While looking through some boxes in the basement last night, I stumbled on two journals I had written in high school. I had thought I burned them a long, long time ago, so stumbling on them was a little upsetting. Not so upsetting, however, that I didn't bring them upstairs to read.
Fifteen years on, the ideas and situations that I deemed critical enough to write page after page on left me twinging with embarrassment and anger. I spent large portions of the night whimpering in the office, while my wife peeked her head in to ask if I should really be flipping those pages. By one in the morning I was done, and I had quite a different perspective on things than I did only hours before. Namely, I came to the startling realization that, fifteen years ago, I was a complete fucking moron and a gaping asshole.
Every entry seemed to revolve around depression, who I may or may not like, and vague references to what I was thinking at the time. Nowhere in those pages was any reference to larger events of the day, and there was absolutely no attempt to gain any kind of perspective from the things that were happening around me. It was clear that all I did was bound along from one mixed set of emotions to another, disregarding how people were relating to me in any way other than to state the plain facts. I was taking stimuli, reacting to it, and moving on. It was a shadow life, devoid of depth and purpose.
I learned disturbing truths about my former self. I was an asshole to anyone that I was around during those years, including family members and anyone who had a genuine interest in my well-being. I didn't have a thought in my head that wasn't some melodramatic reaction. I wouldn't shut the fuck up, even if it was the difference between getting along with folks and pissing them off. In fact, I was instigating intellectual fights with people for no apparent reason. I had offensive ideas in my head, and would throw them at people like darts, just to see what would happen. But, at the same time, I must have believed myself to be pious and beyond reproach, and anyone who had a problem with that was obviously wrong. Someone should have just bludgeoned me to death somewhere in 1994 on principle, and been done with the whole mess.
It must have been those first few years after leaving my family's house that finally beat some sense into me. I was broken down emotionally by the experience of college, got an intellectual whuppin' from people who didn't give a fuck what I thought of them, and then spent several years on the fringes of society paying my rent from the change jar and eating every other day if I was lucky. And somewhere in that mess I morphed out of that self-pleasing superficial asshole and came into my own being. Despite the pain that I endured during that time, I'm glad that it happened. I don't even want to think about the person that I would be today if I didn't get my ass handed to me at every turn for half a decade.
So here I am, fifteen years on, and I'm trying to make sense out of what I spent last night reading. There are no easy answers out of any of this. I feel like I should take responsibility for the doings of that little prick. Sadly, so much time has past that many of those issues simply exist now, unchangeable, out of my reach. There is little atonement to be done there at all. It is a new burden: something else to think about at three in the morning while I'm trying to get to sleep, something else I can use to torment myself when things get low an unmanageable. Something for which I can never truly pay penance.
I can only hope that people grow past the lives they lived in their early years, much in the same way I developed into someone vividly different. Maybe, in there somewhere, is the spark of forgiveness for myself.