On Self-Respect

I once worked for a few summers as a Residence Assistant at a music camp. About midway through the season a co-worker developed a crush on me. I was flattered, but not interested. On the last night of the summer this coworker got drunk, kissed me (I pulled away immediately), and later tried to bang down my door in defiance for my not furthering the encounter. I put a dresser in front of the door so as to keep him out. He proceeded to shout that he could easily get a key if he wanted to. (This is true; the office downstairs was open and had spares.) I called my best friend who happened to be in the area and told her to pick me up immediately. Before she could arrive this coworker had calmed down outside my room and got weepy. I sat him down and held back my anger in order to explain to him how it “could never work”. I then grabbed a few things and left in my get-away-car.

Unfortunately, I still had to see him in school the following fall, and then again the following summer when both of us returned to the camp.

I talked to a high-up administrative staff about it before the campers arrived that second summer (it was at least nagging at me so I give my brain that much credit). We sat on a rotting tree stump and I told him everything without adornment and without smiling.

I told him to do nothing.

Because I aim to please.

Because I abhor being difficult.

Because I never learned self-respect.

And still.

I got angry at the administration. Why wouldn’t someone do something? Did they just give this co-worker a talking-to? Or did that conversation never leave that tree stump? I grew to hate the place where I had spent one of the happiest summers of my life.

But then I got angry at myself. All of my poor qualities were highlighted in a single night:

The laughing-it-off.

The need to charm.

The crowd-pleasing.

For a while I grew to hate myself for it all. I’ve worked through it since and while the hatred is no longer present, there remains a marked bitterness. Out of the bitterness I’ve been opened up to reflecting on our species. Self-sabotage is fascinating and disturbing. Why would this kind of behavior POSSIBLY exist in human beings on such a mass level? We’re so quick to destroy anything in our path as a species, as if it’s written into our DNA.

The illusion of perfect closure is one perpetuated by a million self-help books that too often “tell” instead of “show”. I had to see that by making jokes and justifying an abuser’s behavior, I was harming myself. And the cycle that can follow that allowance is deadly. I didn’t eat well. I developed insomnia. And while this one incident didn’t cause all my woes and nightmares, it did highlight my lack of self-respect.

Do yourself a favor by doing yourself a favor. Don’t justify. Look clearly. Above all, be truthful.

I love you all.