This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
A few months back, I cut ties with some friends/former roommates because it became clear we weren’t able to treat each other the way we needed to be treated. This was fine and dandy. Friends part ways all the time! But the thing is, I’m still mad.
Losing these friendships was no great loss. I never held them near or dear. But I still find myself furious that we fell out at all and that we were incapable of achieving closure. These are the only people in my life I’ve ever reached the point of shouting with. It got to the point where I didn’t feel safe in my own home.
I wake up in the morning angry that they think they’re right and go to bed wondering if they’ll ever take responsibility for their actions. I removed them from social media so I wouldn’t see them pop up on my phone, only for them to follow me to my hometown so they could get away for the summer.
Every single thing they do, real or imagined, pisses me off. I want to be the mature version of myself that lives in my head, the one that says, “I wish them well,” and never gives them a second thought. But I don’t wish them well! I hope they get eaten by a bear.
Am I the petty one? Help!
Hey there, TP!
Finally, after years of running this column, someone has crossed the desert, climbed the mountain, and come to my thatch hut seeking revenge. Well, weary anime protagonist, before I stoke the fires and forge you a sword, let’s discuss the nature of spite.
I’ll start by saying you have every right to your feelings. We were not put on Reba’s good Earth to get along with everyone. In this life, enemies are all but inevitable. Sometimes we end on bad terms with people and we never get closure. That’s annoying. I know.
Encountering these unpleasant figures is one thing. Letting them move into your brain and occupy your precious thinking minutes is quite another. You’re engaged in the latter, which means we have to think up a solution that doesn’t involve them at all because you’re not actually dealing with real people. You’re dealing with your idea of them, putting thoughts in their heads and words in their mouths to torture yourself further.
I can’t say I don’t relate, TP. Not to mount my cross here, but some people have been pretty mean to me. I’ve had my acid thoughts of wishing pain on them, wanting, dreaming, manifesting: “Hurt the way I’m hurting, the way you’ve hurt me.”
I’ve felt this about all sorts of people. People who’ve ghosted me, people who’ve been casually cruel to me, people about whom I’ve thought, “Why do you get to wound me and carry on like it’s nothing? Why do I have to hold this pain while you forget it ever happened?”
It doesn’t feel fair. It doesn’t feel right. I want justice. I want revenge.
But the truth is, TP, revenge isn’t real. It’s something that makes sense in movies, because movies and stories have a structure. They are meant to confer meaning, satisfaction, catharsis, some sense of symmetry. Life has no such obligations.
I often entertain my readers’ “worst-case scenarios” to explore the foundation of their anxieties. But here, let’s go with your best-case scenario. Is it you getting the last laugh? Is it something bad happening to them? Is it them realizing they were wrong and apologizing?
You see the problem. There is no direct path to these outcomes, no surefire method we can point to. The helplessness there, your inability to make any of this happen, will only lead to more discomfort, more bitterness, more pain. And who is that for? Why hold that?
I’ll say this about pain: It wants to travel. Pain eats at the inside of your gut, threatens, “Let me loose, or I’ll gnaw my way out.” It can feel good (or, more accurately, briefly relieving) to spit some of the venom out at someone else. I’ve been there. I use the internet. I get it.
But actions born of such misery are rarely to anyone’s benefit. I’ve never wanted to inflict pain on another person without being in pain myself. If it’s any comfort, TP, know this: We tend to be our own punishment in life. That’s true for you. It’s true for them.
I’m not saying spite has no place in our lives, that we have to forgive anyone who has ever wronged us, or even that we should always expect to do the “mature thing” in any given situation. We are humans. It’s going to happen. And sometimes, experiencing pain just means we have skin in the game, that we aren’t impassive observers to a brutal world rife with myriad injustices.
But justice isn’t a weapon. It’s not a sword. It’s a restorative thing. It’s a tool for building the kind of world we’d like to live in. It isn’t about satisfying an emotional itch or investing ourselves in the idea that punishment can fix everything. Justice can involve punishment, but, in the end, they are not one and the same.
And ultimately, TP, it does sound like what you’re craving is punishment of some kind. Comeuppance. Karma. Well, you probably won’t get it. Even if you somehow did, it might make you feel better for a little while, but it wouldn’t give you much beyond that. Other people are going to wrong you. Other people are going to hurt you. You ought not make punishment a requisite for your peace. It’s too unreliable.
I know this is lofty language for a toxic queer living situation, but what is America, what is the world, if not an extremely large toxic queer living situation? You think about that.
In any case, I suggest you let these people go. Take what lessons you can from the unpleasant journey and apply them as you move fruitfully forward. It falls frustratingly short of immediate gratification but, if achieved, will bring you more contentment than spite ever could. And isn’t that, in a way, the sweetest revenge of all?
Oh, and feel free to come back if you need a sword for something else! As a gift, maybe. Okay. Buy my book. Bye.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on July 2, 2021.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.