When I was a little kid, I had to teach myself how to hold grudges.
The morning after an unpleasant altercation with a friend or seeming mistreatment at the hands of a teacher, I’d wake up and remind myself, “Remember, you don’t like that person. You will give them the stink-eye, you will avoid them in the halls, and you will most undoubtedly disapprove of every single thing they do.” I had at my command a world-class glare, one that my mother semi-affectionately calls my “steely blues,” and the highly petty ability to stay silent while making catty remarks to myself in my head. In other words, I couldn’t wait to deploy my arsenal.
Of course, the problem was that I rarely disliked any of these people as deeply as I pretended to. I don’t stay mad for very long, even today, and any lingering anger slowly soured into righteousness, wherein lay my mistake. Perhaps because it seemed easier to see the world as divided into two kinds of people, good and not-good, I developed the belief that I somehow lacked moral conviction if I failed to hold each person accountable for every single wrong thing that they did.
But “wrong,” like most terms judged by a kid, was a highly subjective label. Sometimes, it meant an action that was deliberate and cruel, like the girl who bullied me all the way through middle school and wrote insults on my binder in Sharpie; other times, it meant a potentially malicious accident, like the boy in my biology class who bumped into me in the hallway and didn’t notice enough to apologize. In the case of the former, my middle school tormentor, my condemnation of her wrongness was primarily a defense mechanism and nothing deeper. Even though she whispered behind my back the instant I turned away, I had a weakness for explaining Spanish exercises and would give in to her beseeching looks whenever we were in class together. As much as I hated her, I wasn’t quite vindictive enough to ignore her incompetence with languages, and I cursed myself for providing her with the opportunity to manipulate me while simultaneously taking note of my flaws. “If I had any real backbone,” I grumbled to myself, “I’d let her flunk Spanish.”
By the time I reached high school, I had the drill down pat. If I couldn’t be bothered to talk to someone, I’d shoot them my iciest stare and slink past them on my way to the library, enjoying the smug and satisfying feeling of moral judgment. I kept this up, although I relied on it less and less, until my junior year, when I had a massive fight with my then-best friend. To be fair, she was the one who stormed out of the room in a huff and left me to sulk by myself on the outskirts of our friend group for days, but I have absolutely no doubt the situation was exacerbated by my well-entrenched habit of avoidance. I was so hurt, in fact, that I avoided her for weeks, months even, until it was impossible to tell which one of us felt more ambivalent about salvaging our friendship.
Part of the conflict came from my other crisis management tactic, having a long conversation until the two of you discovered what had gone wrong and how you could be kinder to each other. Unfortunately, that approach completely fell through when, like me, you believed yourself to be the victim and weren’t about to apologize to someone you still thought was a raging jerk.
In elementary school, back when things were much simpler, my friends got around my moodiness by chasing me around the playground until I giggled and forgot about being upset. In high school, my best friend and I considered ourselves too mature, too secure in our perception of the many incidents that tore us apart, to ever try to break down each other’s barriers without aggression. She made small talk, and I was grouchy because I thought it was a waste of time; I hid out in the library, and she didn’t come to find me. And so I held onto that grudge for six months, and lost the best friend I thought I knew better than a sister.
It’s taken me until my freshman year of college to truly realize how silly this system of grudge-holding is, and how little it’s helped me over time. My rationalization had always been that someone at some point in my life would say, “Go you! Look at all the wrongs you’ve punished by remembering all these trivial affronts. You are clearly a good person, and I never would have thought that of you if you’d been weak and forgiving all those times. Your scales of judgment are exactly what this world’s been waiting for.” It used to be that whenever I read books in which a character returned to the arms of an adulterous lover, or friends agreed to let bygones be bygones, I’d exclaim aloud in frustration, positive that stubbornness was the biggest virtue.
Now, my rule is simple: be civil unless you think the person is absolute pond scum, and in that case, why waste your time hanging around them or trying to have an impact on their behavior? I’m fairly certain that no one’s going to pop out of the bushes any time soon and present me with a gold star for Judgiest Person of the Year; so as long as I’m happy in my friendships and give myself leeway to be a bit cranky on off days, I think I’m doing O.K. Sure, the kid version of me might consider me a wuss, but the adult version—which I’ll be stuck with for a lot longer—is much more at peace waking up without spreading discontent. And so, to all the grudges I cultivated with care: I can’t say I miss you, but I guess I owe you a goodbye.
Davis is a member of the class of 2017.