Change your maps: Connecticut is the Khyber Pass; America’s suburbs are Pakistan’s tribal areas. The children of America’s hipster moms are paying off their parents’ blood debts.* As an anonymous woman writes to Slate’s Emily Yoffe:
I enrolled my two boys into an exclusive private school in our new hometown. At a school event I bumped into an attractive woman whom I didn’t recognize. She came by and asked if I remember her. It turns out that she was someone I bullied in high school. After that day I noticed other moms slowly avoiding me. I think she must have told them about how I used to bully her. Eventually my boys started coming home, crying and upset that other kids wouldn’t play with them. My younger son was not allowed to join a game of hockey during recess because another boy told him, “My mom says your mom is a b***h.” They are now openly being ridiculed and ostracized at school by their peers. I asked to meet my former classmate and apologized for bullying her as I was young and stupid, although I don’t much remember what I did. She smiled at me in a creepy way and said she went through therapy for what I put her through. I haven’t told my husband about this woman because I’m a little ashamed at how I used to treat her. Putting my boys into another school is not a feasible option, but I just don’t know what to do.
Speaking as an underdog and the son of an underdog, my gut reaction is to cry, “Shabash!” or “Bravo!” Upon first moving to New York, my mother worked briefly for the father of a man who is now a well-known pundit. Once she overheard the man’s wife refer to her contemptuously as “Your secretary…or whatever they’re calling them these days.” (My mother never mentioned any dismissive toss of the hair, but I’ve always inferred one.) Ever since she told me that story, it’s been one of my fondest ambitions to write a column taking memsahib’s son all the way down to Chinatown, as DeNiro put it. Unfortunately, I often agree with him.
The author of the letter says two things that make her especially loathsome in my sight. First, right off the bat, she mentions her former victim’s new attractiveness, as if it somehow changes the moral geometry of the situation. Should Botox make bygones, bygones? If the woman had remained homely, would the opinion of her kids matter less? “Don’t worry if those hoodlums exclude you, Jared. I mean, God, just look at their mother.”
Worse, she seems not to have learned any larger lessons about bullying. She’s “a little ashamed” — that’s it. I suspect if she were being really honest, she’d admit she thinks bullying part of life’s natural order, like unequal distribution of wealth. Would she be so quick to blow the whistle if her kids were the ones wearing the jackboots? Something tells me no.
That may be a human universal — people regret their bad behavior only for so long as convention obliges them to, and not a second more. In John Fowles’ Magus — a book a far more knowing friend calls one of the most overrated of all time, but which I love — a young man is drawn into a bizarre series of experiments that involve him being repeatedly seduced and dumped by a beautiful girl. At the end, he’s handed a Roman-style flagellum and told he can flog her if he likes. He doesn’t, for complicated reasons, among them a realization that, though he will be able to make her suffer, he’ll never be able to make her sorry.
For some people, making an old oppressor suffer is enough. Not for me. Been there, done that. When I was working in loss mitigations, I often found myself talking to the kind of formerly nouveaux riches jerks who’d treated me like a coolie back when I was closing mortgages. For a while, it was fun to make them cringe in the dust. It took some skill, too. They’d come at me with their sense of entitlement bared, throwing their weight around as they would with a customer-service rep. With a few cold, well-timed ego-bursters, I’d remind them that: 1) they were about to lose their homes; 2) they were in no position to make demands; and 3) for best results, commence begging now. The novelty wore off, though — mainly because nobody cried, “I shouldn’t have been so recklessly acquisitive!” or, more to the point, “I should have been more polite to that grad school dropout who cold-called me about my refi! Ai, me!”
After that, alpha-rolling became just another tiresome step in an irksome job.
Just goes to show that revenge, served at any temperature, is overrated. For certain women, however, a timely spaying might not be a terrible thing.
*You’re probably wondering, “What kind of hipster lives in the suburbs?” Well, I’m using the word in its broadest sense, that is, on anyone who: 1) reads Slate; 2) will probably not vote for Sarah Palin; but 3) has much more money than I.