A little background:
Because I work from home, every now and then I indulge in the guilty pleasure of watching TV while eating lunch. Not reading, not catching up on email, not sorting mail, not starting dinner while eating lunch... but plopping down in front of the TV while eating lunch.
Most mid-day TV, though, is, well, pretty unappetizing, so just tuning in to tune in doesn’t work for me.
So I decided that I needed to DVR a show that I could view in 20 minutes or so, that wouldn’t likely conspire with my lunch to give me heart burn, and that wouldn’t make me think “just one more, just one more!” thus trashing my afternoon productivity. (My current favorite show, Breaking Bad, was right out on all three counts—plus I’m watching the series with my husband.)
I DVRed Twilight Zone. Of course, there’s the original version (1959-1964), the first revival (1985-1989) and the second revival (2002-2003). My DVR is set to pick up the original and the first revival.
Now, in my opinion, the 1980s Twilight Zones are… pretty cheesy. But those are the ones I occasionally watch at lunch. Remember my criteria—about 20 minutes worth, long enough for a sandwich or salad. A mindless distraction. And I’m in no danger of ‘watching just one more.” One episode of a mid-1980s Twilight Zone is enough to last me for a few weeks.
Well, a week or so ago I flipped on one such episode, started munching away on my turkey-and-mayo-on-whole-wheat, and then stopped, mid-chew, agog.
There, starring in the episode, was a middle and high school acquaintance of mine. Playing a singer- turned Elvis Impersonator-turned Elvis, in pure Twilight Zone fashion.
As I recall, the guy was a little cocky, but then, what guy in high school wasn’t? Since this episode was filmed just a few years after our high school graduation, he looked just like he did in high school. I vaguely recall that several girls, in high school and middle school, had a crush on him. I didn’t, probably partially because of what I’m about to reveal, but also because lanky just wasn’t my thing. Perhaps it’s a cliché, but I crushed on the linebacker-built guys (whether they played football or not.)
Now, we went to a huge school—800 plus in our graduating class. I’m sure there are many people who remember all kinds of cool things about this guy (we’ll call him Joe—NOT his real name.) Maybe his amazing acting skills. Something nice he said or did.
However, here’s what I remember most about this guy. One day in 7th grade—probably also at lunch—he decided to inform me, in front of a large group of guys, which no doubt included someone I had a crush on—that I was flat-chested. SO, flat-chested, said he, “that you couldn’t sleep on your stomach, because your face would suffocate in your pillow!”
Cue the raucous laughter. Pan to red-faced, flat-chested, scrawny me slinking off stage left, appetite ruined.
Now, look. Logically, I know he was just a kid. I have no idea what motivated him to say a mean thing, except sometimes kids just say mean things. His comment didn’t even make sense, but it still shamed me. Yep, it would have made more sense for me to give a snappy comeback (although, truth be told, I still can’t think of one) or to just shrug it off.
And I knew all of the above probably by the time I was high school sophomore. But I still resented him all through high school.
At some point as an adult, I went to the lingerie store and complained about my ill-fitting bras. When the assistant said, well, you’re wearing a bra two-sizes too small! I thought, damn you, Joe, for making me think of myself as flat-chested. When my daughters shared middle-school hurts with me, I trotted out the story of Joe as an example of how taunting happens… and how obviously life went on and I eventually wasn’t that flat-chested-scrawny-girl doomed to a lifetime of sleeping on my side. But I still resented him.
Now, I’m at the age where I’m just damned grateful to have healthy boobs, but the first thing I felt when I saw this guy on my TV? A decades-old rush of resentment and shame.
Yes, I immediately rolled my eyes at myself… good grief. Get over it!
But it wasn’t until the end of the episode—of COURSE I kept watching to see how he’d do; just fine, by the way—that I really, truly realized… it was long past time to let go of his juvenile comment. Good grief, if judging people by one stray middle school comment were a valid criteria, not only is Joe doomed, but so are all of us. (I didn’t say much in middle or high school, but I probably said something equally snotty to someone, somewhere, so… if your own Twilight Zone has brought you to this blog, I’ll just say, “I’m sorry!”)
Then, I started feeling some sympathy for old Joe. Making it in any job or career is hard; making it in the arts of any kind is super hard. The challenges of writing and publishing are enough for me; I can’t imagine trying to make it as an actor. And I looked him up on everyone’s favorite snooping tool, the Internet. No, he’s not a big star now. But he has done a variety of gigs—besides that Twilight Zone episode—in television. So good for him. I have no idea if in real life he’s a nice guy or a jerk; I’ll be optimist and hope the answer is the former rather than the latter, but in either case… letting go of a way-old taunt that haunted felt good. And being reminded that we’re all far more than one stray comment, either as the commenter or the recipient.
A message from… (cue the music)… the Twilight Zone.