“Hey Laura, you live in Boston, right? We’re here for a wedding and would love to catch up,” said the Facebook message.

The message was from my high school bully, my tormentor, my source of constant fear, stress, and anxiety, and as you might imagine, it gave me pause.

Now, I’ve done pretty well since high school. I’m happily married, I’ve had a series of successful careers, I’ve got two kids who both love me and (I think) like me. I have a small circle of supportive friends. I’m fit, I’m healthy, I’m all good.

But, not so deep below the surface, lurks that girl from high school, the one who was teased and rejected, who was insecure, who didn’t know who she was without the approval of everyone around her. Oh, did she dance for praise! (Well, not actual literal dancing because: two left feet. But, figuratively, the hoops she would jump through just to get a gold star were epic.)

I’ve gone to every one of my high school reunions. See above paragraph, I’m doing alright, why not make sure to let the people know? Yeah, I’m also petty, I guess.

But, my bully? He never went to one.

So I got this Facebook message totally out of the blue and it’s been 33 years since I’ve seen him. And, I said yes.

My shoulders were up to my ears as I walked into the bar. My heart rate was elevated as I scanned the room. My flight or fight was screaming inside of my head.

And there he was.

He looked old. He looked tired. He looked worn.

But so do I. We are 50 now. It’s been a lot of years.

And, with that old, tired, worn exterior came a lot of growth and maturity and calm.

He apologized.

He apologized for everything he ever did in high school, everything he ever said, everything he ever thought.

And then he told me a story about the home he grew up in, a story I never knew, a story I never cared to learn. The abuse, the neglect, the hardship didn’t excuse his behavior, but it added context that, at 15, 16, 17, I simply couldn’t understand. He’d left high school and went into the Marines; I thought it was because he was an angry, aggressive sort who wanted to shoot people but it turns out that war was simply a better alternative than the one he came home to every day after school. Hurt people hurt people, and I was just the next stop on the punching bag express that ran through his father to him to me.

It’s incredible to realize how much pain and struggle we carry with us when, allowing it to define us, often, the source of it had nothing to do with us in the first place. (Tweet this.)

He apologized, but he didn’t ask for forgiveness. He just wanted to tell me to my face that he was sorry. In the end, he said he was relieved. He said he’d been carrying this guilt around for decades, and that redemption felt good.

I wonder, actually, if he decided to tell me things more for him than for me, and perhaps I needed to hear them more for me than for him.

Regardless, we both walked out of that bar looking a bit less old, tired, and worn, and each with a new friend.