I needed a pamper this weekend. Between all the weddings and trips we’ve got planned, my nails were starting to take a turn for the worse – so off to the salon I went…
While I was sitting in the chair and my nail technician was filing away at my talons, a lady I recognised walked in. A lady I hadn’t seen in more than 10 years, but someone who had had a profound effect on my life since I first saw her at just 17 years old. As she walked in, she made eye contact with me, and I prayed that she didn’t recognise me.
I’d thought about writing to her before. I’d found her on Facebook and looked through her pictures, and saw that she was now living a happy life with her husband and two sons. She had no idea of the turmoil she’d caused me so many years ago and that I’ve struggled with letting go ever since.
Amongst a whole list of events, I remember one occasion in particular, sitting in her office in tears- just the two of us: a supposedly fresh-faced teenager with her whole life ahead of her, and her, a reasonably newly qualified teacher, working in a new and relatively high-powered position, newly married with the thought of a baby hanging in the air. As the Head of 6th Form, she was the decider of my future. She could pull me out of classes, and she could make my life unbearable- as she ultimately ended up doing.
My wrists had started to ache like I had never experienced before and I had stopped taking notes in class- an utterly heinous crime in school-terms- and PE classes had become unbearable. Physically I had clocked out. I avoided anything that involved using my wrists, and before long, my knees had started to fail me too.
Eventually the teachers had had enough and I was summoned to complete the long walk to her office with my tail between my legs.
“Have you been to a Doctor?”
“You’re just making this up”
“Why do you insist on being an attention seeker?”
She started to pick on me, and my defence came crumbling down, and to make matters worse, and exasperate my humiliation, she dragged the Deputy Head of the school into the meeting too. So it became a tag-team effort to make me feel worthless. I received a barrage of medical advice from the both of them, how I should get injections to stop the pain; and then while in the throws of an anxiety attack: how I should calm the hell down and stop making things up.
I couldn’t concentrate at school from that day on, and started to believe that they were right and that this pain was all in my head. This ultimately led to my failure in most of my 1st year A-Levels, that would decide my university choices -if any. They made me feel stupid, and I’d validated them by failing. I was a failure, I was stupid- or at least this was my mantra for the months following.
So when this teacher strolled into my nail salon this Saturday, I felt violated that after all these years she’d surface in my life once more. I pretended I didn’t know her- because I didn’t want to know her. I pretended that she wasn’t the reason I dropped out of school mere weeks after that accusatory conversation and I pretended that her presence in my life all those years ago hadn’t made my life that little bit more difficult.
I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome a year after sitting in that office, trying to convince an unwavering jury that I was innocent.
I could have told her. I could have told her this Saturday that I passed all my A-Levels in the end, that I got into a top rated university; or that I’d thought about writing to her so many times through her Facebook page, to tell her the defining impact that she’d had on my life and that my body hadn’t been playing tricks on me like she’d made me believe. That I amounted to more than she thought I would.
While her fingers were wrapped in foils, I wanted to scream, to shout at her- but ultimately to tell her to be more compassionate, because she wouldn’t always know what other people were dealing with. To be understanding to those that open their hearts to her. She disregarded my physical disability, how would she react if this had been a mental illness? Would she have dismissed it because it was ‘invisible’? What if this had been one of her children?
I stayed silent.
I wondered if she would care like she didn’t then. She had children now- had they changed her? Was it because she was young with her whole life ahead of her, she thought she could take the world by storm and I was just collateral damage along the way? Was she any different 10 years later?
I wondered if the impact of my words would hurt her, or have the long-term effect on her that her words had on me; and I never wanted anyone to experience that anguish. So I waited until she was done, stood up and left. Then I took a deep breath and carried on.
Funny how the brain works sometimes. It’s ability to compartmentalise things into a little box that gets stored at the back of a vast library of memories and feelings. And then sometimes, you’ll hear a song and it’ll remind you of an ex-boyfriend who dragged your name through the mud because you didn’t want to be with him anymore, or taste a food and it’ll remind you of something your grandma used to make and you’ll never taste again. And then sometimes, life will smack you right on the face in the middle of a nail salon.
Letting go is definitely the hardest part.
I know my boxes will probably never get thrown out, but I know that the raw feeling when faced with that box again in the future will dwindle, and I’ll also probably think of it less often and maybe eventually it’ll be easier to start letting go.
If there’s a summary to this post it would be this: It might be impossible to even begin letting go of the past, but you sure can move on. Let it shape you, but don’t let it define you.