I was a few weeks into my freshman year of college when I attended my first collegiate party. Having never had many friends, I was nervous. Having rarely drank, I was quickly affected by the booze.
As the night wore on and my buzz got better, I started relaxing. I started wanting to fit in in ways I’d never wanted to fit in before. Maybe it was the loneliness. Maybe it was the desire to make friends. Maybe it was my decision to drink too much. Maybe it was the feeling that I’d never be accepted. Maybe it was all of the above. Whatever it was, it encouraged me to stop being me.
When everyone started telling jokes, I decided to join the crowd. I told a terribly offensive, homophobic joke that made me cringe when I first heard it. When everyone laughed, I smiled and went for a refill.
When the party ended, I staggered for my room. Before I had gone very far, a woman asked if we could talk. Under the influence, I stupidly thought my night was going to be more than I’d been hoping.
To this day, I remember her saying, “You hurt my feelings. I thought you’d know better.”
Stunned by her words and disappointed that my hopes for the evening getting better had been short-lived, all I could ask was “What?”
She told me she was a lesbian and that my joke hurt her feelings. She said she was surprised because she thought my life as a blind person would have taught me how much people’s words can hurt.
Not only was the night definitely not getting better, I was forced to confront the reality that, in order to feel temporarily better, I’d hurt someone else. Leaning against the wall, all I could do was apologize. I let her know she was right and that my joke was offensive.
She accepted my apology and walked away.
Back in my room, I took Aspirin for the headache I was expecting and sat on my bed. The spinning head and nauseous stomach weren’t going to keep me up all night. I would be up all night replaying her words and being angry with myself. I had let myself down and hurt an innocent person. Even worse, she was right. I understood the hurt words could cause. In the moment, I didn’t care.
Two days later, I accidentally met the woman again. I let her know how much I’d been thinking about our encounter. I thanked her for sharing her feelings with me. And, of course, I apologized again.
She hugged me and said she couldn’t believe I had heard what she had said.
In the end, she became one of my best college friends. For the rest of my life, I’ll never forget the lesson she helped me remember.