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is it okay: to have enemies?

It was that strange transition time you go through as a seven year old when you are one of the last few people still calling erasers “rubbers” and defiantly fighting off the pointed giggles coming from the girls who don’t actually realise why that is funny.  Puberty was a little way away, bra shopping was only something whispered about by those who had older sisters, and you were only just getting your head around the idea that some women in the world are actually taller than your father.

Like every other seven year old at that time I lived for sleepover birthday parties, spent all my money feeding my addiction to Goosebumps, and had a sworn enemy.  In terms of personality there was nothing really bad at all. However she was a bit blustery, show-offish and tended to lie. I didn’t really look beyond that. At the time I never noticed how her friendship group seemed to change every few weeks.  At age seven you don’t look at shades of grey. She looked a little like me, actually. She probably acted a little like me. Or vice versa.

However, she stole my eraser and told the teacher it was hers prompting a year three bastardised version of Law and Order where witnesses were called, depositions taken, and rightful ownership of the half blue half white. We would stop on the stairs when we passed each other and exchange what felt like sharp words. She would tell me my friends didn’t like me, and I would tell her she smelled weird. Naturally we later became friends, and the position of sworn enemy became vacant again.

Over the years, many people have filled this role. All of them temporary, and all of them far more complex in hindsight. There is always some incident, some series of events, but the thing that I’ve noticed is that with age it all become less overt.  Less exchanging snipes on the stairs, more cloaks and daggers, false smiles and turning to the art of war.

Enemy-having is an evolving process. In junior school it is your friends versus their friends. You actively air your animosity. You say ‘I don’t like you, stay out of my hut, no I won’t trade stickers or millipedes with you.’ It is the world’s hugest tragedy if you get paired together for a project. The angst that such an occurrence would produce would easily sustain the entire Twilight series.

Then you age, or, in the case of a Pokémon, level up. It’s middle school and things are less “stay away from my tazos” and more whispering to your friend while being cooly polite with an occasional screaming match blow up when someone “accidentally” hits someone else with a lacrosse stick during Wednesday’s double P.E. lesson before lunch. It is here you start to see the shades of grey. Your enemy doesn’t need to be your friend’s enemy. Lines become blurred.

High school comes around and the word enemy is almost laughable. It’s all a lot more insidious. The line between enemy and friend becomes even more blurred and some groups in the year level essentially seem to be held together through mutual suspicion and dislike. Full out fighting is replaced by bickering and the occasional snide comment. “Enemy” is no longer a single person, but rather small aspects of lots of people.

As you grow older, two different streams of thought and maturity are constantly racing each other: empathy and understanding versus self preservation. The latter steams ahead for the bulk of the time, allowing cold hearted and, in hindsight somewhat hilarious, stand offs about things that don’t really matter. Like who can play in which hut at recess. Or who owns which piece of stationery. When reason and logic finally catch up, hand out, puffing and gasping for a glass of water, that’s the time when you stop and think – hey maybe there was a reason that person decided that all the vitriol in the universe should be directed at me…via MSN.

I don’t have an enemy now. The vacancy light has fizzled out. It takes a lot of energy to keep it burning, and, now and for the last few years, I can happily play racquet sports without having to imagine someone’s face as a motivational device.

Just stay away from my eraser.

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