I saw a wonderful new play last night, “A Sudden Spontaneous Event” at the Pure Theatre here in Charleston.
The play opens in Heaven’s waiting room and, without spoiling it, it deals with forgiveness and what one big do-over you would do if you got a second chance at life. It’s a beautiful play and I found myself wondering, as I walked home, what my do-over would be.
Of course, there are regrets, large and small. Ugliness and pettiness and betrayal. Things that would make me squirm if I were held to account. Most, I discover, are based on fear: fear of being abandoned, fear of not having enough, fear of being hurt if I didn’t hurt first.
But, if I had to choose, there is one small act that stands out as the first soul-killer.
I was never a bully in middle school. I tried to be nice to everyone, but mostly I felt like a junior anthropologist, observing from the outside what it took to be popular. Kathy rode my bus to and from, and she always sat alone. We talked every once in a while. She always seemed a bit sad, a bit more outside than I was, but I never considered her bullied – bullies were the playground loudmouths who pushed people.
Bit by bit, she confided her loneliness to me. I was different, she told me. I was kind.
Until the day someone did something to her. I don’t even remember what it was. I just remember she found me and collapsed into my arms in tears. Without thought, I put my arms around her. And looked over her shoulder. The commotion had brought the popular girls over, and they were all staring. At Kathy, but also at me.
I caught the eye of the most popular. And, over Kathy’s shoulder, I rolled my eyes. And betrayed the sobbing girl in my arms with just that careless, thoughtless gesture.
Kathy never knew. The popular girls opened their circle to me and Kathy gradually took the hint and stopped seeking me out. I ignored the puzzled, hurt looks she would occasionally throw my way on the bus.
There are worse things I have done in life. Hateful, angry things I wish I could take back. But none haunt me with the poignancy of that very first betrayal, the one that can still make me cringe when I remember. That would be my do-over.