Learning to Apologize

March 01, 2009

apology forgiven

I told you that I was sorry and I wanted to mean it. I wanted to mean it in the real way, the I know what I did was fucked up and I won’t do it again way. Won’t.  Not in the way that I had always known it to mean, the way in which people are bound together by the promise of their love for one another, and I’m sorry means “I know it was horrible, but I also know that you understand me because I am a part of you, and because we love each other, all will have to be forgiven.”  The way I’m sorry meant in my family growing up. The way my mother apologized to me, and I apologized to my sisters. The yes I know I threw an entire cup of hot hazelnut Dunkin Donuts coffee at your chest and that was really really wrong of me, but I am your sister and our love will survive this.  Even though as I apologized that time, I knew it was the worst thing I’d ever done, to one of the people that I loved the hardest.

When I told you that I was sorry, what I meant was, I want to promise you a love that doesn’t constantly need to be tested to prove its worth.  I want to promise you a love that doesn’t need the constant battle, apology, and sob ridden I love you, to remind us that its still there.  I told you because I want to learn how to apologize and mean it. Because I know that love does not keep us safe in our bad behavior, does not stand and shield us, nor give us the permission to act recklessly or keep us from being admonished, held accountable, or ultimately left in the aftermath of our repeated offenses. Because there seems to be a simple comfort in the idea of doing something wrong and knowing you do not have to do it again, in examining your behavior and validating your feelings, but in reminding yourself that you don’t need to do that anymore.  Your hurt has been recognized, your bad behavior an indicator of that hurt, a moment (gift?) for you to take a step back and reflect on your reaction.  Its also sometimes nice to have that reaction witnessed by others, however painful and sudden it is, because it is important to the process of honesty and intimacy and not lying or pretending that you are better than you are.

I yelled at you in the grocery store because you wanted to add one more item to the list, further complicating what was, in my mind, an already too-complicated dinner party ordeal. And in that moment, slamming, one right after the other, were the memories of one hundred birthday parties, dance parties, dinner parties, where I was a host or merely a guest constantly feeling responsible and soaking up the vibes around me like a sponge.  In that moment, I was a little girl getting yelled at because we were having strangers over for a Christmas dinner party and the house wasn’t clean.  In that moment, I was an awkward sixth grader whose hopes were too high for any party to fill, and was disappointed by her friends on her birthday.  And in that moment, as all those parties flooded my head, smothering me and cascading down my body only to crash in a million little pieces at my feet in the middle of a tiny grocery store in Vieques comprised ninety percent by Goya products, I took out every second of that twenty-three years of dinner-party anxiety and pain out on you.

Only I didn’t know that’s what it was.

What I knew was, hot, quick anger and the sickening feeling of wanting to take every single bottle of salsa off the shelf and hurl it down the aisle only to watch it crash on the floor and make a mess. What I knew was the feeling of anger mixed with longing and fear so intense that for a moment it feels as though my body might catch fire with flames licking up from between my toes. The same feeling that I remember from the first time, in first grade, starting in the pit of my stomach and engulfing my entire body filling my mind with I NEED I WANT I NEED help help help, so quickly that for several minutes there was not space for another thought.

But now, what I need, is to put down the bottle-cup of coffee-hairbrush-cell phone. Now, what I need, is to settle in and remember why what it is that is making me hurt so badly. What it is exactly that I am apologizing for. And this apology is dual-fold. The first apology goes to you, for just trying to make me the buffalo chicken that I had been craving for weeks, and adding another thing to my cart without knowing that it was secretly full and teetering on the brink of a freak-out.

But the second apology. The second apology goes to my heart. It goes to the place where I am scared and have been hurt before. It goes to the place inhabited by the little girl that does not want to come out of her room for fear of disappointing someone/everyone/no one, or having them disappoint her. It goes to the place that is still marred by the fear of unpopularity. The place where that shopping cart is full to the brim and the Frank’s Hot Sauce is the final straw, unhinging the carefully piled purchases and knocking them out at the base so that they turn the cart over and spill out down the aisle.

And, for me, it is the second apology that makes the difference.

It is the second apology that allows the first to be more than a socially expected nicety, the words that make the difference between I’m sorry and I won’t do it again, because the second apology attends the root of the problem, the space in my heart where I am able to take out on you all of my previous pain because you are so sweet and love me and you will bear it – if I asked you too. But it is not your hurt to bear. And it is not hurt that I want to carry, following me around and lurking when I am at the beach or in the grocery store or I am lying in bed next to you.  It is hurt that I want to sooth with sweet words and validation but I want to show, with a firm hand, that its presence is no longer welcome burning a hole in the pit of my stomach or licking down my fingers as they go to throw or hit, seemingly acting of their own accord.  It is that hurt that I will not apologize for, because it is real, and deep, and integral to my process, but its place in my reality as an impetus for my reaction to what was nothing but your sweetness and love.

That I will apologize for. And I will mean it.