I am a huge rationalizer.
Not that I’m huge. I’m very short, as many of you are well aware. I’m like…I could fit in a pickle jar, probably. Maybe one of those old-timey barrels like Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. I could live comfortably in one of those things.
I’m a small rationalizer, but I rationalize quite a lot.
I don’t know whether this is a defense mechanism to preserve my optimism or what, but when people are shitty, I don’t often blame them. I assume that the shitarity must come from some outward source. If a person gets a lot of shit heaped upon them, it is natural, according to Newton’s First Law Of Shittiness, that the shit must thereafter be expunged onto a different source.* Many people call this ‘karma’ or ‘projecting your problems’. I call this the Shit Cycle.**
Many people have different reactions to the Shit Cycle. Take me and Laura and Tess. Let’s say that some asswad approaches the three of us on the street and begins throwing punches. Asswad punches Laura, Laura punches the asswad right back. Asswad punches me, and I ask him whether he needs to talk through his problems, maybe his cat has died, maybe his coffee burned his tongue that morning, I don’t know, but I’m here for you. Asswad punches Tess, and she apologizes fervently and then offers him a fruit basket. And then Laura punches the Asswad.
My point is that I have a very difficult time accepting someone’s poor behavior as precisely what it is. This is where The Greatest Advice Ever comes in.
Storytime: at one point during college I had an awful roommate. She was manipulative, cruel, rude, and just plain difficult. I held out hope for a long time that maybe, if I was just nice enough to her, she would stop being such a…well, I wouldn’t use the word. I listened to her cry. I forgave her when she tearily asked for it. I patiently waited for the explanation when she broke our dishes, victimized my friends, and lied, lied, lied. I reasoned that she had had a tough life. We had heard her stories about abuse. They were hard to ignore. She bragged about them, like she was holding a trophy that we could never ‘win’. Later, she told us that these stories were lies. And then she told us that she had lied about lying. Laura was finished with this roommate practically on that first round of bullshit. Tess gave her longer, tried to be there for her, tried to help her, but there is only so much one human being can suffer through. I think I held out the longest, out of sheer ignorance and stubbornness. The last night that our roommate lived with us, we sat on the couch and I tried to have a talk with her about her behavior. Asked her why, and received a library of answers, none of it her fault. Later that night, that roommate called Tess some horrible names and threw an appletini into our kitchen wall, covering the floor and stove with sticky florescent goo that she refused to clean up. At that point we were done. The roommate moved out in a hailstorm of foul language and dramatic gestures.
That weekend I went home. I had Fridays off that semester, and so on a particularly rough week I would hop in my car in the morning and make the forty-five minute drive to my parent’s house. Half the time they wouldn’t be there when I walked in the door, but just being in the house, was therapeutic.
On that particular Friday, I got in a little after noon. My grandmother had eaten lunch and was sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee (two teaspoons of sugar, topped off with milk) watching the birds flutter madly around on the deck. She had a heavy bird book that she liked to keep next to her, although she rarely, if every, consulted it. The birds were mostly juncos.
So I sat on the couch opposite her and started talking. I left out some of the more colorful of my roommate’s problems, focusing mostly on how inconsiderate it all was. After fifteen or twenty minutes of aimless venting, the rationalization set it.
“She really, though…I don’t know,” I said uncertainly. “She had a hard childhood. You can’t hold everybody to the same standards of behavior, I guess, and she’s doing the best with what she has. I should be more patient. I guess. I should give her another chance. I should talk to her. Maybe she just needs someone to have confidence in her. Maybe she needs someone who won’t judge her, no matter what she does. If I just give her more time, maybe she’ll get better.”
Grandma took a long sip of coffee and set the cup on top of the bird book. She folded her hands in her lap.
“Dear,” she said. “Sometimes a bitch is just a bitch.”
And it’s still the best advice I’ve ever received.