One of my worst fears came true today.
I came face to face with someone who made my life miserable at one point, who I hoped I would never have to see again.
I was volunteering at the SPCA Macy's Holiday Windows, and I looked up from the group of people surrounding me and the animal displays, only to lock eyes with an ex college roommate. I had spent 9 months living with her and two other girls I didn't get along with my junior year. Every time I think of them it still makes me sick to my stomach with resentment and hatred at how awful we all were to each other. I regret my behavior while living with them, but I am also disgusted at how they treated me.
They would gang up on me, then I would lash out at them. We would scream insults at each other. They did mean things to me, I did nasty stuff right back to them. They would go for days without speaking to me, pretending I was invisible, having conversations as if I wasn’t there and ignoring my comments. I’d clean the toilets with their toothbrushes. They would barge into my room late at night before my 4am wake ups for work. I would hide the house phone during their job interview process. They would destroy the bathroom. I would pour Visine into their drinks. Thankfully our lease ended before we ended up doing things we really regretted.
That was 12 years ago. So when I saw one of them standing in the crowd staring at me, my heart stopped. For a second I thought to myself "maybe if I look away she won't recognize me".
But then I realized something.
I realized THAT WAS 12 YEARS AGO. And that in the last 12 years, I have changed a great deal. Perhaps she had changed too. Here I was, collecting money for the SPCA, trying to do something small to make a better world, and now the universe had given me the opportunity to make a better world by doing something big. I was being given the chance to make amends for a grudge I had carried around with me for over a decade, and I only had seconds to make that choice before the chance would be gone forever.
My heart told me what my choice was.
“Monica?” I yelled at her, over the crowd of grannies and children who were volleying for a viewing spot to see the kittens behind me. She smiled at me, and walked over to me with the man standing next to her.
I wasn’t sure if she remembered me, so I introduced myself. “We shared a pretty terrible roommate situation in college, remember?” I asked, and she laughed and agreed, which made me laugh. There was an introduction of her boyfriend, some small talk about things like how long we had lived in the city, what type of jobs we had. She seemed touched that I remembered her studying to be a social worker in college, when I congratulated her on now having the career she had wanted when we were younger. After a minute or two, there was a lull in the conversation. It was the moment where you usually tell someone to make a coffee date, or to call you sometime, or give them an embrace. For us, none of those things would be authentic. “Happy Holidays” I said to her, “It was nice running into you”, and I really meant it. She and her companion turned back into the rain and walked away from me, presumably off to shop for more gifts.
In just a few moments, a villain that I’ve hated for years suddenly transformed into just another human being, and I could no longer harbor animosity towards her. We both made mistakes when we were younger. We both learned.
I had just been given a very special gift. A second chance to make things right. To show kindness to a person that I could have continued to dislike. How many times in life do chances like that come along? A handful, if you’re very fortunate.
There are still some people whose memories make my stomach flip with disgust, and I may never get a chance to forgive them, or ask for their pardon. I have a feeling in my heart that each one of those people was put in my life for a reason. Maybe the reason was something as simple as reminding me how lucky I have become later in life, when things are good and I have a lot of love to share. Maybe I’ll find out down the road there were bigger reasons. But just for today, I am thankful for the offering life just handed me, for the chance to heal old wounds, and in a very small, but very personal way, to make the world just a little bit better.