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I haven't thought about this in a while but the Oscars reminded me I need to accept that I am an asshole.
Many years ago a friend—let’s call him John—told me about how he got too drunk and did something regrettable. He went to a bar with a friend—we’ll call him Joe—and somehow got in his head that Joe was sleeping with his girlfriend, Mary*. When John confronted Joe—you’re fucking her aren’t you?! AREN’T YOU!!—Joe was simply incredulous and let out a guffaw. John interpreted the chuckle as an insult. It triggered something deep in John and he punched him. Clocked him right in the nose. (I think it’s worth noting at this point that John was a major athlete who has trained in boxing, and Joe is a musician.)
John told me this story the next day, full of regret, but in this “garsh I’m a drunk idiot” kind of way. He said he was going to spend the rest of his life apologizing to both of them he was so mortified.
A year or so after this, I started a relationship with someone I met through John and Mary. It started on contact. As soon as we met, fireworks and all that. We were sort of inseparable. John and Mary, who were now married, thought it was sweet.
A week into this new relationship, I found out that this guy, my new guy, was Joe, the person John punched. When I tell you my jaw fell to the floor when I found out, I mean that. I really fell out of my seat.
What’s funny is I knew Joe had accepted John’s apology. I knew they’d remained friends, but I always thought it was batshit that someone would remain friends with anyone who punched them in the face. In public. Out of nowhere. For an imagined slight. It would be pretty incredible to come back from something like that, I’d think. If I’m being honest, I thought only a guileless asshole would accept being punched while falsely accused of impropriety. So, I imagined Joe must have in fact slept with Mary. Why else would he take a beat down?
Things didn’t work out the way any of us thought, but not for the reasons implied in this anecdote. Joe and I were destined to failure by long distance among other things, and John and Mary got divorced because marriages sometimes don’t pan out, even though they still get along fine. I do not keep in touch with any of the parties today.
I imagine slights to myself. I try my best to think of them as riddles, instead of getting mired in paranoia or self-sabotage, which is wont to happen when I want something really badly. I have surely succumbed to magical thinking gone pitch dark. I imagine I have tried punching myself in the face, convinced I have slept with your woman, but I know that’s my imagination telling me to look a little harder for the guileless asshole who will forgive me.