My wife Catherine asked me to write this.
“If anyone in this world should be wracked with low self-esteem,” she said, “it’s you. You had the worst parents ever. First your dad moved out; then your mom literally abandoned you — and your dad is never, for one single moment, anything but horrible to you. But you don’t suffer from low self-esteem at all. And the reason you don’t is really unique. You should share with your readers how you do that … thing you do. I think they’d be interested in hearing that.”
Now, if it turns out Cat is wrong, and you’re not interested in that, then … cool! I’ll totally try to parlay that into the foot rub Cat keeps getting out of giving me.
The reason I don’t suffer from low self-esteem is because I was basically born with a very strong sense of fairness. I don’t know why, but I’m Joe Wrightenwrong. I’m just … extremely tuned in to what amounts to the morality of any given dynamic or situation.
And to be clear, I don’t think that at all makes me special. Who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong?
As a baby I was acutely aware that my mother loathed me: that she was deeply and even dangerously angry, and had no more interest in being a mother than I have in being a prison guard. But I never thought her psychological problems had anything to do with me. It was her. She had issues.
I was just kid in Keds. I knew I hadn’t had time to have done anything so wrong I deserved for my own mother to hate me. I didn’t keep my room that messy.
And that’s always been the way for me. I’m sort of preternaturally good at putting the cause for any kind of trouble or disharmony where it belongs. (And yes — and maybe especially yes — that includes when it belongs with me.)
When I was in third grade everyone in my class made giant Valentine’s Day cards out of that Oldye Thymyee construction paper that was so thick you could use it for drywall. Afterwards I gathered with other kids at the front of the room as we all deposited our cards on the teacher’s desk.
When our teacher saw mine, she snatched it off the top of the pile, jumped to her feet, and started screaming at me about what a horrible, foul Valentine’s Day card I had made. Every kid around me backed away like I’d started emitting noxious fumes (which, suddenly panicked as I was, I just might have). Mrs. Hinton was a tall woman with tall hair wearing tall heels. As this towering inferno moved threateningly toward me, berating me at the top of her lungs and violently tearing my Valentine’s Day card to shreds, what I did not think was, “What is the matter with me? Why didn’t I make a better card? What have I done wrong? Why am I bad?”
The card was fine. True, in making it I had stuck with my usual policy of applying glue in a way intended to subtly communicate the message, “Avoid making John Shore use glue,” but, through my dazzling, Ninja-like mastery of scissors, I had also adorned the thing with enough white lacy cut-outs to send Liberace into a mooning swoon. My card might not have gotten me a date with, say, my best friend’s airline stewardess aunt. But it didn’t deserve this.
As I slowly backed up whilst peripherally assessing immediate escape routes (if it came to it, and I had to dart [pre-murderous] O. J. Simpson-like into the sea of school desks just to my right, I knew that relative geriatric of a teacher of mine might as well be wearing lead boots), what I thought wasn’t anything like, “How could I be so bad and wrong?”
It was just this: “Whoa. Full adult snappage.”
I blamed her. What was happening was her problem. It wasn’t about me. Even if she started tearing me to shreds (which, eyes ablaze, it seemed likely she might actually try), it would still be about her.
(As it turned out, not too long before she exploded on me Mrs. Hinton had lost her young son in terrible car accident — and he, apparently, looked and spoke a lot like me. I was a victim of her grieving.)
One of my core premises about life is that everyone is innocent. People react to terrible things done to them by in their turn doing terrible things. But they themselves are not terrible.
We’re all victims of someone’s grieving.
More on this next time, maybe, but … that’s the idea behind why I personally have never suffered low self-esteem. Depression, I know. But I’ve always sort of instinctively rejected the premise that anyone is inherently better than anyone else. And if no one’s better than anyone else, then no one’s worse than anyone else. And that includes me.