"I don't want to spend my whole life down on my knees
Just fixing what I've broke."
- Hem, The Pills Stopped Working from Funnel Cloud, 2006
What are your regrets in life? What are the things you did in your past that hurt another person that they either never forgave you for or for which you never made amends? You know, the unresolved ones.
When I left my first husband there was no awful thing that he'd done wrong, no infidelity (on his part), no lying, no abuse, nothing. I went through a lifequake of epic proportions when I found my birthfamily and pretty much fell off a cliff. I didn't want anything to do with anyone, didn't want to work, didn't want to be married, didn't want to have majored in English, wanted my whole life back so I could do it over and be who I finally thought that I was. The best I could do was end what I came to realize was a marriage of incompatible people and try again.
In retrospect, I was incredibly selfish and immature. Maybe we *were* incompatible, but how would I know? I didn't try. I believe he will never forgive me for it. I don't believe he has to. Its not a requirement. And I also believe there is nothing in this world that I can do to make amends for shattering his life. I can apologize. I can say it was all my fault, that he did nothing wrong. But I can never, ever fix it.
Should I have to?
12 years later, he sends me an email to let me know the dog we had together has passed away, as he did last year when one of the cats died. And I let him know about a mutual friend who passed. We are polite, we don't ask questions or talk of personal things, but at least we are polite. There is no meanness, no need to dredge up painful pasts. I'm comfortable with that.
I remember a friend I had, she was a very needy friend and very controlling. We had entered a contest together, the Milk Carton Derby during Seafair. We didn't win the judging, but we did win a random drawing for two tickets on Continental Airlines, anywhere they flew domestically. For me, it was great timing. I was planning on going to Boston with my rowing club to compete in the Head of the Charles. I wasn't sure how I would be able to afford to get there, so this ticket was like a gift straight from God. My friend, though, thought that we should use our tickets to go somewhere TOGETHER. I offered a compromise, I would take extra vacation days while in Boston and after the race was over, she and I could do some touring around New England. It would be in the fall, the best time of year to be in the Northeast.
My mother's cousin's widow lived in Boston, in a very fine old neighborhood, in an enormous house. It was three full stories with a basement, she came from old money. She very generously offered her home to me and any of the other rowers who needed a place to stay.
My friend wasn't interested in this shared housing, and she tried to find herself a hotel room in Boston. She could not find any hotel that wasn't already booked. She called me, angry and demanding a solution. I said I hadn't realized that so many people would be in town for the race, maybe she wanted to change her mind and stay at my relative's house? She SHRIEKED at me. "People aren't in town for your FUCKING RACE, you idiot, they're there for a convention. Your stupid race isn't that important!! And no, I don't want to stay at your cousin's house with a BUNCH OF FUCKING DYKES!!!!" And hung up on me.
She never spoke to me again. I left her a couple of half-hearted messages, hoping to patch things up, but she never returned my calls, and frankly it was a relief. (And just for the record, I had a WONDERFUL time in Boston. We took a silver medal in the women's 8, and a couple of us rented a car and drove to Vermont and did a bunch of sightseeing and had a wonderful vacation. SO THERE.)
I have wondered about her since then, whether she still hates me. What she would say if we just randomly ran into one another at the grocery store or at a restaurant.
Would she expect me to fall on my knees and apologize? Would I want to?
I wouldn't expect it of her, even though I thought her behavior was horribly rude and selfish. She probably thought that I was the one being selfish. And rude. I think where the disconnect happened was that she had very high expectations of me, expectations I wasn't going to fulfill. That was the beginning of a painful breach that has never healed.
Another person comes to mind, a man who, though I didn't date him for long, was a big part of creating the codependent monster I eventually became. He was an alcoholic, much older than me. In the months that we were together, I became unbalanced as I tried to fix him, control him. The relationship was one of the worst in my life. He was always at the bar, drinking. He never came home when he said he would. He would pick on me for my clothing or my weight or my hair. I was never good enough. He cheated on me. He gave me an STD. After I finally grew the ovaries to throw all of his belongings in black plastic garbage bags and put them in his car, I spent years being furious with him. I wanted him to SEE how wrong he had been. To acknowledge it. TO GROVEL ON THE GROUND AND BEG MY FORGIVENESS. To change.
The things that went wrong with J and I, for a while I did the same thing. And even when he owned his part in things, I still felt unsatisfied. I was still angry and I wanted someone to PAY. To grovel. To fix what they had broken.
As time passes, I realize that I do not have that right. A person can only apologize for what they own as a wrong. If there are reparations to be made, if they have the ability to make them, ok. But most often, in friendships and interpersonal relationships, there is nothing the other person is going to be able to do that makes you feel better. That part, the getting over the anger part, that's up to ME. And damn, that's harder than hell to do. To stop expecting people to fix the broken thing in me. Its happening, though. I think I'm starting to understand the concept of accepting responsibility for my own repair. At the same time, learning to stop being endlessly angry with the people I feel have hurt me. Being mad isn't going to make them admit their offenses. Being mad isn't going to make them sorry. I need to let it go, write it on a piece of paper and burn it in the fireplace. Cry my tears and let the river flow away, taking my pain and anger and hurt with it.
Because I too would like the forgiveness of others. I dont' want to, cannot, spend my whole life groveling for forgiveness, trying to fix the broken parts of other people. Its not my job.
Someday, I think, if I work on this hard enough, I really will know peace. Someday.