My freshman year of college, I was friends with a senior named H. He was 23, meandering through school as a performance artist. He still needed many more credits to graduate. The last of his friends in his year graduated at the end of my freshman year and he returned the next fall when I was a sophomore to complete his final credits.
At first, everything was like it was the year before. And then one night in October, after the movie we rented was over, he looked at me and said, "I can't hang out with you anymore. It's nothing you're doing, but everything comes so easily for you and it makes me feel like shit when I see how hard I work and I don't achieve the same things."
And believe it or not, this post is not a musing on the parallel between H's earnest parting and the same thoughts I've had about overly fertile friends.
I didn't think I achieved things easily, but in retrospect, it doesn't really matter what was the truth and what was perception. H was entitled to his need to cut me from his life. I didn't take it well at the time. I spent a great deal of the week crying because I really missed having him in my life. But it was college and when one person slips away, another person usually slips in. I never forgot him but, for whatever reason, it didn't affect me tremendously.
At the beginning of my senior year, a mutual friend was getting married. I was sharing a car with my boys--that circle of friends that included H that I spent all of my time with during my freshman year--as we drove across the state to get to the wedding. Though I achieved a lot in my freshman year, the awards and accolades had sort of petered out over the next two years. I had been accepted two years early into my department--the youngest member--and I won a prestigious award my freshman year. But since then, I had not only been eclipsed achievement-wise by most of my classmates, but I was emotionally lost. I didn't understand how I worked so hard and my hard work wasn't recognized. I wasn't certain that I was going to get into graduate school and I didn't know what I was going to do after May. I had come off of a terrible junior year and a hard summer and I didn't really want to go to the wedding at all. But I got in the car and smiled broadly at my boys because it was easier than explaining why I didn't really want to see all of them much less drive across the state with them.
At the wheel was the only one I had remained close with throughout the first three years at college. Beside me on the back seat was R, a peripheral friend at best by that point. And H took the front seat, turning around to chat with R while I stared out the window. Finally, H turned to me and said, "I heard that things haven't been so great."
I shrugged my shoulders while R agreed with him, "she's not the little golden girl anymore."
At that moment, we passed by a sign for the Old Grey Horse, a bed and breakfast between our college and the wedding site. H turned to the rest of the car and he said, "Mel, she's that old grey horse who ain't what she used to be."
And I never forgot those words.
It really hasn't mattered what I've done since he has said that. It has always been in the back of my head and you better believe it came out to play when we were doing treatments the first time. I'm the horse who showed so much promise when we started trying after the wedding and years later, with my feet in the stirrups, I had turned into the mare in that dirge of a song. Not what she used to be. Plodding towards the same goal with a heavy heart. Feeling left behind.
I mean, I'm not. It's really ridiculous. A person cannot have momentous events happen on a daily basis. Now, looking back at college, it doesn't really matter that I didn't gather all the departmental awards for my sophomore and junior year. The perception that I was falling behind and not being the shining star that I was during my freshman year was just that--a shift of perception. The reality is that I wasn't a shining star my freshman year, except in my own mind and the reality is that I wasn't an old grey horse at the beginning of my senior year, except in my own mind. We think people spend a lot of time thinking about us when the reality is that I was neither the golden girl or the grey horse. I was simply one more student matriculating through the department.
What H said was not so outwardly terrible. It's not as if he turned to the car and yelled, "you're an idiot and a bitch and we're all thrilled that things didn't go smoothly for you after freshman year." What he said, based on both context and phrasing, was a snide remark, meant to be a small dig on my self-esteem. Bring me down a notch since he still saw me as someone higher up than him in the luck department.
And H probably stated his own insecurity when he said that line in the car. He probably saw himself as the old grey horse, now 26-years-old and still living in our college town. He was probably still jealous and still had the same skewed perception that had divided us two years earlier. I'm sure, if I wrote him today and told him this story, he would never remember saying those words in the car. They were something he flipped out of his mouth, a joke at my expense tying in the passing landscape. But for whatever reason, they are still words that come back through my head. They were the muzak playing through my head when I made my December appointment back at the clinic. Yes, I'm returning. Yes, I still can't conceive on my own. No, I don't seem to be ovulating anymore. Thank you for fitting me into the RE's busy schedule.
We never know what will stick in someone's head forever. Senior year was twelve years ago and I still feel like I'm in that car, fighting back tears. He probably didn't remember the words five minutes after he said them, but they shaped my night, they shaped my year, they shaped how I feel when I sit on the other end of the line with the clinic.
And knowing something with your head doesn't mean that you necessarily know it with your heart.
I have anonymous comments on my blog because we talk about something that is pretty sensitive. Infertility means talking about sex and hoohaahooteruses and soft core porn in the shwanking cubicles. It means talking about marriage and friendships. Sometimes, a person needs to get something off their chest--something that is only meaningful to them and not hurtful to another person--and they want to say it without their name attached to it in this googlable universe. Which is why I have anonymous comments on my blog--for those occasions.
I have been lucky that I haven't received many anonymous comments that have been hurtful and I hope this post isn't the tipping point where I see a bunch of hate mail each time I open my inbox. But I'm always surprised when I see an anonymous comment on someone's blog that is just that--the words that are meant to cut, the words that are meant to burn. The words we say when we're angry and bitter and we want the other person to feel shitty too. They're not always in the outwardly obvious, "you're an idiot and a bitch" vein, but they're sometimes words that we flip off our fingers: words that state judgment or are meant to bring down someone we see as luckier than ourselves or dismiss another person's emotions.
I think the fact that the person leaves the comment anonymously means that they know that what they're saying is potentially hurtful and probably wrong. I have a similar feeling when someone writes something hateful on a blog and stands beside their words, but that's a different post. This one is about the hand grenades that are thrown into another person's comment box.
Why am I writing this now? Because I saw one this weekend and it bothered me. Because it's the holiday season and emotions run high. Because we get tired and sloppy and leave a comment without thinking about how the other person might feel when they read it. I don't mean for this post to sound preachy. I am certain that something I have said before has hurt another blogger--I'm certain that I'm guilty, like H, of speaking without thinking. I even apologized for it at Yom Kippur a few weeks ago.
But please think before you hit send. The blogosphere has such potential to be the friend that you don't necessarily have down the street, but only if we engage in the same courtesies we use when we engage face-to-face. I know that will bring out the comment that people are hateful face-to-face, but I think you know what I mean. Think about how the other person will perceive your words and think about what you are trying to accomplish with your comment. If the words are harsh, are they necessary? What would happen if you walked away from a post that annoyed you without leaving a comment behind?
It's hard to see a comment that you know will be taken badly. It's hard to hear from the receiver how it affected their day. It makes you wonder if it will become their old grey horse, still plodding after them twelve years down the line.
It doesn't matter if there is also a function that can delete those comments; erase them from the blogosphere as if they never existed. The receiver still knows the words that were once out there. Write carefully.
Okay, stepping off my soapbox. I just felt terrible after I read the comment. It wasn't the first one I read this month. Making sure that everyone feels welcome and valued in the community is important to me.
Edited to add: I am speaking specifically about anonymous comments. I just can't give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn't mean the words to be hurtful. At least if there is a name and blog attached to the comment, there is a way to respond and have a conversation. Anonymous comments seem to give people the sensation that they can say things that wouldn't be appropriate if they were to be standing in front of the person.