It came in the mail, postmarked from one town over: a single sheet of loose leaf, college-ruled and hand scribed. The page was full of words I can’t recall anymore, but one line remains branded on my heart some fifteen years later:
“Unfortunately, my most vivid memories of you are the ones I most want to forget.”
I would remember holding hands in a circle on the mission trip, praying against rain; risking detention lingering in the hall before seventh period; and confidences traded in late-night conversations, the line of my arm contoured against his.
But he would remember me cozied up next to someone else after the dance we’d attended together months before. The pit in my stomach matched the heaviness of my heart. After years of (my) hesitancy and false starts, we were Never-Ever-Ever getting together. I’d messed it up with a good guy playing games with a bad one. And now it was too late.
I saved that letter (a loathe note?) for years in the top drawer of my hand-me-down dresser, a teenage keepsake folded in wait for whenever I felt like punishing myself anew.
“Unfortunately, my most vivid memories of you are the ones I most want to forget.” The words etched in my mind, stinging just as sharply with every re-read.
What kind of a horrible person ruins a friendship, sabotaging a romance yet to begin? Why was I so drawn to the wrong sorts of people? What the hell was wrong with me?
Sometime in college I realized that distinguishing Nice Guys from Bad Boys wasn’t as simple a task as I’d once believed. Each archetype ultimately broke down, revealing itself to be something of a cultural unicorn. Heroism and villainy intersect throughout our lives and choices, don’t they? The switchbacks are brutal, if predictable. We’re all capable of hurting each other deeply, but beauty and kindness are just as perennial. Each life charts paths through light and dark, changing course from one breath to the next.
Forgiveness won’t preclude boundary setting, but it is woven with shades of mercy and grace like rain. None of us is the sum of the mistakes we make, our worth rooted deeply in Whose we are, not what we’ve done (even on our best days). Resurrection is as real today as it was that Sunday morning long ago.
Finally tearing that letter to shreds, I forgave myself and crafted another chapter in the narrative with fresh memories in vivid hue. I wasn’t seventeen anymore, and even she was more than her careless heart and selfish insecurity. She was never altogether Good or Bad, and neither were the boys who caught her eye. Two-dimensional characters exist in monochrome fantasy, unlike the broad-spectrum Story we write with our lives together.
Saint. Sinner. Hero. Villain. Human. Forgiven. Beloved.
The whole motley mess of us.