54. Don’t You Remember?

54. Don’t You Remember?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Don’t You Remember?

A childhood is what anyone wants to remember of it. It leaves behind no fossils, except perhaps in fiction.

~Carol Shields

For almost twenty years, I avoided June Johnson. It wasn’t easy in the small town where we both lived, but I managed. If I discovered June and I were in the grocery store at the same time, I’d feign interest in the magazine rack until she was safely out of sight. When I learned she frequented the early morning aerobics class at the YMCA, I became a regular at the afternoon class. I made it a point to ask if June would be attending a party before I’d accept an invitation.

Why? Because for some reason I couldn’t understand, June had made it her hobby to emotionally attack my son Andy when he was a little boy.

It started in preschool, where June’s son Ted was in the same class as Andy. Ted had a birthday party. June prepared elaborate personalized goody bags for the children who attended. When the party was over, she was one bag short. Andy’s. He left the party with tears rolling down his cheeks. As the years went by, Andy’s name was frequently left off Ted’s party list, even when every other child in the class was invited.

June’s husband was the coach during the only year Andy played soccer. At the end of the season, every player on the team got a trophy—a big shiny trophy with the child’s name engraved on it—for participating. Except one. “I don’t know what happened,” June told me with a shrug as she handed all the kids except Andy their trophies. “Maybe the engraver still has it.” My five-year-old son barely made it to the car before he started sobbing.

When the boys were in fourth grade, June discovered that Andy hadn’t yet finished a hot-off-the-press Harry Potter book that both he and Ted had been reading. “Go ahead, Ted,” she urged, “tell Andy how it ends so he won’t have to waste time reading it.” June never failed to remind me—always within earshot of Andy—that Ted was in the “gifted class” at school. Andy wasn’t. She even liked to point out that her son was taller than mine.

By the time the boys reached middle school, I’d had enough. I encouraged Andy to find a new circle of friends. And I perfected my June-avoidance techniques. I won’t pretend it was easy. Being constantly on the lookout was exhausting. But I feared that if I didn’t stay away from June, I’d be forced to give her a piece of my mind. The ugly, hurting piece. It was better to simply keep my distance.

Years passed and Ted and Andy grew up. On the rare occasions when June and I encountered each other, we’d nod politely and quickly move on.

Andy got a job in a different town and bought a house. One with plenty of storage space for his childhood memorabilia. As I sat on his bed one Saturday morning helping him load comic books and merit badges and countless other keepsakes into plastic containers, I picked up a couple of his baseball trophies.

“Want to take these with you?”

He nodded.

“Remember playing soccer when you were in kindergarten?”

“Sort of,” he answered.

“Mrs. Johnson never did get your trophy to you,” I said smugly.

Andy frowned and shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Sitting there surrounded by a lifetime of memories, I let my pain and anger spill out. “Don’t you remember,” I asked, “how awfully she treated you? How she snubbed you at Ted’s birthday parties? How she ruined Harry Potter? Don’t you remember how she was always bragging about how much smarter and taller Ted was? Don’t you remember that you didn’t get a big shiny soccer trophy with your name on it when you were five?”

His eyes grew wide. “Mom,” he said. “Get a grip. No… I don’t remember any of that stuff.”

“Are you serious?” I was practically trembling with rage. “How could you forget all that?”

Andy shrugged and gave me a crooked grin. “I don’t know. I guess it just wasn’t important.”

I felt a lump rising in my throat and worked hard to blink back tears. Two decades of resenting and avoiding June, all for nothing! She hadn’t hurt Andy. And my anger hadn’t hurt her, not one little bit. It had only hurt me. Sitting cross-legged on my son’s sagging bunk bed, I realized it was time to let it all go, to dump my anger in the big black trash bag with all the stuff Andy had decided not to keep. In that moment, I forgave June for trying to hurt my son, even though she hadn’t succeeded. And it felt wonderful.

Does that mean June and I suddenly became best friends?

No. But it does mean I no longer waste precious time or energy avoiding her at the grocery store. I attend whichever aerobics class I want. And if I’m ever seated near June at a dinner party? I’ll just smile with as much enthusiasm as I can muster and ask her what’s going on in her life. And in Ted’s.

~Jean Morris

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