I have the capacity to be a complete and total asshole.
Probably so does everyone, but I think-- the way only an asshole would-- that I am better at it than most people. I learned at a very young age how to straight up break people's spirits. And not just by pulling pigtails or calling them names. I learned how to see people's biggest insecurities and then use that information to manipulate them. These are the secret things about being the child of a clever alcoholic that not everyone knows.
Not only did I inherit this evil superpower, but I also got a lot of attitude and a sense of self-importance that I believe is inherent (at least a little) to being a younger sibling.
Which is all to say, playing nice has never been my strong suit.
When I was in 5th grade, my class went to sleep-away camp on one of the San Juan islands. And while we were at camp we had a series of different activities, from arts and crafts to marine biology lessons on the beach. Anyway, one of the beach activities was a sandcastle competition. And I assembled a kickass team of sandcastle builders and we made this epic castle. Like Versailles level sandcastle, or at least that's what I remember. We had a moat with actual water that came in from the ocean. We had fucking turrets. We were killing it. And then there were the two other teams, who made what I believe are known scientifically as Lumps of Sand. Sure, they decked it out with the occasional seashell on top, but we have to be honest. It was a heap of sand. And those kids didn't care. They weren't invested. They were practically laughing in my face with their sand heaps. And at the end of our allotted design time, the teachers made the rounds and then conferred amongst themselves. And they decided, after great deliberation, that everyone won.
Everyone. Won. Everybody was a winner.
And I was filled with this venomous rage. It was like getting punched in the face. I had a fucking moat and more than one turret. I had multiple turrets. There was part of me that wanted to just traipse right through their sand heaps and obliterate them. And a bigger part of me that wanted to find out why their parents got divorced or if one of their pets had recently died or the last time they'd wet themselves in public and then use that information to ruin their lives. I was maniacally angry. Any notions I had about playing fair or being kind were out the window, replaced with a need to make these jerks and their sand heaps feel just as horrid as I felt. My fury must have been obvious, because I remember, in the midst of my scheming, seeing my sister, who was helping to chaperone our camp trip. She was watching me like a hawk from the moment they'd announced the winners. And I remember her voice getting very level and her saying, not loud enough for anyone else to hear, but loud enough to control me, "Nicky. Be nice."
The thing is that I'm not a mean person. Not even a little bit. I'm probably the biggest softy there ever was. I feel like sensitive people are always saying, "I cry at everything! I cry at the movies!" And I would like to take a moment and one-up them by saying, I cry at the previews before the movie. I cry at commercials and re-runs of The Golden Girls. I cry when a fat animal looks at me sideways, and I often have to remind myself out loud that "at least the actor got work" when old black people die on TV. I am weak.
But still, actually being nice is hard for me. And it's hard because I don't want anyone to know what a squishy teddy bear I really am. I don't want people to take advantage of me because I'm kind. I don't want to get hurt. These are the things about being the child of a clever alcoholic that everyone knows.
We have this idea about what it means to be "nice", or at least I do. To me that word means smiling a lot and laughing at jokes that aren't funny and finishing the meal that tastes like cardboard. It means asking boring questions and nodding enthusiastically at boring answers. It means always being eager to grab lunch with that acquaintance from pre-K and do coffee with that friend of a friend's stepdad. When I describe someone as "nice" it's usually because I don't know what else to say about them. It's the word I use for people who aren't necessarily funny or interesting, but who don't mean you any harm. I believe I have many very nice people in my life, but I realize that I wouldn't ever describe them that way because that would be an insult to their character.
I have a lot of friends (probably far too many) who were afraid of me when we first met. And if they weren't afraid of me, they thought I was most likely a bitch, and therefore had no interest in hanging out. Eventually, one way or another, it came out that that wasn't true, and we've made it work, but it's too often that the words used to describe me are "intimidating," and "cool... once you get to know her." When you hear that about yourself enough times you start to wonder what's so bad about being someone people think of as nice.
When I was a senior in high school, our school had a male beauty pageant. And when my friend came and asked me to emcee it, he said, "Well, we were talking about it, and we decided like, 'Nicky's mean. We should ask her to do it.'" The thought of course being that I would find mean and entertaining ways to humiliate the guys competing. And I did. But even still, it's sad to me to think of the kids in student government sitting around a table and all agreeing I was cruel enough for the job.
For years I've always taken a lot of pride in the fact that I'm a person who doesn't tolerate bullshit from anyone. That I'm someone you don't whose bad side you don't want to be on. But the reality of being that person all the time is exhausting. And while I can't lie and say it's not any fun to be mean, I will admit that the fun doesn't last very long. In the long run it makes you scary and not very personable. And you have to sit in your curmudgeon's lair watching while "nice" people babble along merrily outside.
So I'm working hard to get better at being nice. I'm working hard to get better at saying thank you, and saying I'm sorry. To get better at telling people when they're important to me, and being honest when I get hurt. It's all very warm and fuzzy, and it means that I now have friends who don't believe me when I tell them I can be very mean.
And the part of me that can be a total asshole? She really hates it, and she wants you to know that your lump of sand looks like shit.