"Come on pussy—hit me! Hit me!” he said, catching the side of my face with a hook. Every contact taking a surprise until I understood this was happening. This guy really wanted to fight. Lampposts lighting lonely neighborhood roads and the audible surprise in everyone’s voices—cropped and muted with each successive jab. The driver, my friend between me and my assailant, and some girl I assumed was the driver’s girlfriend, stunned and reeking of alcohol. Caught off-guard by the man’s sudden outburst. Animated, cramped and growing hotter by the second, every one of us pleaded Petey, a thirty-something-drunken-mess now egging me to strike back and test him, to stop. No matter how much he struck, or how much trash he talked, I refused. Something felt wrong beyond the tension of the situation. His incoherence betrayed emotions I couldn’t discern. He was angry and it wasn’t at me or my character. It was something beyond: I was a symbol, representing a threat that to his mind could only be dealt with one way.
“Petey, Petey—come on man, calm down Petey!” yelled the driver, struggling to reach back and keep him at bay with one hand while steering with the other.
“You’re a bitch, dog—a pussy. Hit me, Hit me!” He demanded.
“No man—I’m not fighting you. Forget it. I’m not fucking hitting you,” I replied, unsure of my maneuvering the mounting escalation. Nervousness stroked the pit of my stomach. Questions swam through my mind. I feared taking his anger and making it my own. Of losing control and the consequences that would bring.
For the longest five minutes of my life, this kept on. Over and over, strike after strike until the jerk of the transmission switching to park signaled the end. The driver jumped out of his seat, dragging Petey out, hoisting him from his slacking feet long enough to reach the front door to his house. The fresh night air billowed in from the open car-door, soothing the heat escaping from inside. My flesh cooling simmered my temper, helping me reassess what just happened.
A door slammed far away, we looked up. Closing the chain link fence of the front yard behind him, the driver jogged back to the car. He sat down, a flood of apologies pouring from his lips. It was warming hearing his attempts to excuse Petey’s behavior. Sincere. The whole thing felt like an impromptu gang initiation—'cept Petey was the only one who got the memo.
“You alright man? You ok?! I am so sorry about that,” said the driver, jerking his head back for the nth time, pulling out of the neighborhood street.
“Yeah man—it’s cool, I’m good,” I said, rubbing my cheekbone, wondering if the lack of pain was adrenaline, alcohol, drugs or a mix of the three. The hell was that? I thought to myself. A scoff snorted out from my friend’s mouth and I looked at him.
“Man, he was starting to hit me too—I was ready to sock that fool,” he announced, relaxing back into the seat next to me, doing his best to laugh off what just happened.
Riiiight—SO ready, I thought to myself.
“No man—that dude’s killed people.”
My friend’s smirk faded in the dull strobe of yellow light, exiting the neighborhoods. I looked back at the driver.
“Yeah man—it’s a good thing you didn’t, or that dude would’ve killed you bro. That dude’s been to prison. He drinks a lot, blacks out and starts punching people. Doesn’t like tall dudes. I’ve seen him do that and knock a guy out in the parking lot before. This one time, he knocked some dude out in the bathroom; he’s sent people to the hospital…you ok though, you good? Mad props for taking that bro, that’s what’s up.” He stuck out his hand to give me a fist bump. I returned the gesture.
“Yeah man, I’m okay. Seriously,” I said, trying my best to laugh it off. I sat quiet, watching streets turn to downtown roads, father and farther from what happened. Finally, I asked, “Why does he do that?”
Keeping his eyes on the road ahead of him, the driver explained:
“He was bullied a lot as a kid. These two older kids from the neighborhood used to pick on him and beat him up. One day he got tired of it. He went through his dad’s toolbox, grabbed a screwdriver, then came up behind them. Stabbed one of them in the eye. Nearly killed them. He went to juvie after that. Since then he’s just been in’n outta jail,” He looked over at me, “You ok though, right bro? You good? I have respect for you man, props for not punching back, man. Props. You took that shit like a man” he said, reaching out again.
The rest of the night blurred under the party returning to drinking and drugs. My thoughts on Petey, his ire and past. At seventeen and being struck more than six times (I stopped counting after that) I felt no anger. Nothing. Only disappointment crept around the state of the environments and company I sat with that night. My friend cemented this sentiment further relaxing into it all; laughing, drinking, scheming and scoring. The following day, he called me to say that after talking to the driver, Petey had wakened in his bed; no memory of doing what he did. When he learned what he’d done, he felt terrible and was sorry.
I didn’t hate him. Nothing in his blind violence felt personal. His hurt was there, running deep—long before I came along. Only wanting me to hurt the way he was.
Though I had slight bruising from the onslaught, emotionally, I was unscathed. Instead what remained was surprise and compassion at what thrived in the neighborhood I shared with Petey. One of likely thousands of cases littering the socio-economic structure of a place like Tucson, Arizona and the rest of the world at large. In Petey’s case, it was relatively easy and not much digging was needed: he was blinded by something known to impair judgement, with a history of taking lives and ruining them—that night. He was known to do this. And likely, he would do it again. If Petey was a mere symptom of a greater problem, then what exactly was the source? Could someone like him find peace? Would he ever think of forgiving those that altered the trajectory of his life and in turn seek forgiveness himself?
Forgiveness cannot be considered without understanding hurt. The two are intrinsically linked to one another, though I’m uncertain many comprehend this. I don’t spend much time on social media as it’s clear the “attention engineers” hired to optimize these platforms continue succeeding in duping the masses to consume copious amounts of vapid misrepresentations of words like forgiveness, suffering, or transformation; distilled-truths-turned-bromides, as it were. I’m certain people understand its importance, passively swiping past the memes.
At nearly thirty years old I’ve only begun considering forgiveness and its personal implications involving others who’ve hurt me much more than Petey ever could. Violence and rage are emotions plaguing me since my formative years. Dark passengers on a strange desolate road with odd pit stops of revelation every now and then. I’ve worked hard to loosen their grip over my mind and heart, though there are times I question whether I’ve made progress at all. Perspective’s not easy to come by—especially with so much distortion around.
As something more active and constant than one would first suspect, gaining perspective would probably be the greatest choice anyone could make as a first step in the road to healing. In the trauma of being hurt we easily fall into matrices that entrap us—binding us in a revolving spell to the image or the incident of the one hurting us over and over. This has been known to psychologically cripple a person ranging in degree of severity from slight fear to sheer panic.
Perspective’s importance is no less critical in treating the pain or guilt one experiences hurting or having been hurt, and skipping this step would be ill-advised for any hope of relief, much less peace of mind. In engaging our ability to sensibly discuss the event in question with yourself (no—it’s not insane) you allow yourself to grab hold and make sense of what happened and been going on since. You must be willing to take ownership and see this through the good and the bad. Trust me, this reads much easier than doing, but the effects are palpable, and I would go so far as to say immediate.
It’s an immense task and an intimate one for all of us on one level or other. Carl Jung, the psychologist who championed the theory of the collective unconscious in the early 1900s insisted the best way to understand oneself was through one’s own shadow to help shed light on certain matters of forgiveness and transformation, using symbology to recognize one’s own feelings, confronting guilt, confession and the like.
You don’t make the best decisions at seventeen and don’t make them any better at twenty-five. You just seem more aware of what you’re doing and less able to lie to yourself, but may still be driven by forces subverting your judgement, overriding common sense and the ability to act on it; obfuscation between nature and nurture. Anybody who claims otherwise misses the biological point on this. Think of it as an abstract virus planted in you long before birth, if you will. One that twists and refuses to be quantified as solely genetic or memetic.
Awareness appears anomalous among most people these days (thanks, social media), so being better about it at thirty or forty seems less certain, given the circumstances—and even with proper education or a wealthier family things don’t seem a helluva lot better. Just look at Petey, or perhaps even someone like Billy Macfarlane, the modern-day scam artist of 2017 who used social media to deceive and hurt thousands of people, costing them real hardship—costing millions of dollars in fraud. I used to wonder if it always this way. Don’t we repeat the past when we refuse to learn from it? Have we not all hurt others in some shape or form, at some point in our lives? Or experienced moments where our own carelessness rendered us destined to the damage caused?
What of the flip side: Do you forgive those that beat you? Those that threaten you?
If you see in them a hatred so absolute as to blind them to the fact that you’re just like them: a human, with a family and friends; a life outside of that instance—do you see them for their humanity as well? Can you?
In his book, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” Thich Nhat Hanh discusses peering into one’s own suffering and arriving at its core through a series of steps. In tandem with meditation, the practice of mindfulness can be a powerful tool in liberating oneself of a life in obscure and vague consciousness. Commitment to loving kindness through right speech, thought, action, view, concentration, mindfulness, diligence and livelihood can lead one to a form of enlightenment and greater sense of peace in life. I personally believe this, though I don’t profess to be a master by any means. A year in, I’ve not begun to see a summit, but have witnessed change.
In acting towards forgiving those who have wronged me, I have seen a gradual improvement in my overall outlook on life. The unexpected desire towards helping my children avoid certain pitfalls I consider completely avoidable, for one. A genuine desire for conversation and meeting new and interesting people, is another. A ceasing of prejudice has begun permeating my thoughts whenever coming across anyone who is rude in any way shape or form. Even bouts of arguments between my current partner and I have started losing their lasting impressions on me as I begin seeing her as confused as I sometimes feel.
If it’s a parent who’s wronged you as a child, do they get a different treatment?
I don’t write this to have anyone reading consider forgiveness a must. There’re certainly scenarios in which forgiveness is unnecessary, or where face-to-face interaction is non-negotiable. Forgiving is something done actively—something not static, but rather a constant reminding that you’re stronger for choosing to carry the scars in a path towards growth and liberation.
Though a bit questionable in its validity, Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s search for meaning,” has one excerpt that brilliantly illustrates this point:
“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—we are challenged to change ourselves.”
The notion that forgiving those who’ve crossed you for the hurt they give—unknowing or otherwise—is a form of weakness is simply absurd, though understandably natural. Perhaps there’s a feeling of resentment towards oneself for having given up that “fight”, but who the hell was fighting all this time? And if only an instant through which the wronging occurred, who exactly has carried that battle? Solipsism has a way with introverts.
In letting go of hurt you allow this. It isn’t linear, but a spiral journey. Ultimately, it remains your choice whether you go up or down.
What better opportunity to change yourself, than now?