What a fool I've been

I wrote this memoir in the spirit of a Holocaust survivor: after enduring such an ordeal, the need to bear witness is strong. This happened; the world must know.

It’s not as if I were going to learn anything from writing this book. No, surely after years of therapy, having spoken ad nauseam about the whole mess, I’ve gleaned all possible lessons. It’s the world that needs educating, not me.

Or so I thought. But then, why was it so hard to write certain stories so that they made sense?

Take, for example, the time when I agreed to buy LSD from a complete stranger at a bus station. (I was seventeen.) Well, gee, when you put it like that, it does sound odd, doesn’t it? Didn’t feel odd at the time, though. Nor did it seem that way when I wrote the first draft. Or the second.

The third draft, though, I showed to a few others. That’s when I started to get the message: my unhesitating agreement was odd. So was the request, coming from a friend. Or maybe odd isn’t exactly the word.

By the fourth draft, my queasiness grew impossible to ignore. I had to look myself in the eye and admit it: I felt like a sucker. Used. Suddenly, an invitation that had never made sense anyway cast the whole relationship in a new and unpleasant light. I’d always wondered why this friendship petered out. Forty years later, it was starting to dawn on me.

Seeing myself revealed as a fool was a painful experience, even after four decades. My cheeks didn’t burn any less, just because the fuse was long. But okay, at least more of my past made sense now. Some consolation there.

But the pain didn’t stop at the first jolt. Instead, I found myself re-evaluating all my relationships. How many more times, through the years, had I blindly allowed others to use me? A neutron bomb had exploded in my psyche, leaving the day-to-day infrastructure standing, but calling into question each person. No one was immune from the fallout. Who else had made a fool of me?

The bomb, I’m glad to say, did not score a bullseye. After only brief reflection, my faith in my marriage remained unshaken, as well as in several friendships, old and new. But that’s not quite the same thing as a clean escape.

Viewed through this new lens, a lot of incidents snapped into focus. The old friend whose attitude toward me seemed to change after I helped her out of a tight financial corner. The one who never showed up for the lunch I’d carefully prepared, and didn’t call for three days afterward. The colleagues (plural—how embarrassing!) who took credit for my work, over the years, while I stood by and let them. Man, it was depressing.

Still is.

Self-knowledge is a good thing. So is a light heart. Some people, through no fault of their own, can’t have both.