Isn’t it funny how life provides us with teachable moments that we seem not to notice? They are readily available if only we will take the time to explore them. I was discussing a poem with my students called “You Don’t Know Me.” The poem was written to address misconceptions that people held about the writer. This poem stayed with me long after class was over.
Once upon a time I really thought I knew Eliza. I received a lot of insight about her character from the tactics in which she used to harass us. Plus, I knew quite a few people who had grown up with her. I also knew that she had successfully frightened off a couple of women whom my husband had attempted to date after their divorce. Of course, he had already provided me with many intimate details of her background. I knew that she was an incest survivor, she had birthed a steal born baby at age 15, and that she spent some of her teenage years in the foster care system.
Over the years it became apparent that she suffered from low self-esteem and was very insecure. She was hurting and therefore wanted everyone in her path to hurt with her in the true fashion of misery loving company. She had the manipulative tendencies of the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve. And she could and would lie at the drop of a dime. Her sense of reality was beyond distorted. Much of her life was lived in denial. Her behavior was quite unbalanced. After much research I felt qualified to label her with borderline personality disorder. She certainly fit the profile of a person with BPD to a tee. But now I see that it was rather pompous of me to make such a call, considering that I am not a mental health professional.
Due to our circumstances—her incarceration and our primary custody of the children, I have been forced to get to know her. I spend a minimum of two hours per month in her company. Not to mention the letters that we exchange. Don’t think I have completely changed my thoughts about her, because I haven’t, but I am starting to. She does have some serious issues (don’t we all), but I have to admit, she does have an endearing side to her as well. And for the most part, I think that many people fall into this category—although their issues might not be as extreme as some of the ones that she suffers from.
It used to bother me greatly when others who knew her in some form or fashion would declare how nice she was. Nice people don’t do the things she has done I would reason. Therefore I made it my mission to educate people about her actual lack of niceness. In my mind she didn’t have a nice bone in her body—she was the epitome of evil. Truth had to be stranger than fiction because some of the things she has done to us can only be described as downright bizarre, morbid, and creepy. Instantly I placed her in the “crazy lady” category.
After rereading the poem I realized that I might benefit from taking a closer look at my own thoughts. It wasn’t because I discounted what my husband and others had shared with me. I had experienced too many of her unprovoked acts of terrorism first hand to do that. But not everyone held the same opinion of her as we did. That piqued my curiosity. She had to have some amount of good in her. Deep down I knew she did not know how to deal with her life and some of the blows she had been dealt. Furthermore I knew that my husband was a human being with his own limitations.
Truthfully I enjoy some of the conversations we have during our visits. Perhaps if she and I had met under other circumstances, we might have been friends. I am sure that she does not show her “crazy” side to those she loves. Had I been her friend, I might have even sympathized with her plight. Perhaps I would have viewed her as the victim and us as the perpetrators. Everything looks different from varying perspectives. People are multilayered. Maybe that ugliness is only one layer of Eliza.