The Only Thing That Matters

A story of hate, resentment and the journey within

Early in my 20s, there was someone I once hated.

We both graduated from the same high school, but I didn’t know him well at the time — except for where he lived, having knocked on his door once in an attempt to fundraise.

At school, he was quiet, even reserved — the sort of person you’d likely forget, until years later, when rediscovered within a yearbook. So I wasn’t exactly surprised several years later, when I realized I had indeed forgotten him when being reacquainted as his coworker.

At work, we were amicable but couldn’t be considered friends, given the disparity of our interests in all things other than each other’s purchases — which, while surely could’ve been the common ground for a great friendship, wasn’t and was instead the reason behind such misguided resentment.

Because having grown up in a family that while wasn’t poor, but would still often struggle to make ends meet, you’re taught to be frugal and prudent. You make sacrifices and anything that wasn’t immediately beneficial for survival or unable to improve quality of life drastically — like all of the toys and games you wanted, were immediately rejected.

And when you’ve worked hard, because you detest the helplessness that comes from an inability to purchase that of what you desire, yet still always seem to be one step behind, it hurts.

And therein, was why I might’ve resented him: everything I ever mentioned wanting — even just in passing, he’d buy first, as if out of spite and mockery. It didn’t help pretending not to care either, because he’d just flaunt it in my face regardless:“Hey, look at my new sneakers! Aren’t they dope? I remember you wanted something similar right?”

In retrospect, perhaps what I hated wasn’t him, but rather the feelings of the very helplessness I had tried so hard to escape from; and having evoked those feelings within me, along with a self doubt in and of my ability to ever catch up, he became the bullseye for my resentment.

One of the days I remember clearest was of him walking, even swaggering perhaps, in the hallway towards our office. I see him because he called ahead to let me know his keys were forgotten and for me to buzz him in, and even though I suspected it to be yet againanother power play of sorts, when he approached, my heart sank — because he had bought the one thing I had truly desired: a 2002 Suzuki GSX-R, the motorcycle of my dreams.

It feels silly now to ruminate on such a past being almost a full decade later, but it makes me wonder: had he not flaunted his purchases so obtusely and had I not been so self-deprecatingly jealous, could we have instead been friends? Though I doubt it — it’s too difficult, even now to have imagined the same scenario without any conflict.

The conflict consumed me. I constantly felt the need to retaliate, so whatever he bought, I’d buy — except better. I did so, at the expense of selling everything I could (I no longer even had a couch) and had even given up money saved for a place of my own — just to defend my ego from his.

As much as I’d like to paint this story as an eventual success with me outworking and overcoming him, it isn’t. I never did beat him — not in terms of what he purchased anyhow, and it wasn’t until years later at my going-away party that I understood his intentions.

He had confessed, in an admittedly stuporous state, that he had always been envious of me — of my popularity with the other coworkers. The reason why he bought what he did was because he thought by doing so, he’d be more like me.

The idea of it was so preposterous at the time that I couldn’t help but disregard it, but what really surprised me was hearing how he afforded his purchases. It was so…simple.

To the one job I held, he had held three, working overtime whenever he could, whilesimultaneously studying to become an engineer because not only was his family circumstances worse than mine, he also knew intimately well — the helplessness that comes from the inability to purchase that of what you desire.

Oftentimes, what we really see are only end results to someone’s hard work — the money they’ve made, the awards they’ve won or the influence they’ve built, but rarely do we see their actual toil in progress.

The two years I knew him, I never knew him at all. I assumed him to be more fortunate simply based on the fact he was able to afford more than I could, when in fact considering circumstances, things might’ve taken him nearly twice as much effort as it would’ve me; yet, there I was, retaliating relentlessly all the while making assumptions.

I wish I hadn’t.

While the moral of this story may very well be interpreted as never making assumptions, the crux of it is to realize that despite appearances, despite all the successes from people we know in person or through social media — Facebook, Instagram and the like, we’re not alone in our journey.

The people we see with all their successes are mostly just like us, having at some point experienced the same helplessness and self-doubt as we have. They just don’t show it because it’s contradictory to the appearances we taught to uphold, but everyone starts at the same place; even the greatest of experts was once a beginner.

It is inevitable that the journeys we take will feel lonely and desolate at times, because they’re often more mental than they are physical, but knowing that we’re not alone and that success can be possible in even the most dubious of circumstances, is enough to give us hope.

And that’s really all that matters, because where there’s hope, there’s life.