From what I remember, I spent the rest of that day alone, avoiding my classmates, hiding my shame.
I wanted to go home sick, but I didn’t dare. I felt bad enough already.
As I walked to my next class, I waited for the inevitable teasing.
I new what to expect: ostracized. Excommunicated. Banished.I would be forced to face the unavoidable repercussions of what I’d done. For certain, D or B would bring up what they’d witnessed. Probably R—he’d never missed out on an opportunity to embarrass me before. I waited to see who would say something first.
I was confused when lunch came and went without incident.
What was going on? It was possible that no one other than the handful of classmates who’d seen me under the desk knew—and that even they didn’t care. Could my stint under the bookcase actually be such a minor blip on the radar that everyone else had forgotten about the incident as soon as it happened? Or that everyone was so focused on their own problems that they didn’t care about mine?
I let Judge make the call…
In retrospect, it was probably the wrong call. But my self-imposed sentence was cast.
Other than my new baggage, things at school went back to pretty much the way they were before Carlie and I were friends.
I knew I’d never be close to Carlie again, but I hoped that eventually we could return to our original friendly state. From time to time I tried, as best I could, to start over…
At camp the next summer, Carlie kept her distance. But all of our other shared camp friends still embraced me.
So life continued. I went to school every day, did my homework at night, worked to make new friends, tried to pretend that I fit in. But I never forgot the bookcase entirely.
Even years later as an adult, I periodically found myself back under that bookcase feeling outcast, awkward and unlovable.
Carlie moved away about halfway through the following school year. I hadn’t heard from her until one day…
Instantly I was 15 again. I felt thrilled, nervous—and mostly confused. Part of me wanted to finally make up with Carlie, as though her friendship now would somehow fix everything I hand’t liked about high school. Another part was indignant that she’d had the nerve to reach out after dumping me all of those years ago.
Finally, curiosity drove me to action…
Over the next week or so, Carlie and I had a friendly conversation via private messaging. She was divorced and had two children. She’d lost her father.
When she tossed out that she’d like to get together I knew for sure we weren’t on the same page.
Carlie suggested a phone call and with trepidation I accepted. Why was this woman who didn’t like me in high school being so nice to me now?
Finally the time for the call arrived.
On our call, we compared notes on where our various classmates had ended up. I listened to stories about her kids and her divorce. I told her about my life. It was as though our breakup and the bookcase incident had never happened. She even confided in me about a few of her personal demons that I hadn’t even known she had. It turned out she’d had as much on her mind as I’d had on mine. Somehow I’d never realized just how much.
Despite these new insights into Carlie, the bookcase still loomed. It was the elephant—at least in my room.
The bookcase persisted and when I couldn’t take it any more, I asked. I took a sharp breath and then just said it; I told Carlie my story.
And then she blew me away.
I startled and reeled.
Carlie had let me out from under the bookcase years ago. Or maybe she’d never placed me under it in the first place. Maybe no one had thought of me that way–except for me. I felt stupid. Stupid and angry. At my Demons for steering me wrong—but even more at myself for listening to them.
After Carlie and I hung up, I did something I should have done years earlier.
Later, I wondered if the bookcase incident had ever really happened at all. I feel certain it did. Maybe I was only under there for a second. Maybe no one else had even noticed. Maybe no one really cared. Anything is possible.
I also wondered what else had I been wrong about. What other unnecessary punishments had I inflicted on myself? I recounted the list and realized that it was far too long…
Why do we do this to ourselves?
I had a lot to think about. The one thing I knew for sure was that it was time to put the bookcase down.
Life-long habits are hard to break–but I was going to try.