Over the course of 20 years or so, we have met on several occasions and each of those events stand out in my memory. You have always come to me in different forms which has made it hard for me to recognize you.
When I was 9, you appeared in the form of 4 girls. They were all different, but they were all you. I was criticized and humiliated several times on the playground. Your words cut me deep. When I went crying to my mother and she questioned you, you nodded meekly and promised never to do it again.
The next day you taunted me for being a crybaby. I never went to my mother again.
The next time you came to me, I was older but not by much. You asked the rest of our group to ignore me, and I was discarded like a toy by a group of girls who, until that day, had been my best friends.
This time however, I kept my composure. I went for swimming classes, participated in the school play, learnt to sing classical music and became a good roller-skater. I missed my friends, and yet I knew you had done me a service. I knew now, never to make my back an easy target for your knife.
At an age where I was learning to deal with changes in my body, you came in the form of a man. You were sweet and funny and I became good friends with you. When you started flirting with me, I didn’t know what it was, but I was intrigued- finally someone was treating me like a grown-up.
Then you tried to do something which no one should attempt with an 11 year old, and I learnt what it was to be a woman in a man’s world. Maybe I was too young to know what boys actually want with girls, maybe not. Today, I feel wiser and smarter. Today, I can recognize an abuser, quicker than you can switch faces.
When I was 13, you came in a surprising form : the whole class. My 7th grade class spent weeks tormenting me because I had the temerity to complain against a tyrannical teacher. Furious that I had tried to break the tradition where teachers worked the children like donkeys, you made my life miserable. I realize now, that they were all girls going through puberty, learning to manipulate and assessing other women as competition. But I was going through puberty too, and I didn’t know what manipulation was. So I missed school, until my attendance was abysmal, and made friends with the boys instead. Funnily enough, they were nicer. It had a lot to do with my cleavage, but honestly, they made me laugh.
At 16 you came, oddly enough, as a deranged boyfriend. Much as any relationship begins, with the talk of love, companionship and common interests, it went downhill from the word ‘go’. You called me up constantly, texted me passionate words, chose the career that I wanted, harangued my closest friends and then you proposed.
When I broke up with you, you went berserk. I remember all the months I spent, dodging you, hiding private information, trying to keep as much distance as I could. I learnt never to date unless I was absolutely sure the guy didn’t belong in an asylum.
When I was 17, you realized you had to get a lot cleverer. You came to me as a teacher, someone we are supposed to trust instinctively, and follow faithfully. You called out my name in class and loudly listed all my failures. You made it clear that I was dumb, lazy and pathetic. That I would amount to nothing, and that marks were the only way to succeed.
So I studied alone, because my friends refused to tutor me and passed with flying colors. Now, I know, that teachers must earn the trust of students before students earn theirs.
In college, at the brink of adulthood, I made friends with a motley crowd. Girls, boys from different backgrounds with varying interests became my confidantes. We were on intimate terms, sharing secrets, having sleepovers, traveling across the city.
Then you decided I was too weird.
I read too much. I enjoyed studying. I picked fights with people who kicked dogs. I didn’t date. I was too close to my family- busy being a good daughter to my parents when I should have been having sex and doing drugs like you. I listened to your problems and sorrows, without burdening you with my own. I was moralistic : I tried to stop you from being too promiscuous with the wrong kind of men, from driving too fast in a city with a record of the highest accidents in the country, I wanted to work for a suicide helpline, not party with tequila shots- I was all wrong.
You decided I didn’t fit in. And that was that. You either ignored me or heckled me. When I tried to sever all contact with you, you found other ways to badger me. I left the college and decided to fulfill my ambition rather than be popular. None of this would have been possible without you.
Today, when I think of all of you, every single villain, who bullied me ruthlessly, I feel only one emotion : Gratitude. If it hadn’t been for you people, I wouldn’t have learnt my own worth. I wouldn’t have realized what a great deal of difference I made to you, and how angry you were about that. I learnt how much I mattered. I grew stronger and became sharper. Today, I know which people to love and which to not, and if it weren’t for the villains in my life, I would never have learnt to appreciate the heroes.
With all my heart, I thank you. Your cruelty taught me kindness, your hate taught me love.
It made me understand that only foolish people are popular, the good ones are always infamous.