The other day, I was reading in Van Pelt when a girl in my sorority walked by. I waved hello as she passed and she came back to chat. She delved into her gossip about this one girl’s drinking habits, another’s eating disorder and still someone else’s drug problem. We exchanged whispers of who got with whom at which party, and who saw them doing what. It was my third bored–in–VP gossip session just that day. And I was just as bad as she was.
I won’t lie to you: I didn’t feel guilty afterwards. Sometimes when I hear the scandalous thing that that one scandalous girl did last weekend, my first reaction is… well, she obviously wanted everyone to know. I’m all for DFMOs and the occasional too–drunk night, but sometimes it seems like people do things in public just for the sake of doing them in public. That being said, we all too often forget that their need for attention probably has a story behind it, and it’s most likely a story we can’t even begin to imagine.
The summer after my junior year of high school I took a personal essay writing class at NYU. The most important thing I learned in that class was that everyone has a story. It wasn’t just me. On day one, I took the subway downtown with my first attempt at a personal piece in hand, excited to share my hopefully heart–wrenching essay about my mom with the class. She had been adopted and reunited with her birth mother through Facebook but ultimately found that they were too different to form a relationship. I found this insightful, genuine and personal.
The girl next to me wrote about her father physically abusing her. The boy from Seoul across the table explained how his parents decided they didn’t want him anymore when he was five. The bubbly blonde a few seats down read the most beautiful description I’ve ever heard about what it felt like to cut her wrists for the first time. As my essay was overshadowed by the poignancy of those of the students around me, I felt ashamed at the comparable superficiality of what I had written, but I also felt profoundly lucky. I have no idea how I would act if I were in their shoes.
How many times have you found yourself saying, “You won’t believe what I did last night” at your Sunday morning recap brunch with your best friends? It’s okay: share your crazy story. Laugh at the stupid thing you did and let others laugh with you.
But once, mid–laugh, I learned that the girl whose life I was finding entertainment in had been sexually abused as a child. I had been called out for my mindless gossip and I felt terrible. But, I had never even met this girl—why did I now know a deeply personal, devastating and intimate fact about her life? I felt uncomfortably privy and aware that I knew something I shouldn’t have, but I was glad I had been told. If nothing else, it reminded me that there’s always more to the story.