I was with a friend the other day who, not unlike many of us, made the mistake of pouring his heart and soul into the company for which he worked for fifteen years. They dicked him over in the end. That was quite some time ago, and he’s achieved great success at other companies, so no real harm done to his career, only to his heart and soul.
He was telling me he recently got an email out of the blue from his former boss at said company inviting him to a “reunion.” Appalled, he did exactly what many of us would have done: deleted the email without responding. But then, he tells me, he received an even more appalling phone call from a friend who’d also worked there asking if he planned to go to the reunion. When he expressed his feelings, she apparently said, “Oh come on. It’ll be fun.” He looked at me as he told me this, eyes wide, and asked, “Doesn’t anyone know how to hold a grudge anymore?”
Indeed. I certainly hope people do, because I’ve depended on good grudge-holders all my life. They’re the ones who show me how it’s done during all the times when to let a grudge merely flutter away whichever way the wind blew it would have been disastrous (you know, like when ex-boyfriend who cheated on me called me up a year later sounding all angelic and cute and apologetic and wondering what I was up to. If I hadn’t had some terrific examples of how to hold a grudge, I might never have known to say, “Hoping I didn’t get AIDS from you” and to hang up the phone with no further conversation). You see, I’ve always been absolutely pathetic at holding grudges. I’m the one who holds her breath until someone apologizes and then lets it out with a relieved whoosh saying, “Oh yes, well, you know, it really doesn’t matter so much that you stabbed my mother in the kidney. I’m sure you couldn’t help it, and after all, she’s got two. So, shall we have dinner together soon?”
When I was young, I was awed by friends who lived in the sorts of families in which members would be furious with each other and walk around in stony silence for days. I come from the sort of family in which you might hear an “I hate you” shouted in a fit of passion and then be astonished to find everyone happily laughing and playing together half an hour later. I’m sure my grudge-bearing friends were just as amazed by our odd behavior as I was by theirs. One grade-school friend would occasionally pull this “I’m-not-talking-to-you” behavior on me (usually for some mysterious unidentified transgression). I was at an absolute loss as to how to deal with this, and I’m not sure which feelings were stronger: those that were upset she wasn’t talking to me or those that were amazed she could do it. Relieved as I was when she’d finally talk to me again, I also felt a twinge of disappointment. Only four days? She couldn’t make it longer than that?
If I could hold a grudge like that, maybe one day, after a particularly annoying argument in which Bob has told me he wishes I’d just be quiet, I could stick to my guns when I swear if that’s what he wants, I’m never going to speak to him again. He’s going to learn what it’s like to have a wife who never says a word, one who doesn’t remind him to take his sunglasses for the long drive on an extremely bright day, one who doesn’t ask if he needs anything from the drugstore before she leaves (despite the fact she know he’s almost out of deodorant). We’ll see how well he does. Unfortunately, within fifteen minutes of making this decision, I’m usually talking with him again. Bob’s never going to learn a thing about the misery of living with a mute wife. I need a good grudge-holder to show me how it’s done.
I once had a roommate who was extraordinarily good at holding grudges. If she could remember a time when she’d ever felt a particular friend had used her and then felt that friend was using her a second time, that was it. The friendship was over as far as she was concerned, even if they’d been friends for ten years. She’d say to me, “Well, you know, there was that time she made me pick her up from the airport and never even thanked me,” leaving me thinking two things: a. “Yes, but what about all those fabulous dinners she cooked for you?” and b. “Uh-oh, did I remember to say ‘thank you’ after that lift from the train last week?”
I also had a colleague for a brief period who took grudge-holding to the highest levels. Really. In her hands it was true art. Her manic done-me-wrong abstracts exhausted me, though. I couldn’t imagine having to spend so much time remembering who hadn’t invited me to what parties, which co-workers had lost the right to receive help from me, who had and hadn’t snubbed me at the company picnic. I needed a cot to lie on after every visit to her cubicle.
But if all the good grudge-bearers are becoming extinct, I wish I’d taken more tips from my former roommate. I wish I hadn’t said things to her like, “I’m sure she didn’t mean it. Why don’t you go talk to her?” and instead had asked, “So tell me again exactly how you tore apart that favorite tape of hers you found in your car?” I wish I’d spent time taking notes in my colleague’s cubicle instead of fantasizing about a company-wide naptime. After all, one day I might receive an email from the woman with whom my ex-boyfriend cheated twenty years ago. She may be inviting me to a “reunion” of the “gang” that used to all go bar-hopping together. I’m going to need some good grudge-holding friend or two to keep me from calling another friend and saying, “Are you going? Let’s go. It’ll be fun.”