Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fatal self-attraction. Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010.

“The smaller the mind the greater the conceit.” – Aesop

Know what I think is weird? That some of the most beautiful, intelligent, talented people I know feel badly about themselves, while some of the most ignorant and boorish people I know have a little too much self-esteem. What’s that about?

One might think that if a little self-esteem is a good thing, a lot might be better. But it ain’t necessarily so. It is very possible to be deluded into thinking one is smarter than one is, more interesting than one is, more attractive than one is. I know this is true because I’ve met some of these very people. And the results can be devastating.

Parents who care about their children’s self-esteem may nurture it in one of two ways. They may help their kids to have a realistic sense of their importance, talents or abilities. Or, they may shower constant praise, shielding their kids from some unpleasant truths: None of us is more important than anyone else in the world. And we’re all good at some things but inept at others.

A friend of mine, Stefan, was born into a family of sisters – I think he had five of them. He was the youngest, and, I imagine, the prize their parents had been hoping for. When I met him, I was in high school and he was 10 years older than me. He became a good pal of mine – not a boyfriend; I found him too annoying.

Stefan was fixated on his appearance; he was cute, but by no means gorgeous. He was obsessed with his great intelligence; he was bright, but by no means the sharpest crayon in the box. He got fired from job after job, because the bosses he worked for, he believed, never appreciated him. He was the cat’s pajamas, or at least he thought he was.

Unable to secure long-term employment, Stefan finally went into the military. Basic training may have knocked him down a notch or two; I’m not sure, because I didn’t hear from him very often after that. Within a few months, he’d met a young girl out west, 15 years his junior, and married her only a few weeks later. In less than a year, he had a baby boy, and the girl had left him, disappearing with their son. Stefan disappeared too; his phone number was disconnected, and my cards to his address came back “UNABLE TO FORWARD.”

Around 2 a.m. one morning, my phone rang. It was Stefan, and he was drunk.

“You know the bitch left me, and she took Justin with her,” he slurred.

“I heard,” I mumbled, wiping the sleep from my eyes. “I’m sorry, Stefan. What happened?”

“I said. She was a bitch,” he spat. “She was a stupid bitch. And I’m going to find her. And when I find her I’m going to kill her. I’ve got a closetful of guns. And after I kill her, I’m going to blow my brains out.”

“Where are you living now?” I sat up, alarmed.

“You think I’m going to tell you that? Then you’re a stupid bitch too. This is the last time you’ll hear from me. Because we’ll all be dead. I hope you’re happy!” He slammed the phone down.

The next day I attempted to locate his family. This was in the days before the Internet, and I had few options for tracking people down. Many years have passed. I was never able to locate his parents, who had moved; nor was I able to find out where he was stationed (he had a very common last name). I had to let it go.

I never did find out whether Stefan killed the mother of his son, and/or himself. The only thing I know is that Stefan was up so high that when he fell, he had a very, very long way to go.

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