It intrigues me when people hate me.
The default is indifference. Most people I know are, like me, so self-absorbed that I’m happy just to be an occasional blip on their periphery.
So when someone cares enough about me to hate me, I notice.
A few years ago she married into a distant branch of my extended family, but one we see fairly often because they live near us. She has a job that’s superficially similar to mine so, at family functions, people pushed her towards me because, after all, people with similar jobs have so much in common.
We actually had more in common than they realized, for it turned out that she, like me, was self-absorbed but, alas, she, unlike me, made the all-too common error of presuming I was as absorbed with her as she was. Which, of course, I wasn’t, for no one could possibly be as absorbed with her as she was, and anyways I was already happily occupied being absorbed with myself.
Angrily unaware that no one cares, she regaled me with tales of personal woe and injustice, all punctuated by a common theme: her needs ignored by a heedless world. I tried to tune out her incessant jabbering, but she proved an especially persistent bore, attaching herself leech-like to me as I wandered through the room, trying to shake her off without success.
Thankfully we were seated far apart, and I managed an early getaway, so that was that, or so I thought.
A week later I got the email. In it she related what appeared to be a long and twisted tale of workplace intrigue and injustice that, I am sure, took her hours to write, and to it she appended a single-spaced narrow-margined multi-paged report that I think she was planning to submit to an ombudsman or news organization or federal authority or all of the above. She wanted me to read it, revise it, press it on a specific person she was sure I knew. It took only a minute of skimming for me to see her fevered ravings for what they were: a demand to draft me for her personal crusades. If I took one step in her direction, I’d plunge down the yawning chasm of a deep dark pit from which I would never return, so I pondered how best to divest myself of this unwelcome missive.
My choices were: (1) ignore it, (2) devote my life to serving her needs or (3) put her off as gently as possible. I chose alternative (3), or so I thought, for in responding to her I pointed out that in life other people don’t always see things the way we see them, and in fact other people may not even appreciate that others may see things differently, so it is always best in life to steer a course that doesn’t require, as an essential condition for its success, every single individual in the entire world to see every last thing your way. I also extolled the life-affirming value of looking forward instead of backward, and counseled her to cultivate an aura of bemused indifference when faced with life’s inevitable slings and arrows. I closed with a note about how most people don’t appreciate that time is their most precious asset until they have none of it left, and offered my sincere wishes that she would seize this opportunity to use her time wisely and move on with life, hoping she would get the hint and leave me alone.
Unbeknownst to me, I had not, in fact, chosen alternative (3). I had chosen alternative (4), which was put her off as gently as possible but find that, upon reading my response, she would interpret it as a brazen public statement of my traitorous alignment with the forces of darkness arrayed against her, my declaration of all-out war. Or so she managed to convey in many more hastily typed words sent by email in the early morning hours.
She plays dirty, but I admire her for that. She has convinced many on her side of the family that it is I, in fact, who hates her and that is I, in fact, who has threatened her and that it is I, in fact, who refuses to be in the same room as her. We no longer get invited to as many birthday parties, this year we are off the Thanksgiving list, and there are rumors that a competing Christmas get-together is being surreptitiously organized.
I am, of course, pleased with these unexpected spoils of my victory, but my wife, who values these things much more than I, is starting to chafe under the wartime restrictions and pressuring me to seek a rapprochement. I am holding out, confident that my enemy will, sooner rather than later, allow her madness to consume her, but I have to admit I am easy to hate and may, in fact, be helping her appear more normal to others, as I siphon off her hateful energies and leave with her none to share with others.
I’ve tried to convince my wife that in serving out the rest of my days as the exclusive outlet for her hatred I am performing a valuable public service, but I fear that if that competing Christmas get-together actually comes together, my wife will tell me public be damned and I’ll have to run up the white flag.