A few weeks ago I attended my 25-year high school reunion. It was at a bar run by one of my classmates: very casual. I didn’t know whom I would see or how many would show up. On the drive down, I felt anxious. My older brother is a convicted sex offender, and it’s a small town. I didn’t know if there would be any judgment bestowed upon me, even though I was also a survivor of his abuse many years ago.
Perhaps my fears were simply self-inflicted. But in life, I find it’s often the case that people often judge others based on the actions of their family members which, of course, isn’t fair. Childhood in my household was chaotic because my two older brothers acted out constantly. Being younger, I remember entering a new classroom on more than one occasion when the teacher would say something like, “Oh boy, here we go again. I had your brother.”
While I often acted out, there was a difference: I did my schoolwork and I did well academically. In one instance, I remember my first year Italian teacher coming over to my desk after I scored a 100 on the first test and accusing me of cheating. “There’s no way you got a 100 on this test,” she said. I was angry. Thank God for the good teachers. Mr. D. was another Italian teacher who I knew because I was into languages. I was further along in French, and he suggested that I skip the first year of Italian and come into his second year class because the basics were the same. He offered to stay after school once a week with me until I got up to speed. I’m grateful for teachers like him, a bright spot that a kid like me needed during a tough span in my life.
But I digress. I am not my brother, either one of them. I am my own person. As I approached the bar for the reunion, I hoped that my classmates would see and remember me for me, not for who my brother was and is. I had recently written some articles and shared some of my experiences about being abused as a child, and I hoped not to be outwardly judged. Thankfully, I wasn’t.
I went in and immediately recognized a few former classmates. We started talking about who had kids and who was doing what for work. More came in and the party grew. It was a happy, lighthearted occasion, and my anxiety began to ease. One of my former classmates then opened the door. She said that she was enjoying all of the articles I had been writing. I thanked her and greatly appreciated the words of approval.
The night went on, and my anxiety dissipated. If anyone was inwardly judging me, I didn’t know it. And I was able to tell myself that if they were, it was because of their own ignorance. I think I am probably harder on my self and judge myself more than others judge me, but I guess that’s a result of what I had to endure growing up. It became ingrained in me, and it has taken me a number of years to work toward undoing it. I know it won’t ever go away, but I also know that I will persevere.