Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Confrontation

There he was.

My archenemy, after all these years. I hadn't been expecting to see him, but finally this epic moment that I had fantasized about for years had arrived.

For a long time I had imagined this moment when we would meet, so long after the hell this person had put me through, and he would see the well-adjusted individual that I became despite his best efforts.
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All the put downs, all the criticisms; all the countless times when I was unjustly punished and made to feel generally inferior, for no reason other than I didn't fit his conception of what a good student, a good Jew was. And now we're face to face.

I saw him before he saw me, and as he turned in my direction I stood up a little straighter, ready to stare him down as he realized who was standing before him. 

His gaze came up and briefly locked with my own. In that millisecond, there was no hint of recognition whatsoever; our eyes met (perhaps) and he just kept going, surveying the room as he entered. 

It was as if he had never seen me before!

Could the more than ten years since we had last seen each other changed my appearance so much? I didn't think so. Confused, I withdrew and returned to what I was doing before he had approached. But the incident stayed with me the whole time, distracting me. 

How was it possible that this person who was such a source of pain in a particularly difficult point in my life could not even know who I was, these years later? I could pick him out from a crowd with my eyes covered; his every gesture and sound was burned into my memory, but when he saw me a few nights ago it was astonishingly clear that he did not know me. And something tells me that even if I had walked over to him and introduced myself, he might only have a vague recollection of who I was.

And just like that, over a decade's worth of animosity towards this particular individual dissipated. The realization that this is the kind of person who can make someone else suffer so and not forever be bound to that person by the shared experience left me feeling hollow and sad for him. 

I'm a very passionate person and I have a strange habit of forming "relationships" with people when we've shared something. A fellow passenger on a particularly difficult flight - when I see that person in some other context I feel a kinship with him despite not knowing him bcause we've bonded in our shared experience. 

With this former Rosh Yeshiva of my high school, I felt a toxic bond, a twisted relationship that stemmed from our constant run-ins. How could I not have affected him some way after all that we'd been through? How could what he had done to me not have left some impression that stayed with him forever? But if that was the case then he would have surely recognized me. The fact that he didn't demonstrated that I really didn't mean anything to him.

And something in my mind clicked off, just like that. While a lot of my growth since that point in my life has been out of spite for those people from back then who said I would always be a failure I have tried to let go of that and focus on the present. But this one-sided enmity had been raging on deep down inside me. Seeing that I wasn't important to his person then, and certainly not now allowed me to finally give up on this person. I'm not saying that I'm totally healed from those years, but this incident has surely liberated another part of my psyche...

1 comment:

Neil Harris said...

Wow, what a personal entry. Not having gone through the yeshiva HS system, I find it discerning that any Rosh Yeshiva would cause so much tzur'us to a student. I'm glad to see that this incident has allowed you to close this chapter. I'd love to see a follow up about what, if any, positive encouragement you experienced in HS. I'm sure this would be insightful for those in chinuch (I'm not in chinuch, but I have kids).