Being a member of the jerk club.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 June

One of the neighbors, out on a power walk, decided to pause for a moment and strike up a conversation with me as I was doing some yardwork. Once he found out how old I am, he realized I was the same age as his son. “Do you know Cloelius?” he asked.

No, Cloelius isn’t his son’s actual name. I don’t care to give his name, and you’ll see why. It took me a few seconds to recall him. “Yes,” I told him, “I know of him. We weren’t in the same circles.”

There’s actually a bigger story behind this. One I didn’t care to tell Colelius’s dad, ’cause I don’t think he’d have been happy to hear it. But to be fair, we were kids then.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved into a new neighborhood. Across the street lived a boy whom I’ll call Azad. And for no reason I could figure, Azad decided I was his sworn enemy.

No, I still don’t know why. Knowing myself, it’s possibly for the very same reason I irritated frat boys in college: I was mouthy and opinionated. I probably said something which rubbed Azad the wrong way. It’s also possible Azad was just looking for someone to bully. Either way he declared eternal hostility against me.

There were about a dozen kids in the neighborhood who went to my high school at the time. Mostly boys. Azad knew them all, having lived in the neighborhood way longer than I had. As we waited for the school bus in the mornings, most of the boys waited in a garage across the street, Azad among them. Because I didn’t care to interact with Azad, I’d just stand at the bus stop. Azad would get bored every so often, so he’d try to provoke me, and try to get the other boys in his clique to join in. I wouldn’t take the bait, so I wasn’t much fun.

Cloelius was a year behind me in school. When he started high school, he joined Azad’s bus-stop clique. So that’s how we knew one another.

Avoiding one another.

Most mornings at the bus stop, it’d just be me and Azad’s clique: Them in the garage, chatting; me across the street with my headphones on, ignoring them. If it rained I wouldn’t seek the shelter of the garage. I’d have an umbrella.

From time to time other high schoolers in the neighborhood would wait for the bus too. They’d wait at the bus stop, same as me. Not necessarily with me; they weren’t taking sides in any silly hostility Azad and I had. I never developed a clique of my own. Didn’t even think to.

I never saw Azad at school. Which is strange, ’cause it wasn’t that large a school. Maybe he hung out behind the library with the smokers and stoners. I have no idea, and didn’t care to investigate.

Late in my sophomore year, Azad moved away. Once he left, two of the boys in his clique were still mildly antagonistic towards me. Old habits die hard, I guess. The rest ignored me, I ignored them, and that’s how we rolled.

Some of us shared the same friends. Our paths would cross in various extracurricular activities. I’d run into Cloelius at various parties, and we’d acknowledge one another. But we didn’t talk. Didn’t care to. Not that I had anything against him. I don’t know how he felt about me. But I didn’t care enough to undo any of the alienation Azad had created between the two of us.

I did find out Cloelius was Christian. He told someone within earshot of me. Of course, I knew plenty of Christian hypocrites (and was one myself), so it made little impact on me. He was Christian? Big deal.

But it should’ve been a big deal. It should’ve made us both want to bridge the gap for the sake of our common Lord. But when you’re an immature Christian, you don’t appreciate this. You don’t think about how Jesus wants his followers to make peace, Mt 5.9 because honestly, you don’t know Jesus well enough. Or the “blessed are the peacemakers” bit of the bible becomes a saying which you never really thought about.

Anyway, that was that. After I graduated, I moved away. Cloelius totally left my mind. I hadn’t seen him, nor thought about him at all, till his dad brought him up.

Yep, shoulda bridged it.

Years after high school I started taking my Christianity more seriously, and since that time I’ve been doing the whole moral-inventory thing. Blame the 12-step groups; you gotta do it as part of the program, and I simply incorporated it into my religion. So I’m always asking myself if there’s anything I’m getting wrong.

That includes whether I unnecessarily alienated anyone. Maybe I was being a loudmouth. Maybe I chose to hang out with the wrong people, or dismissed them for some dumb reason. I dunno; all I know is I need to avoid doing that, and make peace with people where I can.

I should’ve been the bigger person, and tried to make friends with Cloelius after Azad left. But I didn’t. I was an immature kid, and that’s what immature kids do. Cloelius was immature too, and it’d be stupid to hold him to a higher standard than I do myself. Instead, we just passed one another by. Like immature kids.

I sometimes wonder about any other people I didn’t give the time of day to. I’d hate to think I contributed to their growing up and turning into nontheists, or otherwise gave ’em an excuse to continue down an unhealthy path. Hope not, but one never knows. I can only make sure I never do so now.

So if I ever treated you dismissively for any reason, let me preemptively apologize.