Honestly, I was never really interested in anything other Neopets were interested in. The NC Mall seemed like a waste of time to me, I was never a Yooyuball fan, and no amount of Neopoints could persuade me to participate in the dangers of the Battledome. I was the quiet one at Neoschool, the one who sat in the back of the cafeteria, slowly eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich bite by bite, methodically scanning the room with my large brown eyes and contemplating the mysteries of life.
If I could go back in time and convince my younger self to build some confidence and at least talk to the other Neopets my age, I definitely would. Sometimes, looking back on my youth, I feel full to the brim with bitter regrets for my actions. I remember my mother used to always warn me not to hold grudges, but sometimes letting go and forgiving is incredibly hard – especially when it comes to forgiving yourself.
Everyone has done something stupid in his or her life. Mistakes and blunders are inevitable, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves down on our stupid slip-ups, but I just can’t help myself. I tend to be so overly critical, so analytical, that every little imperfection sends me off the edge. For this reason, I sat alone at lunch.
Out of all my regrets in life, the biggest one brings the most pain to my heart. I’m sure you’re thinking right now, “Then why bring it up? Why not just bury it deep into your soul, away from everything visible to your mind, so you don’t have to torture yourself?” Frankly, I would love to do that, but unfortunately, I cannot... it’s simply impossible for me. If I could, I would apologize, but I don’t know how. If I could, I would erase this moment from my life, but I can’t. I’m stuck with this burden forever, unless I find a way to channel my anger with myself to something positive.
Recently, I read somewhere that admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it. Well, I have already admitted a have a terrible issue with letting go, so I am at least a step closer to forgetting my awful mistake. The second step, however, is to confess, which is something I have never done before. I’ve kept this secret so close to my bitter heart, sometimes I wonder if the incident actually happened, or if I just imagined it. But then that gnawing guilt stabs my heart, and I can recall the memory causing me so much pain...
Whenever school projects were assigned, I was the type to work in solitude. I never partnered up with anyone, unlike my classmates, because I knew deep down that if I did have a partner, I would never be able to accept their ideas, but instead push them with my own. I think my parents understood this, too, so they encouraged me to “remain friendly, but if the whole ‘friendship’ thing doesn’t work out, no worries”. I carried this quote around with me wherever I traveled. It’s okay that I’m different, I used to assure myself, I have to keep a positive attitude, but I am in no way pressured to have friends.
I remember the incident so vividly; it frightens me sometimes. I was around eight years old, with silver glasses far too large for my face. I was shorter than everyone else in my class, and my peers’ tall shadows were dauntingly ominous. I shied away from anyone and everyone, offering only a brief yes or no answer when asked a question. I relied on my parents’ advice – there was no pressure for me to step out of my comfort zone and try to make friends. Because I clung to that thought so protectively, I missed out on so many opportunities, of which I am ashamed.
At the time, I was a brown Xweetok, and a rather intelligent one at that. I always had a book in my paws and received straight A’s on all my transcripts. Schoolwork was never a problem, but socialization was.
It was a snowy day as I ascended the slope to my school in Meridell. The rows of crops on the neighboring farms were barren, which depressed me, as winter was always my least favorite season.
I remember walking into the school building, the snow on the bottom of my boots making crunching sounds as I walked down the hallway to my classroom, room 38. My teacher, Ms. Myers (a rotund blue Tonu), was sitting at her desk, sipping from a cup of steaming hot tea.
My classmates were giggling and guffawing as I took my seat at the back of the room, away from everyone else, where I could sit and carefully survey my surroundings without any disturbances.
Ms. Myers finished her tea and stood, her skirt sashaying as she walked toward the center of the room.
“All right, class,” she announced, drawing the attention of every student to her, “Today we will be starting a project on the history of the Lost Desert. Instead of you picking your own partners, however, I will be choosing for you.”
Groans erupted from every student, myself included. I felt an odd sense of anxiety. Usually, I had the choice of not choosing a partner at all, but now I would have to be forced to collaborate with some unfortunate soul.
Slowly, Ms. Myers partnered up Neopets in the class. My nerves grew tighter and more worried as she spoke. Finally, her big eyes landed on me and she remarked,
“Ah, Benjamin! You don’t have a partner yet!”
Please let me work alone. Please let me work alone. I chanted these words numerous times in my head, hoping Ms. Myers could read my mind.
She obviously could not, for she continued,
“Benjamin, why don’t you work with Lydia?”
My gaze flickered over to the white Flotsam sitting a few desks across from me. She smiled at me cheerfully, her dark blue eyes shining with politeness.
I mumbled an “okay”, and sat down next to Lydia reluctantly.
“Hi, Benjamin!” she greeted me joyfully as I took my seat.
I nodded a hello.
Ms. Myers hurried around the room, assigning each group a topic to research and report on. Finally, she reached Lydia and me and informed us our report would be about Jazan.
“This topic sounds fun, huh, Benjamin?” Lydia asked innocently.
“Mmm-hmm,” I mumbled, flipping through the pages of my textbook for the chapter on Jazan.
“So, should we make a poster or something?” the Flotsam questioned.
“Well, I was thinking of a timeline...” I started.
Lydia gushed, “Ooh, that’s a great idea!”
“Um, thanks,” I muttered, scanning the first paragraph about Jazan’s birth and family.
“Maybe we could split up the work...” Lydia suggested. “Like, you can do the first half of his life, and I’ll do the second half. We can bring our textbooks home tonight and look up information on him.”
I cringed, but said nothing. The bell rang for recess. I stood to leave.
“Okay, fine,” I retorted apathetically, “See you tomorrow.”
When I got home, I cracked open my textbook and took notes of the early years of Jazan’s life. I already knew quite a bit of information from the optional two–week course I had taken two summers ago about Lost Desert history, but I figured reading the textbook for information couldn’t hurt. All I could think about, though, was of Lydia and how her research was coming along. I felt compelled to create the entire timeline that night, all by myself, but I knew my mother would be disappointed in me. She also used to remind me I should never “assume others aren’t as gifted” as I was.
The next day, I arrived at school with two pages of notes on the first half of Jazan’s life. When Ms. Myers told us to meet with our partners to work on our project, I took a seat again at Lydia’s desk.
“So, did you research Jazan’s early life, Benjamin?” Lydia asked, smiling genuinely at me.
I nodded, sliding my glasses up my nose with my paw.
Lydia reached into her bright red folder and withdrew a single page with notes written neatly all over it.
She laid her paper next to mine, calmly skimming my words. I glanced at her notes and almost gasped with horror. There were so many inaccuracies! For one thing, she misspelled the name of Jazan’s father, Razul, and completely confused his life with King Coltzan III’s, which seemed so bizarre and impossible to me.
“Nice job!” she complimented, gesturing toward my notes. “Do you think mine are alright?”
I squinted my eyes and, against my better judgment, spat,
“This is awful.”
Lydia’s smiling face froze and hardened into stony terror.
“W-what?” she stammered timidly, her dark blue eyes becoming watery.
“Do you know how incorrect this information is?” I sneered, not paying any attention to Lydia’s feelings, only to my own disgust for her work.
“I-I’m s-sorry,” the Flotsam whimpered.
By this point, I was lecturing her in all of her flaws, waving my arms wildly around like a mad man. Ms. Myers and everyone else in the classroom stopped what they were doing to watch my horrendous episode.
“You’re such a... a... an idiot! How could you possibly confuse King Coltzan III with Jazan? I am ashamed and appalled at your lack of intellect and reasoning!”
By this point, tears were streaming down the Flotsam’s face and Ms. Myers had to escort her to the front office.
The next day was Saturday, and when I arrived at school on Monday, Ms. Myers informed the class that Lydia and her family had moved to Faerieland and I never saw her again.
From that point onward, I was never assigned a partner for any projects in school.
I’m sure you are now thinking to yourself, “That wasn’t so bad.” Well... technically, you are correct. I didn’t brainwash an entire army of Grundos. I didn’t rob the National Neopian Bank. I didn’t transform Neopia’s faeries into stone.
Calling someone a name and ridiculing him or her doesn’t seem like such a terrible feat nowadays. Neopians actually learn to accept mockery. No, I don’t deserve to be locked up in the dungeons of Fyora’s castle for my rude behavior at age eight, but still. I hurt someone – intentionally. I was angry and such a perfectionist, I was willing to holler insults at her in front of all my classmates just to get my point across.
To this day, I still don’t know what ever happened to Lydia. Sometimes I wonder if I happened to pass her by in the streets, would she remember me? Has she completely forgotten who I am? Is she living a perfectly happy life, completely oblivious to any pain she suffered from me at age eight? Or is she melancholy, angry, hardened by her bitter memory and in spiteful rage?
I worry constantly about how I harmed someone so innocent, even though it was years ago. Maybe someday, I’ll learn to forget my sins, and most importantly, to forgive.