Every act of cruelty I’ve ever committed has been enacted with a complete lack of malice, forethought or awareness of the misery I was inflicting on others. Does this make it better? I think not. Does it elevate me above the children who practiced cruelty with precision and intended hurt? Their acts were as regular as clock-work, as common as the lunch bell or the teacher’s turned back. My acts were separated by years but – and here is the part that terrifies me – the ‘cruel’ children studied their handy work. They noted its affects on others and, in time, most probably stopped. That adult sensibility kicked in. You know the one. A voice that says ‘X + Y = pain for X and guilt for Y’. Or, simpler yet, ‘don’t’. Then ‘why not stop?’ Then perhaps ‘this isn’t fun any more’.
My acts were not studied. So completely unaware was I that I have probably continued through life, causing others pain in a state of total oblivion. This thought actually grabs at my lungs and stabs my stomach. So does the thought of Little Amy bringing home the party invitation.
It was a pool party scene. One of six I had given out in readiness for my eighth birthday. On impulse, I had taken a pen and, on each of the six invitations, had written in tiny letters ‘you’ with an arrow pointing to an obese woman in green bathers and had thought no more of it. Amy had been friendless for much of the year but was adopted by my best friend and I in the last term as we were Compassionate Little Girls and believed it was our duty. But I was barely put out when she announced the next day that she couldn’t come to my party because her mother had read what I had written. Honestly, I brushed it off. Thought her overly sensitive. Wasn’t my explanation – that I had done the same to everyone – enough? I moved on.
This Summer, in the grips of heat-induced insomnia, I suddenly remembered this incident and saw the eight year old Amy, ecstatic at finally having been invited to a party, carrying the prized paper home to her mother. The mother reads it, spots those three horrible letters and their accompanying arrow.
‘You are not their friend, Amy. You are their joke.’
The heartbreak must have been…
I have not enough words to express my remorse.
I try to be good. I try to be kind. I try to tread gently and look with love and kindness on those around me but sometimes I wonder if I should just skip to the chase and tattoo ‘sorry’ to the back of my oblivious head so that, as it wanders away, you will at least know that I am trying really hard.
Photography by Sarah Walker