When I was 21, my boyfriend rolled his van off a mountain in Lake Tahoe. He was up there for the winter with his best friend and they skidded out on a snowy highway and hit a tree. The van caught fire, and he and his buddy had to crawl from the burning wreck before the gas tank exploded. His buddy managed to get out safely but my boyfriend wasn't as lucky. Trapped in the driver's seat by a sizzling seatbelt, it took him a few minutes to escape. He was airlifted by helicopter to the Sherman Oaks Burn Center in Los Angeles. Burned on 60 percent of his body, it was touch-and-go for weeks. His immune system was so weakened, even germs from a kiss could kill him.
But he survived and started the long process of recovery. I visited him a few times in the hospital, then gradually stopped going altogether.
What kind of horrible person does that? Who dumps her injured boyfriend when he needs her the most?
At a family get-together, I caught my aunt glaring at me from across the room. After giving me the evil eye, she turned to the family member next to her and talked trash about me. I hadn't gone to my cousin's (her son's) wedding. Italian's don't miss weddings, yet I missed the wedding of a cousin who was like a brother to me. What kind of bottom-feeder does that?
On another occasion, I chose not to attend my uncle's funeral.
With all the anger directed at me by my relatives, it's a miracle I'm alive. According to the facts, I'm a heartless bitch, aren't I?
But let's go back to six months before my boyfriend's accident. Picture me, newly graduated from UCLA, flying up to Sacramento where he went to law school. I'm a day early because I want to surprise him. I'm helping him move home for the summer.
See me at the airport on a payphone, dialing and redialing his number for two hours until his roommate finally answers and offers to pick me up. Watch me enter his bedroom to find the bed a mess, the room stinking of sex, the quilt I spent three months making him for Christmas covered in menstrual blood, the sheets dusted with long blond hair and a silver earring lying on top of a pillow.
I broke up with him and we went our separate ways, but he never told his family or friends. When the accident happened four months later, I had a new boyfriend and a new life, but when I explained this to everyone, they didn't believe me. They'd already made up their minds and wouldn't budge. They needed a bad guy.
People believe the worst. We know that. And they take sides. Yes, they do. And in this age of "alternative" facts, people wear their ignorance and intolerance like a badge. I have a friend who believes the earth is flat and actually posts about it on Facebook. An ex-friend now, because seriously?
Forty years later, I still feel the pain of the vicious gossip and hatred I endured for years after my boyfriend's accident. At my mother's funeral, I told his sister about the blood on the quilt and the breakup and how he let everyone think I dumped him when he was sick. It felt good to finally be vindicated.
And, for the record, I didn't go to my cousin's wedding because I wasn't invited. My invitation was sent to the wrong address. I made sure my aunt knew this because my cousin sure didn't tell her. And my uncle's funeral? When I was a kid, he'd pull me onto his lap and whisper in my ear, "You're so pretty." Sort of OK to say to a 5-year-old but to a 14-year-old? Beyond creepy. He also hit on my sisters. We never told anyone but on the morning of the old pervert's funeral, we made a joint decision to boycott it.
Hey, I'm not perfect but I always consider both sides before I pass judgment.