1 The Prodigal Friend
It was the stuff of 12yo girls: friends, besties, unexplained anger, banishment, silence, and reconciliation.
It was my first adult apology. I was 32.
It’s not too far a stretch to call him one of my best friends. He was part of a regular circle. And when everyone else was busy he was almost always free and willing to go out. When he revealed that he was gay, I kissed him. I was proud to call him a friend, and proud that he considered me one.
And then one day it all stopped. I still don’t know why. Maybe he was transitioning to a new set of friends. Maybe he was dealing with new identity issues as he still hadn’t widely admitted to others that he was gay. I even heard that he no longer considered himself gay. Maybe it was a midlife kinda crisis. I honestly don’t know why.
I beat myself up for days trying to figure out what I did wrong. I felt hurt and confused, and then I felt angry. We stopped talking for years after our breakup became awkwardly apparent to me at a party where I tried to talk to him throughout the night, each time him staring at me stone-faced, as if I was despicable yet he still had enough maturity to listen to me. I had no idea he was already done with me.
And then years later, long after I became jaded and completely wrote him off even as other friends (he did this to them too) welcomed him back, he wrote me a short, succinct, and sincere email. He never explained himself, nor completely apologized in the most direct of ways. But he did admit that what he did wasn’t that cool. He said he valued my friendship. He said he’d like to take me out again. He closed by saying he understood if I didn’t want to respond.
My reaction was a cocktail of love, disdain, and self-righteousness. I sat on it for a while, told my wife about it, eventually wrote back with a “thank you” and a noncommittal acceptance of the offer that we have yet to cash in on. In fact I haven’t seen or heard from him since. The apology made me feel better up to a certain point.
But there’s still a little piece of me that hurts. That little piece sometimes thinks that it can crawl through that small crack left open. But in the end, we both know that door closed long ago.
2 No Tradebacks
The second apology was in direct response to the first. Regardless of its outcome, that initial email took guts, and came from a real place. Even though it slightly irritated me, and ultimately didn’t sway me, I could recognize that much. It became a surprise tool that I decided to put in my toolkit for another day. I had no idea I’d pull it out so shortly thereafter.
I was at Stanford and finding reasons to be unhappy at everything. The latest target was the hiring process in my program: I had just finished a PhD in the field, I had 10yrs of experience, I was coming back to a job that I had left just 5yrs earlier. And here was my program hiring people outside of our field with no experience. It felt unfair.
I tried my best to swallow it all, but bitter pills stick easily in throats, and I began holding it against the new hires, one in particular who seemed popular, capable, and not particularly interested in my concerns. In a word, I don’t think he ever did anything personal to me, but I had principles to uphold.
Eventually I figured it out. Following Apology #1 I realized that redemption and forgiveness were just a click away. I waited till a weekend and wrote it all out: how I didn’t think he belonged, how hard I had worked, and–most importantly–how irrational it all was. In another word, I was completely honest, both admitting that I was being a dick and apologizing for being such a dick. How could it go wrong?
The answer came quickly, dripping with venom. How dare I question him? How dare I think I was better? What if my own insecurities were reflected in others in the program?
I was a horrible person, twice over. I now had written proof, and I was never forgiven, by him or by myself.
3 Forgotten Facebook
Some apologies happen quickly, and their aftermaths simmer for long whiles after. Sometimes, though, it’s the other way around.
When my wife and I visited her old friends in Portland years ago I was in a bad way. I was still undiagnosed, still unpredictable, still bitter that things weren’t being given to me simply because I had made it clear that I intended to put forth some effort. I was insufferable, I’m sure.
Having said that, they really annoyed me. Like, really really annoyed me. Still do for some reason.
There was some mild drama, some partner arguments that took place in closed, shared quarters. I had a tendency back then to stomp off and skulk back only to apologize and cry. I did that. I did that to her. I did that to them. I felt bad (I still do) but it was all part of the flavor profile back then. I ruined a lot of otherwise decent memories and I don’t necessarily deserve to be forgiven for that regardless of good excuses.
And then this year I was unexpectedly on Facebook, deleting every post I’ve made on the site since 2005 (long story, pick up your data like litter) and realized I had been receiving messages even though I’d been off the site since 2014 or so. One was recent, and from the woman in Portland. It was long and I didn’t read past, “I’ve forgiven you.”
The preface to that apparent gift was that she had done a lot of processing and heard about whatever issues I was going through and came to realize that I deserved if not pity then at least forgiveness for an apology I never gave.
I deleted it. I never told anyone about it. I got mad. I got incredulous. I felt like suddenly I was owed an apology. I knew, if nothing else, that I would have been a lot better off if she had never said anything at all. No peace offering necessary. No reason to bring up the past. Just leave it alone.
4 Good Intentions
And of course I’ve yet to learn. Or grow up.
On a recent trip to our neighborhood coffee shop one bleary morning I cracked. A barista mumbling under her breath. Picking up on my mood, giving it right back. Me, not letting it go, having to say something. And she, like a professional, just walking away as her coworker picked up the pieces and I picked on myself.
My initial reaction was to never go back. I had been wronged. I had been disrespected.
But then I thought. Then I realized. I intended to go back and apologize. Look her in the eye and admit that I was an asshole, that whatever she had done or thought was nothing compared to the way I surely ruined her day. The way I’ve ruined so many days.
It was Christmastime. I intended to go back.
One day I did. And she wasn’t there. Another. No one.
And so it’s a month gone by and I still feel guilty. Less so, but still guilty. And some days, when I’m feeling good about myself regardless of how anyone else feels about themselves or about me, I consider going back and making good on that original idea. I don’t know what I expect, but we can assume it’s some sort of gratitude. Some sort of agreement that it’s in the past. That I’m a good guy just for even still thinking about it.
But there are sadder days, days where I don’t feel so outgoing. Days where I’m busy or tired, and I simply go on with life. Go on without interactions, without apologies. Because they never seem to do much good anyway.
This is an excerpt from my “Self, Help!” manuscript How to be a Good Dude.
The core of Magna Carda is from my school, St. Edward’s. From my English Writing department no less. That fact makes them cool (if not overly celebrated in faculty meetings.) I first heard them driving through Zilker Park on an errand to either drop off or pick up my daughter. I can’t recall the exact date, but I can vividly remember time slowing down as I turned the music up, thinking to myself–as I nodded along–that this was what poetry in music should sound like. It was like something I’d been hearing for years and something new all at once. I’m not even sure this is the best song off of their latest release. But it’s certainly one of the best examples (outside of Mal Devisa, of course) of what spare vocals and bass accompaniment can weave into magic.