’t have done. I didn’t care about the consequences and I didn’t care who I ran rough shod over. I used people and I made excuses about my behavior so that I didn’t have to deal with me. No one ever asked me why I was this way. No one sat me down and told me that this would affect my self-esteem for the rest of my life. I just got grounded a lot.

At Kendall’s baby shower, one of my best friends, Lynnetta Luallin, made a comment that I have never forgotten. She said that the only time she got into trouble was when she was with me. It stopped me in my tracks and I started reflecting on the kind of person I was.

It started when I was pretty young. The first instance that I can clearly remember was at a dance recital at the Wigwam. I tapped and twirled the baton. We had finished one part of the show and we were waiting to go on next. I was sitting in the bleachers, all dressed up and sassy. There was another girl from a different class, younger, by maybe two years, sitting below me and over a few steps. She was so cute and I was jealous. I was always jealous of people.  I was looking at her and she glanced my way and saw me staring. She kind of smiled at me and with the most hateful intent I said ‘You are so ugly’. She turned around and put her head down and I got up and went on with the second part of my recital. This has haunted me for years. I have no idea who that little girl was, what I do know is that I was so mean to her. I wonder if she remembers this with the same kind of lucidity as I do. I also remember wondering what would make me say something so horrible. What was wrong with me??

I got my friends in trouble a lot. I was sneaky and I lied to get my way. My Mother was getting a divorce when I was in 8th grade. We moved into Anderson and for the first time, I lived in town. Mom was gone a lot. She has always worked her butt off. I took full advantage of this.

I had the biggest crush on Tony Harless. He was four years older than me and I certainly wasn’t supposed to be chasing him around, but I was. He came to the house one day with one of his friends and wanted me to go riding around with them. Now first of all, my mom would have crapped and second, I had Lynnetta over. She did not want to go. I wheedled and manipulated and promised no one would ever know. She finally gave in and off we went with two boys WAY too old for us. We were in the 8th grade, remember. We were too young to be going anywhere with ANY boys.

Kevin Roberts was the other boy and he was driving. Oh my goodness, I thought we were so cool. I was actually going out with Tony Harless! You might be asking yourself why a junior in high school would even want to take a 14-year-old girl out. The answer is quite simple, I had big boobs and good hair and I looked 16 instead of 14.

Anyway, Kevin took us to his house. His parents and little brother were home. We ate brownies and horsed around with his little brother. There was no making out or dark bedrooms. No drinking or smoking. It was very innocent. Well, except for the fact that my mother had no idea where Lynnetta and I were. We stayed a couple of hours and Kevin drove us home. I made him drop us off down the block so that Mother wouldn’t see us. Tony kissed my goodbye and I absolutely floated home. Oh my goodness! And Kevin liked Lynnetta! He was adorable and she was smitten. We giggled and danced and planned all the way home. We were on cloud 9! Then we walked in the front door…..

A few of you have seen my Mother mad. It’s scary. Really. And she was calm, that’s a really bad sign. As we walked in the door she said ‘Where have you been?’ I immediately made the decision to lie, big time. I told her we were just down the road at Tabby Hudson’s house. Then she pounded the final nail in my coffin. ‘I was just at Tabby’s house and she hasn’t seen you all day’….Let the fury begin.

Poor Lynnetta. She looked like she was going to barf. Lynnetta didn’t get into trouble. She made good grades, was respectful to her parents and she certainly didn’t get into cars with boys that were too old and too ornery for us to be with. She just stood there, shaking, trying not to cry. My approach was different. I was defiant. I got slapped and grounded to my room for a month. Mother didn’t tell on Lynnetta. She knew whose idea this was and she knew I had pressured Lynnetta into doing it. Lynnetta was furious at me. We didn’t talk for a while. I acted like the little snot I was and I’m pretty sure I called her a baby. That’s what I did. I was mean.

When we eventually moved back to Yorktown into our old house, I continued to act like a juvenile delinquent. The Coopers lived next to us and I was friends with Lori. Her brother, Brad, had a crush on me and I used that to make him do anything I wanted. I got both of them into trouble on more than one occasion. Their parents eventually banned me from their house. Lori wasn’t to hang out with me and at that point, Brad hated me. I don’t blame him one bit.  I lost my best friend because I acted deplorable. I told myself it wasn’t my fault though. Her parents were obviously just too strict.

I could sit here all day and give you examples of what a little bitch I was.  I was mean to my brother and his friends. I would pick at Jeffrey until he would be crying. I was so horrible to him that it actually affected our relationship as adults. It’s just been in the last year or so that we have made amends. He hated me for always being such a terror to him.

Last Christmas, a boy who lived across from my grandparents as a child, ran into my Mother. He told her a story of me feeding him dog food and telling him it was just a snack. When my ex-husband told his sister who he was dating, her comment was ‘She is meaner than a snake’. This was how people thought of me. No one EVER said, ‘Tracey? Oh she is the sweetest thing!’

I stole boyfriends, gossiped about everyone and walked around as if I was superior to everyone else. I was a horrible person. But why? Why was I so awful and mean? It really wasn’t until Lynnetta made that remark at Kendall’s shower that I started to really look at myself. Although I no longer acted this way, the damage had been done. I had left a blazing trail of animosity and hostility that I knew I needed to mend. I needed to get to know me and why I was filled with all of this anger and bitterness.

It took a lot of counseling with Don McLaughlin and a lot of soul-searching and a lot of truth-seeking to figure this out. No, I wasn’t a bully anymore. In fact, I was so nice and accommodating now, that frequently I was the one who was taken advantage of. I couldn’t tell anyone ‘No’. I took it though, I thought I deserved it. I had no right to take care of myself at all. I was a horrible person and if I wanted to change the way people looked at me, I better just suck it up and do everything I was asked to do. Paybacks are hell.

What I finally figured out was, I was angry. I was so damn mad. I felt rejected. In fact, rejection ruled my life. If I rejected first, I had the control. I felt inadequate in all aspects of my life. I learned I had gone through things that I had shoved so far down in my soul, that I didn’t even remember them. I learned that I had no self-worth because of things that had happened to me when I was so young. I was terrified of abandonment. In one of our first sessions, Don asked me if I thought I’d go to Heaven if I died that night. I told him no, I had been too bad of a person. Keep in mind, I was about 30 at this time. I wasn’t that person anymore. I hadn’t been for 10 years. But that didn’t matter, I was so ashamed. I felt empty inside. My marriage was awful. My relationship with my Mother was awful. I felt worthless. Then I started talking. I let all of it out. I cried and sobbed and told things I swore I’d never tell. Once the dam was opened. it all spilled out. I learned why I was so angry. I learned who I was angry at. I learned what that can do to an adult, let alone a child.

Slowly I started to change the way I saw myself. I started to  feel better about myself. I understood why I acted out in the way that I did. Don helped me to put my childhood into perspective and I learned how the abuse I suffered caused me to act out in horrible ways. I forgave myself. I accepted me. All of me. The whole crazy, mixed up mess. I became kind and empathetic. I wasn’t embarrassed to be me. I quit isolating myself. I gained confidence. I knew that God had forgiven me and I was at peace. For the most part. Part of me will always have a sense of guilt. I made the choice to act the way I did, there is no excuse for it. This wasn’t about making excuses, this was about learning and accepting and forgiveness.

I talk to my children a lot about what kind of people they want to be. I started when they were little. I taught them humility and to have a gentle spirit. I talked to them about how you act will always affect your self-worth. I have tried to teach them to be kind to everyone. My children experienced a lot of the same abuse I did. I have talked to them about rejection and what that can do to you. How rejection and a damaged sense of self can rule your life if you don’t learn how to control it. I want this cycle broken.

Our children have Health class in school. They learn about safe sex and how to use condoms. They learn about STDs and how to protect themselves from that. They learn about birth control and how to use it. I think what we need to be teaching our children is how to love themselves. How to accept their bodies just as they are and how to deal with all of the negative emotions. They need to learn about self-worth and how to gain confidence. I talk to my children about these things every chance I get. I wish someone would have explained these things to me. I thought I was flawed and not worth loving. What a sad way to feel growing up. Adolescence is hard enough. It’s impossible if you don’t love yourself. Talk to your children. Buy a book about how to teach your children to love themselves. If you can’t afford a book, check one out of the library. This is the most important thing you will ever teach your child. It took me 30 years to start this process, I’m 49 now and still working on it. That’s a lot of wasted time.

If you are reading this and I was a total crazy to you, I’m sorry. Really, truly sorry. I can never take it back but I will try to make it up to you. Maybe I can bake you a cake or clean your toilet with my toothbrush or something. I hope you’ll forgive me, it will make you feel better, I promise.