Dear Annie: When I was 11 years old, I made an insulting remark to one of my older sister's teenage friends, teasing her about her acne. The next day, my mother loudly confronted me about it, and my grandmother and sister joined in. For the next several months, if I said anything my mother didn't like, she'd angrily remind me of the horrible thing I'd done. For years after, she'd allude to it. This continued until I was close to 30.
Last year, my mother told me this same girl had been working as a waitress after dropping out of college, and that my comments about her acne had ruined her self-esteem. At that point, I tracked her down and asked her whether she was still upset with me over the incident all those years ago. She said she didn't remember it at all. She said her lifestyle choices were the result of her rebelling against her domineering parents and had nothing to do with me.
During a recent car trip with my parents, my mother brought this up again. I loudly said, “That was 24 years ago, and I'm tired of hearing about it. If you don't stop, I will leave.” My mother told me to “go,” and I had my father pull over, and I took my bag and walked back home.
I haven't spoken to my parents in six months, and I don't miss them. Really, Annie, when can a 35-year-old man expect forgiveness for something he did when he was 11? I may have been a rude kid, but I had a mother who called me “fat” and “pudgy.” I guess I learned it from her. Is my mother crazy, or do I have to do some penance?
-- New Yorker
Dear New Yorker: Your mother seems vindictive and obsessive. You have acknowledged your rudeness toward this young woman and, we assume, apologized to her at some point. But when a child is 11, a parent should use such incidents to teach kindness. Your mother used it as an excuse to hold something over your head for eternity. You are right not to tolerate such comments any longer.
Dear Annie: I am appalled by the way people dress. We dress so casually that women do not take pride in being women, and men are losing their dignity. I believe in equality, but do women have to dress like men? And everyone wears jeans with everything. We look sloppy.
People from other countries must wonder why we don't take more care with our outward appearance. After all, it reflects a healthy mind, body and spirit, and shows we care about our American image. Can anything be done about it?
-- Conscientious Observer
Dear Observer: Probably not. People like to be comfortable, which can lead to being sloppy and gender-neutral. Others like to show off their bodies, which can lead to overexposure. Fashions come and go. All you can do is hold out hope for a more formal future.
Dear Annie: To all outward appearances, I am hale and hearty, regardless of what is going on inside my body that requires the use of a handicapped parking space.
Recently, one sour-faced woman commented that I “do not look handicapped.” Usually, I ignore such boors, but it was taking a lot of effort to walk tall and smile that day. I remarked that it was an exceptionally good day for me, and I hoped she would put her X-ray vision to good use for the betterment of medical science. And I kept right on walking.
-- Encino, Calif.
Dear Encino: That was a kinder response than most. Thanks.
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