Photo / Ryan McGuire
When you meet that Mean Girl…
you recoil fast. You remember being very young and feeling very hurt by the words of others because being the young member of a species armed with free will and verbosity is a rude awakening. It is one of the first slayers of innocence.
Next you put your defenses up. Fast. Remembering being little and young and afraid is no fun and it’s kind of embarrassing and you’d rather not stew on it, so you suit up with armor and call on Friend to lend an ear. Friend comes right over to hear how you’ve been wronged.
You are aghast, you are disgusted, you are outraged and you are righteous about that Mean Girl. You clink around in your armor and bat your heavy arms through the air.
“I won’t stand for this!” you shout. “Who does she think she is?!” you scream. “She doesn’t even know me! I’m not gonna let this happen! How dare she!”
You rant and rave and grumble. Your face is red and you’ve gotten hot as hell in all that armor, so you take it off for a minute. That’s when, in your moment of repose, you’re struck with a feeling of intense exhaustion. The exhaustion is vulnerable and vulnerable reminds you of being little and being little reminds you of when you learned that people can say shit and throw shit and sometimes the shit they say and throw has nothing to do with you, but it can wound you deeply, just the same. You quickly realize you’ve reverted to the young and the hurt, so you scout a different path. Your armor is on the other side of the room.
It’s time to throw yourself a pity party.
Your eyes get steely, distant and defeated. You say, with definitive cynicism, that Mean Girl is responsible for all your problems and your pain. You predict, with devastated finality, how Mean Girl will never leave you alone. She will continue to fuck with your peace. Mean Girl wins. You have no idea how to get her and her super aweful awefullness out of your life.
Game Fucking Over.
You stay at the pity party for awhile. It’s not exhausting, but it’s suffocating. It’s like a thick net that tightens slowly around your body and pinches the soft parts of your skin. It becomes hard to breathe or feel the breeze or see the light change from day to night.
You remember, while you’re squishing and scrunching, about your ally. Friend has been sitting there the whole time - listening. Friend listened while you stormed around, furious, in your armor. Friend held your hand while you burrowed in your net of pity and despair. And Friend didn’t go anywhere.
So you take a risk.
You go back to the little, scared you - the one who lost her innocence when she realized that cruelty is a part of humanity. You feel that feeling. You feel that whole feeling until it makes you cry. You acknowledge out loud to Friend the Sad and the Afraid. Then you picture little you in the place where you first felt cruelty and you look for Mean Girl.
She’s little too. You picture little you and you feel your innocence evaporate and you remember what it’s like to fear the world and you find Mean Girl there beside you, losing her innocence and fearing the world and feeling her sadness. You stand beside Mean Girl in that place and you do the thing that is the hardest. You look at Mean Girl and you see your sameness. You see the ways you both were wounded before you even met. You see the ways you both feel so sensitive that it can be absolutely paralyzing.
Then you claim the difference.
Mean Girl navigates her wound by trying to impact others and you navigate your wound by letting others impact you.
But it’s a circle - this empathy thing - and it always leads to the same center.
Mean Girl wouldn’t lash out if she didn’t feel impacted by the world around her. You and Mean Girl both let other people impact you.
This is the dance, you tell Friend and Friend agrees.
We are trying to find the sameness and also claim the difference. We are trying to understand ourselves based on who we don’t want to be like and who we do want to be like. We are trying to do this while simultaneously remembering that we are all alike at our core because we are all human at our core. We are trying to do this while simultaneously creating the necessary boundaries we need to take care of ourselves when that Mean Girl lashes out with her super awful awfulness.
There exists a lovely paradox. Simply because someone is acting from their wound doesn’t mean you have to take their shit and simply because they are throwing their shit at you, doesn’t mean you have to disregard their humanness.
When all the armor donning and the net weaving and the vulnerable plunging is over, you sit with Friend and you feel grateful. This is what we’ve been given to navigate the strange reality of humans being humans. We have been given each other. We have been given the opportunity for connection. We have been offered the cup of intimacy. And all we're really seeking, is the courage to drink deeply.
I am a Portland, Oregon based writer, filmmaker and choreographer. I believe stories activate the code of empathy, dissolve the grip of isolation, voice our animal truths and hunt our human treasures.