By Sean Dietrich
The weather in Alabama is exceptional. The winding roads snake through parts unknown. Kudzu is exploding in all directions. The sky is the color of blueberry ice cream. The weather is hot.
Long ago, I dated a gal who wasn’t all that nice to me. In fact, she left me feeling like I would never amount to squat.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hashing over ancient history, but I am thinking about how some people over the years—either with or without words—told me I wouldn’t amount to much. I remember these people with vivid clarity.
They were people who took one look at me and decided that I was underwhelming. Or those who told me to use the back door when entering their house—in case company was over.
Chances are that you have these people in your history, too. I know this because you are human. And if you are not human, but you are, for instance, a walrus, and you are still reading this, please reach out to me. You and I are going to make a lot of money together.
But today, in these Alabama hills, I am grateful for the people who treated me crummy.
I am not trying to be weirdo-spiritual about this. I am simply telling you the truth. When I step back and think about it, these people were very important in making me into me.
So if I ever won some award thingy like they do on TV, at one of those fancy award ceremonies where celebrities in designer clothes who have about as much body fat as a pine tree, stand at a microphone and thank other beautiful celebrities in designer clothes for being so beautiful, and so celebrity-ish, and so low in body fat, but totally forget to thank the twenty-year-old volunteer who brought Starbucks coffee to their dressing-room every day for two years, and forgets to thank their own mother, but thanks the “Good Lord” by pointing to the rafters and blowing a kiss; I think I would thank my haters first.
I won’t list their real names here because I don’t want to bring any undue attention upon them.
But thank you for not believing in me, Chad, and Myra, and Doreen, and Debra, and Steve, and Bill, and Eric, and Rob. I am not being cute, I mean it. Thank you. I am writing this to you.
You made me really evaluate myself. I am in debt to you for helping me understand what I am. There are people in this world who loved me no matter what, and gave me courage just by believing in me. But you were not one of these people.
You were the opposite. You made me believe that I was less-than. And what’s more, you did it on purpose. And you know what? You were right.
I finally understood it. I AM less-than. But the great part about it is, so is everyone else. Even you. We are all normal people. Each one. And shame on the man who forgets that.
See, I might not know this if it hadn’t been for you. I might have mistakenly thought things that were untrue. Or worse, I might have made others feel the way you made me feel. And I would rather die than do that.
I mean that with all my heart. Because there is no lower feeling in this world than feeling like no matter what you do, no matter how you try, and no matter how sincere you are, you are white-trash, a high-school dropout, an orphan, who isn’t worth dating, hiring, and whose birthday—I will never forget this—was worth forgetting even though all the other coworkers got their birthdays celebrated.
That hurt. I actually cried about that. Silly boy that I was.
So I love you for making me feel this way. You might not know it, but you were the Colorado River, cutting through the bottom of the Grand Canyon and making it deeper. You were the wind that shaped the sand dunes on the beach, making them leaner, and taller. You were the pit crew on Dale Earnhardt’s stock car, changing his old tires for fresh ones.
I was a fool. For years, I thought you were my arch-enemy, that you had screwed me up. I was wrong. You were medicine. You tasted bad, but that’s not your fault, that’s only because you don’t have much sugar in your ingredients. That doesn’t make you a bad person. It just makes you a little stinky.
Okay. A lot stinky.
The truth is, I have never gotten over some hurts. Not completely. And I don’t want to. Because every time I have a minor success in life, I think of how these people made me feel, and how they made me think I couldn’t do it.
They were the first to teach me something important. Something I am still learning.
This world is not a race. It’s not a competition. It is beauty, and flowers, and trees, swelling with so much life that it has no choice but to bloom on the side of an ugly highway.
Everyone is somebody. Everyone. Even you. Even me.
The people who hurt me didn’t teach me this, but they certainly helped me believe it. And for that I thank them. Every single one of them.
That’s what I think about when I drive through the beauty of Alabama.
Also, I think about walruses who can read.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.