Not My Place

A conversation at work the other day took me back to my senior year of high school.

See, the guy that worked my job before me was a lazy piece of shit. He took the easiest way out in everything he did and, as such, all his work was complete crap. Trying to understand what the hell he did last year takes me twice as long as the actual work itself, and I am constantly telling my co-workers that I hate him, even though I have never met him.

One of the girls I work with always tells story about what this guy was like when he worked there. In addition to his crap work, he apparently played games on his computer at work all the time. I asked her if she ever told our boss about that, and she said she didn’t feel like it was “her place” to rat him out. FLASHBACK.

It was March 14, 2006, a Tuesday; the day my world shattered.

I was sitting in sixth period in the yearbook teacher’s room with two of my best friends (who also happened to be co-editors of the yearbook with me). We were reading through articles that had been submitted for the yearbook and going over our English homework. And on one of the desks, there sat a stack of poems written by my friend, Will (not his real name). Even as early as high school, Will had a knack for poetry, and especially senior year of high school, he was writing a lot.

I was finished with my homework, so I started sifting through his poems and I found one that caught my eye. It was about witnessing another person’s infidelity and it sounded eerily similar to stories I had heard about a party a few weeks earlier. I questioned him about it and I was right, it was about that party (not that he had attended, just that he knew people who had been there and witnessed what happened), but I was wrong about the subject of the poem. I had thought it was referencing a girl I knew, and it turned out to be about my boyfriend of four and a half years. Will didn’t tell me that upfront, but when I goaded him about it, he reluctantly said “you need to talk to your boyfriend.”

I drove home fighting back tears. My cousin was in the car with me and I didn’t want to explode on her. I was home for barely 15 minutes (I had to go back to school for track pictures), but it was enough time to tell my dad in a cracking voice that I was going to my boyfriend’s house after track practice. It was also enough time to remove the necklace that had ours names engraved on it, a Christmas present from a year earlier. Amidst all the chaos that was going on inside my head in that moment, I was rational enough to realize that I did not want to be wearing that necklace in this picture for all of eternity, a constant reminder of the relationship that had gone astray. Even before I had talked to him, I knew how it would end.

I went to his house after practice and there was so much tension between us that I could barely breathe. He had no idea that I knew, and honestly I had no idea if it was even true. But I was angry nonetheless and I wanted to do something about it.

I asked him if I could have a glass of water and I followed him to the kitchen to get it. Once he handed it to me, I threw it in his face. It was the most incredible feeling in the world. All I said was “did you think I wouldn’t find out?” and amidst his sputtering and surprise, those words were enough for him to know that I knew. And he was such a coward about it! He told me that he had been drunk and didn’t know what he was doing and just hoped it would all go away. And I knew then that he had never planned to tell me, never would have if I hadn’t found out on my own.

I was so furious that I packed up every gift I had ever given him, only to drop everything at his door as I walked out, realizing that I didn’t want any of those reminders hanging around. He followed me to my car, but mostly out of guilt. And because he probably felt like he should at least attempt to save our relationship. But he was so apathetic about it that I knew it would never be saved.

That’s not to say I didn’t try. I was so afraid of not being with him that I was still willing to take him back, even after he cheated. I had one condition: he had to stop drinking. I obviously couldn’t trust him when he drank and I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for him to cheat again. But he refused. He told me that I was “saying he couldn’t have fun anymore.” How had he been having fun with me for the previous four years?! It was a horrible thing for him to think, much less say, and it hit me in that moment how truly different we had become. And I left him then and there for good.

Over the next couple of days, I discovered that many of my friends had known about his cheating. In fact, the incident had happened nearly two weeks before I found out, which was enough time for half the school, including my closest friends, to know about it. But nobody told me. Because it “wasn’t their place.” And I hated them for that. I think I still hold some of them accountable for it. I remember driving straight to my best friend’s house after our breakup, only to find out that she was still at softball practice. When she called me back that night (after her mom undoubtedly told her how distressed I had looked), the first thing I said to her was, “did you know?” Because I didn’t even know who to trust anymore. To her benefit, she hadn’t known, and I do believe she would’ve told me if she did.

My friend Will got crap from a lot of people for being the one to spill the beans to me. People gossiped that he actually had a thing for me and wanted us to break up so he could worm his way in. Others couldn’t believe he had betrayed my boyfriend, even though Will and I were much closer friends than they had ever been.

I don’t understand how we came up with this idea of where loyalties should lie. Why are so many people complacent with sitting on the sidelines and watching the bomb explode? Do we want to avoid confrontation? Are we merely cowards? Do we prefer the safety of our own little bubbles, the only area that we really consider “our place”? It’s like we just want to sit there and watch it happen, without taking any part in it; without taking any responsibility. And more often than not, our loyalty goes to the party that was in the wrong, merely because we are too self-involved to follow the party in the right.

Shouldn’t “our place” be telling the truth, especially in situations where we love the person that needs to hear it? Shouldn’t our love for them be forefront to this imaginary idea that it isn’t “our place” to articulate others’ wrongdoings?

That’s something that I have never understood. Why did my co-worker feel more loyalty to this lazy guy that she hated than to her own company? Why did my friends feel more loyalty to this drunken cheater than to me? Why was Will the pariah for being loyal to ME, and the rest of them were in the right for being loyal to my boyfriend, when he had been in the wrong?

I think that we do ourselves and those we care about a disservice by thinking it’s not our place. If my coworker had spoken up, maybe she and I wouldn’t currently be in this wormhole of trying to decipher an idiot’s work. Maybe our company’s reputation wouldn’t have been hurt by our client’s realization that we had employed an idiot.

If my friends had spoken up, maybe I wouldn’t have almost lost my virginity to a boy who didn’t deserve it. Maybe I wouldn’t have had trouble eating for a week. Maybe I wouldn’t still hold all this bitterness in my heart toward him and toward them, as well. Maybe every little incident in my present-day life wouldn’t make me relive a past I would rather forget.

Maybe I wouldn’t have been broken for so long. I struggled with jealousy for too many years following this incident, and I had trouble trusting even the most faithful boyfriends, especially where alcohol was involved. I guess I just wish that more people would believe it was their place to do the right thing. This whole “not my place” business is a cop out at best, and a really shitty one at that.