to the left of me on my desktop is folded up, teal facecloth. it’s a particularly virulent shade that hasn’t faded as much as one would have hoped over the years, and it has been years. i acquired the cloth in grade ten, more than three decades ago. i’ve kept it all these years as a hair shirt of sorts; it’s not the only one of those i have lying around.
i say “acquired” because i stole it. i lifted it from the locker of a fellow student in gym class, from a girl who considered me a friend. i stole her tracksuit at the same time, a grey number with fitted cuffs and a top i never wore. i tried to dummy the top up so it was unrecognizable and wearable by cutting holes in it and sewing colourful patches behind them, but it was an epic failure and was relegated to the rubbish bin.
i wore the pants, however, and lied to her face when she challenged me about them. i said my mother bought them for me, or that i’d had them for some significant stretch of time, or some such nonsense. i have no idea if she believed me or not, but as things between us remained relatively unchanged, i supposed she decided to pretend she did. what was her alternative, after all, seeing as she had absolutely no proof and i was resolute in my denial?
i took the tracksuit and the face cloth because i wanted them. i wanted them desperately, almost as desperately as i wanted her not to have them. i wanted them because track pants didn’t come in the category of clothes my mother deemed “acceptable” and so i didn’t have any. i wanted them because she had them and she was an absolutely lovely person whose sheer niceness enraged me. she was smart, and made every effort to be kind to me, and wanted to be my friend, and that was apparently a no-go. she was so nice that she made my teeth hurt. it made me want to be mean, so i was, and then, when she just took it, i got meaner. it was incredibly perverse.
i also wanted the pants because she was thin. very thin and muscular and i wanted, needed to believe that my body was like that too. because a thin body would make everything else okay. the horrible anxiety, the obsession with food, the desperate need for approval, the creeping depression, the problems i was having at school, all of that would fade away if i was thin. i decided, with the faulty logic that a brain impaired by mental health issues generates, that what would prove i was thin enough and therefore okay was those pants.
i hated myself for the way i treated this poor girl, and for stealing from her, for years. it did little good to remind myself that i was in pain, that i was dying in front of everyone, that i was not truly an evil person. shame attacked me every time i thought about my behaviour. if i ever thought to forget, to think for one moment that maybe i was a decent person after all, i’d have the teal facecloth to remind me of who i really was.
every time i saw it, it brought those feelings rushing back.
i was doing laundry the other day when it came up in rotation and suddenly, i decided i’d had enough. i have no idea why i came to a decision that this instance of self-flagellation had to stop. after all, i’m very good at doing it; i’ve had loads of practice. the other morning, however, i decided it was time to be done with this particular piece of my history. i’m not a perfect person but on the whole, i’m a nice one. i’ve done good things in my life. so maybe it’s okay for me to start forgiving myself for the shitty things, or at least this shitty thing. it’s okay to have compassion for the me i was then, that desperately unhappy and floundering girl, and the behaviour i undertook.
i’ve read about forgiving yourself a multiplicity of times; i even affirm it to myself on occasion, but the other day, it suddenly rang true. it’s okay for us to put down the burdens we make ourselves carry for no other reason than self-flagellation. it’s okay for us to forgive ourselves. it’s time to let the facecloth go.