Open Thread: What Youthful Cruelty Do You Regret?

You were a jerk sometimes when you were a kid. Which incidents still eat at you?

A lot of us did things when we were young that we thought were cool or funny at the time, but we now realize were wrong. A friend of mine recently told me, somberly, that he’d been watching It Gets Better videos and found himself involuntarily recalling the nasty, homophobic insults and jokes he’d thought were hilarious back in junior high and high school. “It was pretty fucked up to see these people talking about the folks who made them feel miserable and suicidal, and realize that I was one of them,” he told me.

That, in turn, reminded me of something I’d thought was hilarious at the time; I went to high school with a teen celebrity of the day, one of the kids on the cover of Non-Threatening Boys magazine, and I found (on Usenet, believe it or not) a bunch of pornographic fanfiction about him. And, like an asshole, I printed it out and showed it to him. I thought this was highly amusing, not having sufficient empathy yet to realize how profoundly disturbing and creepy he would find the existence of those stories. I really freaked the poor guy out, and I feel like an asshole about it to this day. (If he happens to read this: dude, I am really sorry about that. I was a stupid teenager and that was a lousy thing to do.)

I think a lot of us have these stories, the things we said or did, the people we slighted or scorned, the times we can’t recall without an involuntary shiver of too-late regret and embarrassment. In my experience, getting them off your chest can help. What’s in your personal hall of shame?

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. I regret laughing at racist jokes so much, even being racist in though for a while as a kid even though I had aboriginal friends and got along great with them. I regret that after being bullied so much I bullied a bit myself. I set cane toads on fire as a kid, I regret that since they should have just been killed humanely.

  2. I went to high school with a girl who, upon reflection, probably had Asperger’s Syndrome. Sonya was very matronly looking, with a hairdo and glasses a 70 year old wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, an ET Phone Home shirt, and blue polyester pants. She walked at an angle, as if she were trying to keep up with her massive chest. I was nice to everyone, which is how I got coerced into going over to her house, where I saw her life-sized poster of Luke Skywalker strategically placed over her bed, and a large model of the Enterprise hanging close by. She had no friends, and I felt bad for her, so I brought her into my group of geeky-but-cool friends. We soon regretted it, as she was ALWAYS around, with her ever-solemn demeanor, and we couldn’t have any fun. One day I noticed some strange marks on her arm, and I asked her about them. She said, “Oh, I bite myself when I get angry.” Now I was never mean to her face, but I DID use that tidbit to amuse myself and my friends. I would get behind Sonya, but within view of a friend, and then I would pretend to bite my arm ferociously. We would about die from our stifled laughter. Another time I noticed that she would meticulously straighten the discard pile when we would play Uno. One by one, I shared my observation with my friends, telling them to purposely overshoot the pile. Watching Sonya frantically grabbing for flying cards….well, I’m giggling just remembering it. I’m a horrible, horrible person (like the Bare Naked Ladies, I’m the kind of gal who laughs at a funeral). But I DO regret it. I really do.

  3. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Great open thread topic.

    I will never forget telling my mom, in about 3rd grade, about a song we all sang about the girl in our class who was most bullied. She pulled the car over and gave me a lecture about empathy and compassion and made me feel like I was going to die of guilt. Of course, I responded by being enraged at her for no reason. It’s hard to know what to do with guilt and regret when you’re a kid (or adult) so it often just turns straight into rage.

    Older, I think my worst crimes were gossip. I never teased anyone after that incident, but I was a gossip. Not fictions, but opinions and truths, like “Angie’s skin is horrible, who would kiss her?” typical horrifying Mean Girl shit that literally every woman I know did.

    But worst was not noticing what an asshole I was to a boy who liked me, whom I thought was just a pal. We spent a lot of time together, and I would completely ignore him when I got a boyfriend or other plans.

    I can’t believe I just admitted all this publicly. I look back at my life before I was 33 or so and I think, “I truly would never go back in time to be that person.”

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