Today at work I visited the ladies' room and I took a look at my hair in the mirror. I didn't love it. I have a love/hate relationship with my hair anyway (who doesn't?) but for some reason, I was reminded of a situation in high school regarding my hair, and how other people's "off-hand" comments can stick with us for decades.
My mom had paid for a "good" hairdresser to do my hair. Not sure what constituted "good" except that it was at a salon that seemed a little more "exclusive" than others. And by that I mean, it had a nice waiting area. And copies of Playgirl on the tables. Not kidding. It was the first time I'd ever seen an uncircumcised penis (and the only other penises I'd seen belonged to babies and toddlers who's diapers I'd changed while babysitting). I was mildly shocked at a pornographic magazine being tossed in with the ladies' magazines and hairstyle books, but I laughed it off as only an awkward teenager could.
When it came my turn to see David (see? I still remember his name), he asked me what I was looking for in a hairstyle. I've had very curly hair since adolescence so up to that point, I'd never had anyone who could cut my hair well. I was really hoping for a miracle from David. But when he described his idea for how to transform my hair, all I remember is him saying "And we should get rid of this," (grabbing my mass of hair at the back of my head), "It looks like you're a truck hauling a trailer."
Fuck you, David.
I don't remember if I liked my haircut (probably not) but I do remember that comment. Forever and a day I will remember that comment.
Another time, my mom walked past me in my kitchen, where I was at the sink washing dishes. I think my oldest daughter was a toddler at the time, so while I was not in the best shape I'd ever been, I was certainly in better shape than I am now. Offhandedly, my mom said "Boy, you sure have fat calves!" Now, clearly I was aware that my calves were not lithe and lean. In fact, though I was a tiny kid, I was always a bit stocky, sturdy, and never willowy. But from that day on, I was more than aware of my "fat calves" though I had barely given them a notice before.
Years later, a friend commented on my "unfortunate weight gain." Her choice of words - unfortunate - making it sound like a cancer diagnosis or tragic car accident - always stuck with me. Who was she to say my shift in weight was unfortunate? I certainly didn't feel unfortunate. In fact, I was quite happy with my life at the time. My weight, while not ideal, was not at the forefront of my mind all day. But, clearly, it had been bothering HER enough to comment.
Screw you, "friend."
It's true that people remember how you made them feel. I'm certain I've said something to someone at some point in my life that mirrored the situations above. Perhaps someone remembers me by the way I made them feel, and it's not in a good way.
I see my own kids and their peers lamenting their weight, looks, intelligence, athletic ability, amount of friends, popularity, and status. I keenly remember my own mother saying "Who cares what anyone else thinks?" But we DO care. We hold on to words, feelings and situations that make us feel inadequate. As we grow older, we learn to set those things aside in favor of focusing our ever-decreasing energy on the things we hold dear. But they never really leave us. Words can shape a relationship.
The other day we were watching an old home video. It was Easter and my two oldest girls were hunting for eggs. My ex-husband was doing the videotaping and while his face can't be seen, his voice can be heard. At one point, exasperated with my younger daughter's inability to find eggs that he can clearly see, he says her name, "Hannah." But the tone of his voice is what makes the video hard for my daughter to watch. She knows that tone - that irritation, that disappointment. Even as an adult herself now, it's hard for her to watch that video and hear her dad's "mean" voice.
During my first marriage, my now ex-husband used to get very angry, often for no discernible reason. We would argue and he would shake his head at me with a slight laugh and say "You're unbelievable." Two simple words that meant a lot more. I heard his disappointment, his anger, his disgust with me. To this day, I still get pissed off when I hear the EMF song "You're Unbelievable." The song praises the object of the singer's desire. But to me, it was completely the opposite.
I shudder to think of the words I've used as weapons. Never have I wanted to intentionally hurt someone with my words, but I know I have. Knowing, as I do, the way words can stick with a person; knowing that words, once spoken, can never be taken back. And "I'm sorry" is just a phrase with no meaning.
Be careful with your words. They mean more than you'll ever know.