I feel I must begin by emphasising the fact that you consider yourself a good person. Where good means good, in the way that we tend to define good. You don’t lie (at least not intentionally), and you don’t cheat (unless you absolutely positively have to), and you are kind (most times, or at least you try to be). You don’t have the sort of self-assured hubris that makes people obnoxious and sometimes unbearable. No, you are the perfect balance of humility and self-worth. You are a good person; people like you, you have friends, community. That is why it never even crosses your mind that you could be the villain in someone’s story, much less in your own. I mean, good people are not typically villains. They are the people to whom bad things happen, not the other way around.
This is how it will happen. It will be with a lover. A person you adore and whom you know adores you too. You will have a mild disagreement at first, the kind that is easily resolved – at least from the outside looking in. At first it will be a slight exchange of words, and you will try to be kind, careful with the words you choose. Then, they will say something, which in hindsight is probably not even cruel or mean at all, but it will scratch at something in you, an inadequacy, and the kindness will melt away. It won’t be a screaming match. No, it will be worse. Soft, scathing words – the ones meant to sting. You will be callous and unfeeling, entirely unlike yourself. You will say things and intend for them to hurt, and it will work. The rage will be endless, and you will go on and on and not even realise when the conversation becomes one-sided. Even when an apology is offered and reconciliation is attempted, you will be so rebuffed the words will barely register. You will see red.
When others ask you what happened and you tell your story, you will say bitterly that you were wronged. I mean, how dare they say that thing to you. At this point, you won’t even remember what was said. All you will remember is how as soon as the words left their mouth, you got twisted up inside, and you will be convinced that you simply acted proportionately. You will tell yourself you were right so many times you will start to believe it, and that is what you’ll run with. And while you run, you will try to convince yourself that you’re better off without them anyway, because who needs such a person in their life?
Once the anger leaves your spirit, all that will be left for you to grab onto is the feeling that you are less than. Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer,” and you will have many questioning years. It will start with the kind of soul-searching that only a breakup can spur. You will wonder about that thing they said that rattled you so, why it did, and how to make sure it never does again. Insecurity will become like a bitter friend – relentless in its pursuit of your unhappiness.
Fear is notoriously troublesome. She can birth anger, mistrust, and deep discontent. But there is very little to be done about it because fear, my friends, is inevitable. From the big things, like God, to the obscure ones, like what lies within us, there is much to be afraid of. That is why we must stare fear in the face and do things afraid. Jumping and diving headfirst off cliffs, eyes closed, breath bated, not knowing what’s to come but having hope and embracing kindness, recognising that fear only means you know that you’ve got something to lose. Allowing that knowledge to make us bold, willing to face our shortcomings.
It is only when you begin to learn that we cannot let our fears control us that the weight will begin to fall away. It will take slow and intentional work, but eventually, you will become a full version, certain of yourself, aware of fear but refusing to let it make you hide from love and joy. For the first time in a long time, the tangled ropes inside you will straighten out, and you will exhale.
And all that will remain is the guilt.
You will have that moment – the one of reckoning – when you realise perhaps you did behave badly. Unforgivingly. The scales will fall away from your eyes, and there will be clarity. You will remember exactly what happened and what was said and how it had been said free of malice – an offhand comment in the middle of a small, unimportant conversation, but one that, blinded by fear and leaning into destruction, you had latched onto and turned into something ugly.
It is a loss you will feel deeply.
You will remember that you miss this person you once adored, and even though it has been far too long, you will decide to reach out. You will search, and you will find them in their little corner of the internet, and even though you’re worried, you will do it anyway. And even though you don’t deserve it, they will be gracious enough to reply. It will be difficult at first. Fractured, in the way that rediscovering a person usually is. Then, there will be a crack in both your façades, familiarity will rear its head, and they will open the floodgates and let it pour.
They will tell you about how you wrecked them. How you held their heart in the palm of your hand and squeezed till it burst and made a bloody mess everywhere. You will listen in horror, destroyed by the truth that you could be the person they speak of. You will be embarrassed and ashamed for many reasons: that you acted the way you did, why you acted that way, and that you had let yourself ruin a precious thing.
Of course, your default reaction will be to apologise, but while you trip over your words and make a fool of yourself, they will tell you not to bother, that they have long healed and don’t need your apology. You will tell them they deserve one anyway. But it won’t matter because they will make you feel insignificant – a speck. You will reconcile, somewhat. Things will never return to how they once were, but it will be enough. At least for an awkward “hi” and surprisingly honest conversation every now and again. It won’t be because of anything you’ve said or done but because this person is better than you. They will leave their hurt and disappointment behind and choose kindness. You will realise you’ve never been the good person you’d always thought yourself to be.
Self-awareness is a funny thing. That first night after you reach out, you will lie in your bed, wracked with guilt. Then the guilt will turn into tears, and you will mourn your past self. You will be sorry for how you behaved, and you will be mortified at your cruelty. You will make a silent promise to yourself to be more considerate, to try to do better. When others ask you what happened and you tell your story, you will say you wronged someone you love. You will express how you wish you hadn’t but that you did. You will strive to never allow yourself to be so blinded by your own inadequacies that you lash out and damage things you hold dear. You will be honest and acknowledge a difficult truth people often struggle to: that you don’t need to realise you’re a villain to be one. This will guide your interactions, make you more patient. But you are human, and you will slip up. The difference is, now, when you do, you will know how to call yourself in. You will less often be consumed by a misdirected rage fueled by fear. You will be better. You will hope to have years that answer.
Anna-Maria Poku is a Ghanaian writer and book reviewer. She writes about love, life, and all the things in between, and when she is not doing that, you can find her on her book blog @annasreads across all socials. She has works in AFREADA, Brittle Paper, gal-dem, Aurelia Magazine, and others.