A little over a week ago, I was telling my friend—a friend I’ve known for almost a decade now—about something I had done and was doing and felt fine about continuing because my moral compass is a disaster and who cares, and without looking up from slicing her breakfast apart methodically, she told me it was weird for her to hear me talk about it so nonchalantly because it’s the type of behavior she hates other people for.
I do not believe in signs or stars aligning or fate or whatever, but when I came back from California and just days after that conversation, my other friend was filling me in on her sort-of-ex’s actions from the 10 days I was gone. And instead of suggesting we curse him or something, I just blurted out: “Oh my god, that’s what I do to other people too.”
And then this friend—a friend I’ve known for way more than a decade—said, “oh, no, but XXX and YYY and ZZZ all deserved it when you did it.”
I think I am a pretty okay person overall. I have trouble believing I could possibly be that great of a person where I could describe myself with any adjective higher than “okay” and still remain honest and accurate—and I’ve met enough shitty people to recognize that I’m at least not fully on the opposite side of the spectrum.
I have no idea if it’s who I surround myself with or just some phase everyone and their mother is going through at the same time as me, but there is this weird sense of competition to be the Worst Person In The Room. And even though I think I’m a pretty okay person overall, I do think I’m predominantly Funny Terrible, in the sense that my behavior is probably not ideal to most of the people around me, but at least every catastrophic decision I make will be a good story someday. Right?
I told someone else that thing I had done and was doing and felt fine about continuing because my moral compass is a disaster and who cares, and he got incredibly angry with me and I got incredibly angry with him because it’s a FUNNY story, dammit. Stop thinking about the people involved and the lives I’m ruining and just think about it as FUNNY.
I was looking for a new book to read and started reading excerpts from Elif Batuman’s The Idiot (I will read anything with simplistic and sharp titles, especially if the word “idiot” is involved), and this quote completely ruined my life:
I found myself remembering the day in Kindergarten when the teachers showed us Dumbo… As the story unfolded, I realized to my amazement that all the kids in the class, even the bullies, the ones who despised and tormented the weak and the ugly, were rooting against Dumbo’s tormentors… But they’re you, I thought to myself. How did they not know? They didn’t know. It was astounding, an astounding truth. Everyone thought they were Dumbo.
Fuck! I always thought I was Dumbo too. What if I’m not Dumbo? Do I even care? Does it make it worse if I don’t care that I’m not Dumbo?
It’s like how I grew up watching 500 Days of Summer and thinking Zooey Deschanel was CRAZY AND EVIL!!!! for not immediately falling in love with Joseph Gordon-Levitt because he was skinny and tall! and they liked weird music I hadn’t even heard of yet (do real people actually like The Smiths?) and he wanted to be an architect which is like the coolest Artsy Cool Boy Job your boyfriend could possibly have!
And then I remember watching that movie for the millionth time on a flight back to New York and being like, uh, ok I totally misread who the bad guy actually is in this.
Am I actually Joseph Gordon-Levitt but I’ve seen myself as Zooey Deschanel this whole time!?
(I’m aware I could never actually be Zooey Deschanel because my face is too round for bangs and I HATE high-waisted pants and I think most men are scared of me because I’m always screaming and I would NEVER encourage someone to do karaoke.)
What I’m saying is: what if I’m actually the villain? Because nobody roots for the villain and the villain never wins—even if they do have the best stories.