I have a beef with 2020.
It began full of promise: easing in with a mild winter on the heels of a wonderfully cathartic holiday season where I’d finally put my foot down and set some boundaries with my extended family. As in, NO, I’m not going to abdicate all my free time by agreeing to get together with you every other day. I’m NOT going to bust my budget so you can feel validated in your overspending by knowing I did the same. I’m NOT going to feel guilty about my choice to stay home from religious services, because I don’t agree that my children will be ruined or rudderless if they aren’t indoctrinated in someone else’s arbitrary, reality-denying, personal-power-stealing dogma.
Over the previous year, I’d done a lot of thinking and soul-searching, and all of this rumination had begun to blossom: My health had turned completely around through a new interest in self-care; I had started writing again after more than 25 years of crippling writer’s block; I had begun to build a new circle of close friends after years of depressive self-isolation and feelings of disconnection.
At first, I didn’t mind. Being an introvert, I actually prefer to stay at home, and prefer to live a slower, more deliberate life. But as 2020 drags on with no real change or relief in sight, I find myself getting more and more frustrated. And angry. And I don’t like it: I despise feeling victimized and powerless.
The previous year, my parents uprooted us and moved to a new state. After a few months of misery, grief, and teenage resentment, missing my old friends and familiar haunts and trying to make a go of my new public high school, I’d had enough. I asked my parents to send me to boarding school. When they somehow agreed, my depression lifted a bit as I began to look forward, away from the current mess of my life and toward the future.
Suzanne turned out to be only one of my roommates. Because fate, and this new school, chose to place me in a triple room. My previous away from home experiences had been at an idyllic, inclusive sleep-away camp, where everyone “belonged” and supported each other, so I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t have to wait too long to find out.
Suzanne was a real alpha female: forged that way by necessity. She hailed from a state a significant plane ride away, and had been shipped off to boarding schools and sleep-away camps (with her trunks full of clothes from Saks and Neiman’s) for most of her childhood. Now that I am an adult, I have empathy for her: I realize how abandoned she must have felt, and how powerless in her own life. So I understand now how and why she turned that misery around, and created her own power wherever she could.
Did not like my openness (naieveté?); and intrinsic lack of artifice. Maybe she didn’t understand it, or maybe she resented it. She was diametrically the opposite: Suzanne was pissed off. And she had an agenda.
Within a few hours of meeting me, Suzanne had her mind made up about me, and harnessed every power she could in order to control me and make my life a living hell. She quickly initiated our third roommate, soft and hapless and unsophisticated, into this game. She also included the streetwise, skeptical girl downstairs, the girl from Brooklyn who’d fought to get to this school on her own wits, despite a lack of financial resources.
On top of my grief at losing my childhood home and friends, I now had to manage a set of people who were actively plotting against me, trying to get under my skin and force their way into my mind to break it apart.
Every day brought some different kind of hell. Some indignities were subtle, some not. I don’t need to go back there, to relive them all.
Except for one. By the third trimester, this group had progressed to scrawling demeaning graffiti on the wall above my bed. Way up high, where it took me several days to notice it. And wonder how long it had been hiding there in plain sight, how long I’d been sleeping with these nasty-grams above my head, poisoning my subconscious mental space.
My moment arrived after months of passive-aggressive politeness on both sides. Months of cramming the lid on a trash can fire that continuously smoldered, patiently waiting for a breath of oxygen to explode it into life. Then, it broke open: one day Suzane finally, directly, said something mean. Right to my face. I don’t actually remember what it was. But that moment set me free. I snapped.
And let loose a good roundhouse kick that sent her flying, smashing into my dorm dresser behind her. In my anger I landed a few more kicks, plus a couple of punches because I felt like it. I didn’t need to overdo it, though; my opponent was down, and we both knew it. She never fought back, this poisonous girl who was taller than me, heavier than me, and captain of the girls’ hockey team. I am not a physically violent person, but it was SO worth seeing the surprise, and sudden respect, in her eyes.
Suzanne’s teammates in torture watched this interaction in shocked silence, unable to think quickly enough to even consider any kind of next move.
I left the room taller as I stepped into the first of my adult power. Don’t. Effing. Mess with me. I may be easygoing, and kind, and patient, but know this: I will only put up with SO MUCH.
2020, you’ve had your warning.