Most people boast about being a good judge of character, a minority admit to being bad, I on the other hand have absolutely no judgment at all. It is my one social blind spot; a part of my personality I genuinely wish I could outsource. I know you're supposed to use wisdom, experience,morals, and then decide if you like some one or not. With me if someone is nice to me- I like them, that’s it,I've nothing more technical to go on. I could meet a mass murderer, a genocidal maniac, James Corden and if they’re nice to me; I’m screwed.
Sometimes, worried that my blanket acceptance of everyone has downgraded my opinion to worthless, I’ll decide completely arbitrarily to dislike someone. Almost instantaneously, that person will be nice to me; I’ll feel horrible and be back to square one. Lately I’ve considered just given up having opinions altogether.
When I was younger, added to this personality blindness,was the pressure of having to make absolutely everybody I met like me. The thought of choosing not to get on with someone, of deciding for myself instead of reacting to some one else’s behavior was alien and weird. My plan was to be friends with absolutely everyone, and hope for the best.
These were the life skills I was taking with me on my new life abroad.My homesickness in Italy had been as unexpected as it was pathetic. The first few days were a puffy eyed flurry of abruptly left rooms, locked toilet doors and sobbing, hiccupped nightly phone calls home that even my parents were beginning to find embarrassing. I’d become everything I’d sneered at; the girl who always had to go home from slumber parties early because she missed her Mam, the plastic Paddy who’d already found the nearest Irish pub.
For a person who had been running away from the age of four it was not what I was expecting. In my town I’d never felt like I’d fitted in, truly belonged; I always felt odd. When school friends described me affectionately as “mad” it was like nails on a blackboard- I wasn’t trying to be eccentric, I just wanted to be normal. So why was I missing so keenly a life I couldn’t wait to leave? The minute I landed in Italy, my old life suddenly seemed a haven of contentment, security and belonging. I didn’t know then how much easier it is to leave behind something you had than it is to finally give up on something that was never really there. Why else are bad relationships so much harder to let go of then the good ones? Everything felt horrible, floaty and transitory. I felt that at any minute a gust of wind would run through me and blow me away.
Convinced everything had been a massive mistake, I decided to just ride it out till I could go home, move back with my parents and forget it had ever happened.
Confident that it was a temporary holiday before teacher training I finally began to relax. Slowly I began to see some upsides to living in a medieval town in Italy for eleven weeks. Apart from my actual classes, there was the massive 19th century apartment, I was sharing with the other girls, a stone balcony that overlooked a square with a church and fountain. There was the fruit and veg market, that if I got up in time I could go to in the morning before class. I now knew that Italians wore black to weddings, that their supermarkets had aisles devoted just to pasta and that you can actually drink water out of the town fountains. These were all secrets, keyholes into a life I should never have known about. The beautiful medieval town felt like the set of Romeo and Juilet, that I was free to explore. I was also slowly making friends with the people in my class; French Canadians, an actress from New York and Finnish girls so beautiful, they made you think racial superiority had a point. I sat in the kitchen with them in the morning, sleepily waiting for the coffee to boil, with the sound of church bells ringing in the distance. For the first time in my life I wasn’t someone’s friend, or someone’s daughter, I was me. All the things I’d worried about back home, though present, felt far away like the sea.
It was then that a person walked into my life, a late arrival on the course, a lanky Australian ambling into the class and straight into my life. Blake, Blake, I will never forget you. Finally I knew I was having my first trembling grown up independent opinion about someone. I knew in an instant, that although you were fine with me , I absolutely hated you.
Was it during our very first conversation when I patiently listened to your theory that 9/11 was a cover up, that I felt the first shiver of something starting? Was it when I hesitatingly disagreed and the sunlight hit the side of your face as you sadly shook your head and said you were just passing out seeds of knowledge? Maybe it was the tone in your voice when explained you were inspired to become a street performer because you liked connecting with people on the street and messing with their heads? Or when you described your road to Damascus experienced happened at an Alanis Mourissette concert? Or the cute way you started speaking in weird pigeon English when you were around Spanish people? I don’t know when exactly it happened but I knew for the first time in my life, without friends to check, sisters to confer, I was experiencing my first definite opinion about someone-He was a bloody idiot.
I felt like the child in the Emperors New clothes.Obviously I’d disliked people before but I’d never voiced it- what if I was wrong? But here in Italy- on my own-what did I have to loose? So I didn’t try to be friends with him, but I didn’t avoid him either and if he did anything to annoy me, I’d tell him; the sky didn’t collapse, the earth didn’t open and people didn’t hate me for being so horrible.
They actually began to agree. These cool, bohemian people from as far away as French Canada listened to my opinion.Slowly but surely my belief that he was an absolute moron, changed from a theory into an empirical fact. Class by class, as he pissed others off and people got to know him better, my protestations were proved to be true, by week two; no one was talking to him, by week three he had left under a cloud. I had a won. I hadn’t bullied him out, I just hadn’t been “nice” and it was ok.
The night the course finally ended I was crying again. This time I didn’t want to leave; pledging to always stay in touch, to be friends forever. Part of me loved the drama of it all, the same thrill I secretly get from freakishly bad weather,
funerals and unexpected celebrity deaths the feeling that normal service has been temporarily interrupted.I actually started challenging myself to see how many of my new friends I could make cry. I dropped in words bombs like acceptance, belonging,true friendship, and they’d start sobbing. I’d wail too and the line between sentimental dramatics and heartfelt truths got blurred.
I decided that if I had friends that cared about me, maybe I could put off giving up, caving in and going home for a little while longer. Most of them lived in Spain so I decided that I’d just move there next. No, I didn’t speak Spanish, but knew, at least,I could now spot a prick in at least one language.