Letter from the Den #3
I should be writing Christmas cards. Your card, in fact. Truth is, I wanted to wait. I wanted to pause to reflect.
In actual fact, I even wanted to buy you a gift. Weird, huh? I can’t remember the last time I physically gave you a Christmas present. Has it really been fifteen years since I watched you unwrap a gift from me? I can’t even remember what I gave you. Don’t even recall whether you liked it or not. I’ve never really known whether I’ve hit the mark or not. I’ve only ever had it reported. I’m tired of that. That’s got to change.
Ahead of the card. Ahead of the gift – yes, you are getting one – I figured you might appreciate this pre-Christmas Christmas gift.
You can laugh if you want. That is the point. I give you my permission. I know that’s what you want. I know that’s what you enjoy. Allowing you to laugh at me is my gift to you. So laugh. Go ahead. No problem.
I’ve lashed out at people this week. First was an editor. Next was a colleague. Then – only the other night – was a newsreader. All three unwittingly flicked my switch. You know .. that switch. The one you pressed and continued to press down on hard when you tried to teach me how to bare-knuckle fight with a cushion from the sofa instead of a punchbag. No. I haven’t forgotten.
The painful thing about each incident is how it left me feeling. I felt like a kid again. A stupid, whiny little kid crying for his mother in the corner of the classroom. Too frightened to go out into the playground and petrified about the end of break time. Fearing the looming maths lesson.
I told each one of them how I felt. Some to their faces. Others in an email. It seemed like the most grown-up thing to do. The most pragmatic way of tackling the massive elephant in the room. I wasn’t swiping. No really, I wasn’t. I wasn’t punishing them. I was just responding in the only way I knew how to. “You said this … you made me feel like this.”
You never let me do that … not without using what I said as your own playground material. Damn you for that. I haven’t forgotten it. I bet you have.
In case you’re wondering, adopting the same transparent approach a few days ago didn’t necessarily pay dividends I hoped it might. I’m not bitter. If anything, I’ve received a timely lesson.
“Why do you always think everything is about you?” was what I heard. I almost choked on my coffee. It wasn’t rude. It wasn’t wrong. It was just the same as someone in a different workplace had said to me seven years before. Word for word. Exactly the same tone of voice. “Why do you always think everything is about you?”
Every subsequent exchange – every subsequent memory of childhood fears – made me think of that absolutely justifiable and understandable criticism. Every single utterance momentarily tinged by the threat of someone else – someone entirely disconnected from seven years ago – uttering exactly the same thing.
And what would that have felt like? Like I’d been told to go back to the beginning of the 400 metres and start all over again. In front of all of the other kids. The ultimate humiliation. The kind of thing you’d have never done. The kind of thing you never had to do. Because you were too smart. You never made that kind of mistake, did you?