Choose Your Own Traumatic Adventure

Sometimes I use this site to write about painful memories. I find it’s cheaper than therapy and less habit forming than medication (though just barely). That’s not to put down anybody who needs either (or both) of those things to deal with whatever requires dealing with in their lives. I just find that tapping it out on a computer works best for me. Writing is the medium in which I express myself the best. If I could sculpt or paint or interpretive dance better than I can write, I’d do it one of those ways. But I don’t, so here we are.

For a long time, I exclusively wrote funny-ha-ha stuff here (or tried to, anyway). Whenever I considered writing about Deep Things, I feared coming across as one of those precious kids you’d hear in freshman composition class, pouring out their soul about the ordeal of having a vaguely distant father, because my trauma is SO important, the WORLD needs to hear about it and share my pain.

I can’t say when or why I changed my mind about that, really, but at some point I discovered that this site gives me the means to lay those memories out and defang them by transmogrifying a tale of woe into a humorous anecdote. Or at the very least, finding some humor to extract from it, usually at my own expense.

I’ve come to believe that in most instances of non-physical trauma, how much damage you suffer from it is largely up to you. Yes, horrible people can say horrible things to make you feel horrible, especially when you’re a kid and don’t quite know how to handle it. But we all grow up (unless you live in Williamsburg), and at some point in your life you have a choice. You can hang on to the pain forever and let it eat at you like an untreated wound, or you can slough it off in some way–such as, say, writing about it–and let the spot heal.

I’ve chosen the latter. In examining many of these incidents with the remove of time, the thing I find the most funny is the one thing I could have changed–namely, how I reacted to them and held on to the anger for way too long, thus giving a lot of power to people and things that didn’t really deserve it.

[I also now take a kind of perverse pleasure in careening wildly between straight-up silly posts and serious ones on Scratchbomb. Like this site has become my personal episode of M*A*S*H and I am Hawkeye. One second I’m wearing an arrow through my head and the next I’m standing over a dead soldier muttering, “When will the killing end?!”]

Normally what happens is, a memory appears suddenly at the front of my mind. Sometimes it’s because I see/hear something that reminds me of an episode in my past, but just as often it will attack me without warning, like a Memory Ninja. I can usually tell fairly quickly whether I can (or should) write about the memory.

This happened to me recently. I was riding the bus home from work when, apropos of nothing at all, I had this flashback to an incident I considered humiliating. It was something I hadn’t thought about in a long time, and the memory of it burned. Almost immediately, I began thinking about how to turn it into a post. I even started forming snappy one-liners in my head.

But then I realized that this memory involved both an ex and family members. If I can paint it in broad strokes, it was something this ex did/said that I found particularly embarrassing because of the specific family members in whose presence she did/said it.

This brought me into some thorny territory. I have a general rule for writing online: If I’m going to tell a Real Life Story, it should involve other “real” people as little as possible. Random anonymous jerks who could never possibly be identified are okay, but I consider it uncool to tell a tale that prominently features someone who hasn’t given me permission to air their laundry in public.

This self-imposed code clashed against the very strong impulse I had to write this story. The structure was already forming in my head, like ice crystallizing. I feel like I can recognize when a story can be formed into something good enough for public consumption, and in this case, I had that feeling very strongly. When I sense that I have a good story on my hands, it is extremely difficult for me to not write it, the way a photographer would find it hard to not snap a picture of a beautiful landscape.

And yet, the more I thought about the incident in question, the more I realized it differed from other stories I’ve shared here in a fundamental way. It involved me being embarrassed, but not by something I did or which was done to me, but rather at the behavior of someone in my presence.

If I’m being honest with myself, the real reason for wanting to write about it was not to expel a bad memory, but rather to exact some petty form of revenge; to pay this embarrassment forward, really. I wouldn’t be discarding my discomfort; I would be balling it up and throwing it in this person’s face. That’s not a healthy impulse.

Obviously, this site trades in a lot of anger and resentment. I try to limit those feelings to people who deserve it: the powerful, the hateful, the smug, the cancerous souls who make the world worse than it needs to be. For instance, this post I wrote about James Frey is dripping with rage, but I believe he’s more than deserving of such treatment.

Emphasis on the word try; I know that I sometimes I go for cheap targets for no other reason than to get a few chuckles. And I know that I sometimes go way over the top attacking something that might not be worth such vitriol. (Check out my Twitter timeline some day, especially when the Mets are playing, if you want a clinic in poorly focused anger.) Case in point: I pretty much stand by everything I wrote in this Extreme Couponers post. And yet I still felt bad when I got a pro-extreme couponers comment on it. I suddenly felt like I’d used a grenade to kill a mosquito. Or that maybe I should have saved the lambasting for the producers of the show, rather than the filmed subjects.

While wondering what I should do about with this story, if anything, I also considered that I just wrote a lengthy post over at Amazin’ Avenue that had some bearing on the issue. My article was about how a certain New York tabloid wrote an irresponsibly sophomoric article about Angel Pagan, the Mets centerfielder who almost missed a turn at bat during a series in Philadelphia when he had to go to the bathroom midgame. It turned out Pagan has colitis, a chronic, uncomfortable medical condition that’s really not at all funny. This newspaper chose cheap poop jokes over respecting someone’s privacy. After blasting them for doing so, it would be hypocritical for me to not honor someone else’s right to not be embarrassed publicly.

Ultimately, I decided not to write about the memory in question. I’m not writing this post as a humble-brag or to pat myself on the back for being so virtuous. Or write at length about my “struggles” over the issue. I feel like, if I was really a good person, I never would have considered doing it in the first place. Or even written about how I won’t write about it.

Nonetheless, I’d rather write nothing than get some interweb traction at the expense of making someone else look like dumb. I suspect this is why I’ll never get anywhere–I lack the killer interweb instinct to destroy the weak and defenseless. So be it.