Throwback Thursday: No Empathy Here

Every Thursday, I dig out an old diary and share an entry sans editing (in hopes we’ll all see my grammar and apostrophe use improve) with a short commentary. If you like laughing with/at Young Ashley, feel free to use the handy search bar to the right and simply type “Throwback Thursday” and you’ll find the whole archive. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday April 18, 1999

Dear Genna, 

Don’t ya hate that when you have all these ideas, but then you forget them? Well, you wouldn’t know. 

I just counted the pages left – 21. 21?! Geeezzz!

I love getting mail! (e-mail) ((That is)) I went on aol

[don’t worry about the end of that sentence, Ashley. You’re too cool for punctuation.]

Monday April 26, 1999

Dear Genna, 

I haven’t writen for a while. I have changed over the month. First, I have a new crush, Andy B. He used to be really mean to me now, I think he likes me. Second, I have a new movie star crash, Jame Van Der Beek, and Joshua Jackson. 

[I spent the first 3/4 of the journal claiming to be in love with Leonardo Dicaprio. I was a fickle yet dynamic ten/eleven year old.]

Sunday May 9, 1999

Dear Genna, 

I’m sorry that I have not writen in you for a loooong time. But I may not write in you again. 

See ya!

[Don’t fool yourself, Ashley.]

Tuesday June 8, 1999

Dear Genna, 

I know I haven’t written for a very long time. I’m on summer vacation. I went to the pool at 1:00 then came back at 3:00. I had fun. But not as much fun as on Saturday! Saturday, the pool opened, Ashley M came with me. Ashley is pretty popular with the boys. “The boulders” were there. (John, Jim, and Andy) John was kinda the leader. (John likes Ashley.) So they followed us around, then they jumped in really close to us. I hate them. Sunday was cool too. I went to the pool with Corey, Ryan, & Dad. I was alone most of the time. I was just swimming when Tim saw me. “Hi Ashley.” I just looked at him like I didn’t know him. He must have went and told John that I was here. John splashed me And kicked me in the BUTT! 

I HATE JOHN! 

(BOTH OF THEM)

Ashley Otto

My diary, aka "Genna" circa 1998. I bet most literary geniuses start by writing in Pooh journals, right?

My diary, aka “Genna” circa 1998. I bet most literary geniuses start by writing in Pooh journals. Good to know I’m on the same track as Hemingway.

I was a terrible child. Really. I was a nightmare. I’m not sure how my parents or anybody else put up with me. Everybody was a nightmare at 11 and 12, right? Just humor me and say yes. Please.

I was the Queen of Melodrama. Everything was the worst. I hated everyone. If I had known the word, I probably would have been the Queen of Hyperbole. Adolescence was such a delicate point of life. I despised being a child, but I didn’t know what made a person mature. I wanted to deny who I used to be; I didn’t want to acknowledge that just a year earlier I had played pretend on the playground or that my bedroom contained more doll-sized furniture than actual furniture. Perhaps I created elaborate versions of reality because I severely limited my imaginary playtime. 

Though the above entries may indicate otherwise, I was severely self-conscious. I embarrassed myself in every way. This was when puberty started: my face was suddenly sprinkled with these stubborn pink dots. I remember standing in front of the acne-treatment area in the grocery store, wondering which container of Oxy to ask my dad to buy me. I was always embarrassed by it when he came to collect me, and I wouldn’t ask for it. Or maybe I did and he said no – the memories are fuzzy. I needed something for the acne, but part of me thought that by ignoring it and pretending it didn’t bother me would make it go away. I still handle problems this way, only now I have skin care and know how to apply makeup.

As we discovered a few weeks ago, I was convinced I was hideously overweight. But yet somehow, I talked myself into thinking half the boys in my class liked me. I wasn’t obese, but I was never a skinny girl. Looking at pictures of myself from this time, I can’t help but think that I was such an awkward girl. I wasn’t ugly, but I wasn’t as pretty as I wished. My smile was too squinty and my face too pudgy. My eyebrows were too bushy. My hair was so thick (I would kill for the hair I had at 10) and I styled it by double blow drying: first brushing and blow drying, then curling it with a blowdryer/curling iron combo. I hope Paul Mitchell is taking notes.

How did I survive this? How do any of us get through this stage of being awkward giant children to adults who pretend to be well-adjusted? The key is empathy. As children, we are completely focused on ourselves. As adolescents, we are focused on what is happening to us. And this is fair enough – our bodies are doing weird things like collecting fat in strange places, sprouting hair in previously smooth areas while our brains are being flooded with hormones. We’re starting to take note of how we compare to those around us. That comparison isn’t kind. It’s cruel and self-serving. We’re wonderful little narcissists, staring into this reflection of others, seeing only our beauty. To see anything else would completely destroy the delicate image we’re desperately trying to maintain.

Now I want to apologize. I want to write Tim a message on facebook and tell him I’m sorry for being such a bitch to him.  I want to tell him that Young Ashley was a shithead and he should have ignored her. And I want to write John a message telling him kicking me in the butt (!!) was extremely inappropriate, even if it was underwater. But most of all, I want to tell 11-year old Ashley to calm the hell down.

“You know what, Ashley? You are not ‘all that and a bag of potato chips’ like you seem to think. You didn’t know how to spell ‘written’ until halfway through 1999, for crissakes. Yes, you’re awkward right now, but don’t take your self-loathing out on other people. Get over yourself and act like a decent human being. Your parents did not raise you to be an asshole.”

What I’m actually curious about is the point I began to empathize.  Was it that first sense of alienation I would feel the next school year when Andy B. made fun of me for reading and eating dutch babies? Was it in high school, when I started listening to emo music and scribbling lyrics all over notebooks? Maybe somewhere along the way, I’ll discover that moment on the Throwback Thursday project.  I’m just so glad I’m not an eleven year old jerk who hates everyone. I’m much happier being an almost-25 dork who writes at libraries.

Among the periodicals, pondered great life questions like the hottness of James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson.

Among the periodicals, and surrounded by a few homeless people, I pondered great life questions like the hottness of James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson.

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