I wanted you to know that I love you.
I wanted you to know that I still love you.
I wanted you to know that, even with everything that has happened between us, and even not between us, but between those others who we loved or love, that I still love you.
I wanted you to know that there is a piece of my life that is missing because you aren’t a part of it like you used to be.
I wanted you to know that even when my words have been infrequent or nonexistent, my heart still speaks; it still loves you and misses you.
I wanted you to know that even when you’re gone, I will still love you.
I wanted you to know that I will still love you when I’m gone, whenever and however that might happen, or whatever that might mean.
I wanted you to know that even though you’re gone, I still love you.
I wanted you to know that I haven’t taken you for granted.
I wanted you to know that I haven’t been uninterested in you and your life just because I haven’t asked you questions about you and your life…I was giving you space.
I wanted you to know that the others still ask about you, still think about you, still wonder about you.
I wanted you to know that it’s not too late.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry that I wasn’t what you needed me to be when you needed me to be different than I was.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I didn’t grow or change fast enough to make the difference that you needed me to make.
I wanted you to know that I was there when you thought I wasn’t, but I didn’t know how to make myself more known to you.
I wanted you to know that my anger was really sadness…or shame, but I didn’t know how to express it as such.
I wanted you to know that when I seemed to be distant and unconcerned, I was really hiding inside myself because I was hurting, too.
I wanted you to know that I never meant to hurt you…even though it appears that I didn’t try hard enough in meaning to not hurt you.
I wanted you to know that there were times that I was selfish and wasn’t thinking about you and others, and I’m sorry for being that way.
I wanted you to know that I know the past cannot be undone and that some things cannot be fixed.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry that I hurt you when I did what I did.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry that I hurt you when I said what I said and wrote what I wrote.
I wanted you to know that I will understand if you can’t forgive me, if you don’t forgive me, if you won’t forgive me.
I wanted you to know that I still love you.
I wanted you to know that what you did to the others hurts me, too, and I don’t know what to do about it.
I wanted you to know that regardless of the decisions you made yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last year, I still love you.
I wanted you to know that regardless of the decisions you make right now, or tomorrow, I will still love you.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I didn’t protect you when I should have.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I didn’t speak-up for you when I should have.
I wanted you to know that I don’t expect you to be like everyone else; I love you for who you are.
I wanted you to know that I don’t like the distance that exists between us, the obstacles of time and place and not-talking and isolation that have grown like fences and rivers and mountains and dotted lines on maps…like boundaries that split and divide us.
I wanted you to know that I love you, still.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from May, 2010.
The man stood in the doorway for a moment before grabbing the elongated brass handle to open the door. He was looking at the house to the west of his and noticed how the image of the lowering sun was about to touch the roofline. The slate roof seemed to dip in the moment of the sun’s contact, causing the illusion that the weight of the sun was bearing down on the roof, or maybe the roof was molding itself to the shape of the sun to give it a more comfortable resting place at the end of its long day. The sun was bright, of course, but softened somehow in the closer atmosphere and haze of industry and pollen and life that existed above the horizon’s curving line, so the man stood there with unshielded eyes and continued to watch the sun’s dip into and below the roof line. He turned away and the golden glow remained in his eyes as he looked through the door’s glass to find his son. It was time for dinner and the boy was somewhere outside.
The door handle lowered without a sound and the door swung open quietly as the man pushed against it and walked out onto the back patio of the house. As he passed the mustard-colored and rectangular-shaped charcoal grill, he noticed that it still smelled of burnt sugar from the last time he barbequed ribs. It had been a couple weeks or more, but the scent still lingered. The man was barefoot and noticed, too, that the cement of the patio was still warm from the day’s sun, but the grass was cool as he stepped into it and began his search for his son. The man turned to the left from the patio and looked into the back-yard proper, gazing at the rock-fronted embankments that supported the tiered lawn that rose from the yard up to the street that ran behind his house. As he walked toward the front of the house that faced the town’s park, he craned his neck to look further into the yard to where the boy liked to play around the young, conical pine trees that resembled miniature Christmas trees when they were dusted or coated with December’s snow.
The evening was peaceful, now that the neighborhood kids had left the park and gone home or wherever after playing soccer for most of the afternoon. Looking toward the east and over the hills that fronted that side of the town, the man noticed the swallows darting over the park for their evening feeding and play-time. Overhead, the clouds were pink and orange and white and darkening gray with the falling sun and approaching night. Further north, he could still see the white line of a plane’s contrail that was still intact even though the plane had been gone for hours…just the singular, lined cloud was left in its passing. The man didn’t see his son anywhere, not in this side of the yard and not out in the park. He thought about calling-out for him, but didn’t want to break the quiet by raising his voice or yelling. Instead, he retraced his steps around the house, passed the back-door patio, and toward the other end of the yard, the side that fronted their street. The man walked along the low hedge that separated his yard from the neighbor’s and then past the gooseberry bushes and toward the side of the house where he could peek around the corner to see if his son was playing under the cherry trees. His step was quiet in the cool grass and the moss that grew thinly among the grass where he was, but was thicker under the trees.
Because the sun had completely lowered itself beneath the roofline of the neighbor’s house by now, there was no chance of the man’s son seeing his father’s shadow intrude into his quiet play. When the man slowly moved his head around the corner, he saw that his son was sitting cross-legged, facing away from him, and leaning forward with his hands busy at some task. The boy had his tan and green army-men positioned in loose rows and partially hidden in the moss, or situated behind various military vehicles and broken sticks from the trees above him. He occasionally leaned back or to the right or left to straighten a fallen man or to move a truck closer to the grouped men, enacting some strategy or maneuver of protection or attack. The boy even rolled a golf-ball or lightly tossed a shiny, black cherry in the direction of the men, imagining that they were rockets or some other projectile, sometimes knocking over one of the men or coming to rest next to or on top of one of the vehicles, and sometimes not. With the impact of the cherries or golf ball, the boy made his eleven year-old’s version of a soft explosion…a hushed “pkshew!” that he thought only he could hear.
The man smiled to himself as he watched and listened to his son. He saw the purplish-pink stains on the boy’s white t-shirt and imagined the cherry-fight that he had had with his friends earlier in the afternoon…the cherry-fight that he wasn’t supposed to have had. As the man attempted to kneel down into the moss and grass next to the house, his shorts scraped on the prickly stucco finish on the house and startled his son. The boy was in mid-reach across his battlefield and gasped and dropped one of his army men as he jerked and turned around to face his father.
The boy’s heart was pounding and his mouth was suddenly dry. “I didn’t know you were there,” he said. His mind was racing back through his day, wondering at what he might have done wrong, wondering what little or grand sin had been revealed and was now set to ruin what he thought was an otherwise good day, and wondering why, if he hadn’t done anything wrong, his father was there on the side of the yard looking for him…and getting ready to sit down like he was planning to stay for a while.
“Well, I wasn’t here for very long. What are you doing?”
The boy tried to swallow. “Just playing…Army.”
“Weren’t your friends out here earlier?”
“Yes Sir, but they had to leave.”
“Which friends were here?”
“You said your friends were here earlier. Which ones were here?”
The boy looked across the gravel and grass driveway and out into the park where the swallows were still darting around. He saw a couple boys at the water fountain at the far side of the park. “I…don’t know,” he stammered. “I don’t remember.”
“But they were just here,” the man said, “who were they? You’re not in trouble, Stephan, I’m just asking which friends were here.”
“Hansi and Martin.”
“Isn’t Hansi’s father the butcher?”
“I don’t know. I think so…maybe.”
“Isn’t he one of those older boys that you were playing with in the spring and got into trouble with?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t remember,” the father said, “when you guys stole the bratwurst and then went off into the woods and cooked it? You don’t remember that?”
“Yes Sir…I…think I remember.”
“Wasn’t Hansi one of those older boys?”
The boys had moved from the water fountain and were now kicking a soccer ball out on the field at the park. “I don’t know.”
The man sat down in the grass and moss and leaned against the house. “Stephan…look at me. You’re not in trouble…we’re just talking…ok? You can answer me,” said the man. “Look…here,” he said, pointing to his eyes. “You’re ok.”
The boy turned his head from watching the boys with the soccer ball and met his father’s eyes. He didn’t answer him immediately, but just looked at him. This was unusual for him; the boy…he felt odd, bold somehow…maybe even brave. His father’s manner and voice were unsettling. There was none of the harshness or sarcasm that he was used to…and his eyes didn’t look angry. It looked like his father was really just asking him a question…not investigating an offense.
“Augie’s father is the butcher,” said the boy, “but Hansi was part of the group that did that, yes Sir.”
“Is that Hansi out there playing soccer?”
The boy looked at the two other boys out on the field for a couple seconds and then turned again to his father. “No Sir. Hansi had to go home. He said it was almost getting dark and he had to go in for dinner.”
“Why what?” said the man.
“Why’d you want to know if that’s Hansi out there playing soccer?”
“Nothing, Stephan. I was just asking…nothing. Relax, would you? And stop calling me ‘Sir.’”
The boy looked at his father’s hands for a couple seconds and then moved up to meet his eyes. The eyes were still dark brown and still set deep into his father’s head, but the prominent brow-ridge seemed less severe as his eye-brows were raised in a gentle and almost inquisitive arch.
“What? Just call me ‘Dad’ now. Say ‘Yes Dad,’ not ‘Yes Sir.’ That seems wrong somehow.”
“Can I ask you something and not get in trouble?”
“Yes…ask or say anything you want.”
The boy just looked at him.
“I’m serious…really…anything…you won’t get in trouble.”
“What happened to you in the wreck? I know you broke a couple ribs, but what happened…you know…inside your head? Mom said it went through the front window, right?”
The man looked at his son…intently, gently…and picked a tuft of moss from the ground. He moved his eyes to the moss and then asked, “What do you mean, ‘What happened in my head?’”
“You’re not like you used to be,” said the boy, looking past his father, but still watching him, trying to sense if he was going too far. “You’re different.”
“Almost dying in the wreck like that made me think about my life; it made me think about how I was treating people…how I treated you and your mom…and I decided that I needed to be different.”
The boy looked out into the park again. He didn’t want his father to see the tears that were starting to spill from his eyes. “Just like that…you ‘decided’ that you needed to be different?”
The man looked down and watched his fingers as they slowly tore the moss apart and let it drop back into the grass. “I guess so. When I was laying there in the hospital with my neck in that brace and my face all bandaged-up and tubes sticking out of my lungs, I thought about how lucky I was that my heart was still beating and that I wasn’t hurt as bad as I could have been considering what I had been through. It almost seemed like I was being given a second chance or something, you know…somehow…maybe…to do things right…if that’s possible.”
The boy turned back and looked toward his father, not meeting his eyes exactly, but looking through him at some point directly behind his head. “If you could just decide that you needed to be different when you were laying there in the hospital, why couldn’t you have decided a long time ago that you would be different…why didn’t you decide when I was a littler kid that you weren’t going to be so mean…that you could talk to me instead of hitting me, or that I could talk to you like you were just my dad and not some…kind…of…whatever you’ve been?”
“I don’t know, Stephan. I guess it took me almost dying to realize how much I love you…I don’t know.”
“Oh. Well, that’s when I figured out that I don’t love you,” said the boy, “when you were in the hospital almost dying. I always thought I did, or wanted to, maybe. I thought that if I loved you more you’d be nicer to me, but it didn’t work. So when Mom told me that you might die, I was hoping you would, because I knew I wouldn’t have to try to love you anymore. It would be ok that I didn’t…and now you’re not dead and I still don’t love you.”
The man turned his eyes to watch the neighbor drive past in his blue Saab. He followed the car until it stopped at the water fountain by the corner of the park and then turned down the hill where it disappeared behind the Vivo store on the opposite corner. Then he turned slightly in the other direction and watched the kids chasing each other and kicking the soccer ball for a few seconds. Finally, he looked back at his son and said, “Wow…I don’t know what to do with that, Stephan.”
“I don’t either,” said the boy as he reached for one of his army men.
“I guess I’ll have to work on that, won’t I? Give you a reason to love me?”
The boy pulled a handful of moss and began to gently tear it apart and lay the pieces across his army trucks, camouflaging them against the enemy that was lined-up behind the moss and grass berm that he had built close to the trunk of the nearest tree. He then absently grabbed a cherry from the ground and slipped it into his mouth. He bit down on the sweet flesh and then used his tongue to separate the seed as he slowly chewed and swallowed the tiny fruit.
“Stephan? I said I’ll have to work on that, won’t I?”
“I don’t know.”
The man slowly stood and then leaned over to stretch his legs that had been folded under him while he sat and talked with his son. He said “Ok,” and then turned to walk back around the corner of the house. After a couple steps, he turned around and leaned down so he could see his son better under the cherry trees. “You need to come in now. The streetlights are coming on and it’s time to eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
The man raised his voice a little – “Stephan, I said you need to come in.”
This is a Favorite re-post from May, 2010.
It rained again in that place where memories are stored, where the synapses fire and storm and lay things waste and then they are gone again or whole again and the images and sounds and scents live in the memories where we laid them those years ago, where they got tucked away somehow and have been waiting, if memories can wait, for us to rekindle them to their cogent prescience, for us to make them live again.
Those pictures lived, then, they were images and words wrought together with footsteps down hallways, belts rattling into their drawer at the end of the day, a rough hand on a cheek, the smell of gum and tobacco smoke, and the image of a big yellow car slowly easing itself into the driveway,Vitalis in his hair and the shuffle and hitch of the arm or hand into his waistband, keys and coins rattling and black-framed glasses surrounding the dark, sad eyes again…and the gift of a shiny red pocket knife…and after sand through the glass, a car in a time of need, a gesture, an attempt…what can I do? Moments and years and two or three lifetimes and the breath stops and the cheeks are tucked into place with clay or toothpicks or whatever the embalmer uses, and a little smile lives and holds that rictus shape until the crematory’s fires take it away. He was an old man early, and gone, limiting his life by wanting to live only so long, so that’s what he did, just for so long…testify, prophecy…. And I wonder what he really wanted, what he really desired and didn’t quite get. What dream remained unfulfilled, what heights weren’t reached? I don’t know. I have tainted memories and the taste of ocher, but that was my experience…what was he to someone else, what was he to his friends, what redeemed him when nobody else was around, or when he was in some others’ eyes, and not mine? What unconfessed sins tormented his soul, or what happiness lived there, even, beyond others’ eyes and mine? I don’t know what made him happy, or sad, or what left him feeling empty, what defined loss for him, or love…what stranger did he long for, what living or dead person didn’t fill a void that he needed filling, what or whom did he mourn, or caused him to smile when nobody was watching? Did he really believe in a god, did he really believe that he was going to live with a heavenly father when he died, that he would walk on streets of gold up there when his life was informed by asphalt and broken concrete…was that going to be his reward, really, did he actually believe that…did he have to turn off a part of his brain to do so, or did it just come naturally, did he like flowers or football, or what about weeds and wild grasses that grow along rushing mountain streams? Did he love his father, or even know him…or forgive him…or sin against him and not forgive himself after all those years? I don’t know…and at the end of it all, it’s for naught anyway, the deeds are done, the tears fallen, the regret swallowed and poisoned the body to the marrow, and maybe the only redeeming truth is that he didn’t know how to be what he was, didn’t know how to be what he wouldn’t have chosen to be, and he had no guide along the way to steer him out of the footsteps that had been laid before him….
And it rained again as the thoughts fired upon themselves as the fingers tapped the keys and as the neurons kicked themselves and rocked themselves and curled around their own shadows again and shot again into the void, into the primordial abyss of eternity that ranges in the wasted spaces between the fibers and strands of the cerebral mass.
Why are you crying, Daddy?
*neuron activity photo found via google at www.darkgovernment.com
The notes dropped softly into the quiet air of the darkened room, falling easily like thick snowflakes on a wintry and wood-smokey night. They slid sometimes in icy wonder up the scales and tinkled down again and pattered along the floor like a baby’s footsteps as he’s learning to walk, all wobbly-legged and unsure, patting his bare toes in sprinkled notes and laughs of fancy and then. They remind the man of a music box that used to sit on the shelf in other babies’ rooms in days and nights of a past that is thin and fleeting. Cars and cars pass and the furnace clicks on and a smell of warm dust and human dander swirls against the cold walls as another tune steps from the stereo and moves him further along and into the night. The muted lights from something moving on the quiet television that glow through his closed eyelids make him wonder for a second why it’s on, but then it doesn’t matter…as the notes keep rising and falling like a tiny heartbeat. A tiny heartbeat that is just below the other notes and endures with its tender strength and doesn’t go away even when the music ends, that one little note that lay underneath and within and kept on with its steady, un-fading ping ping ping ping, and then, that heartbeat. There is an Indian running swiftly in tinkling notes of raindrops and teardrops of gentle cadence, a rushing of golden tango-notes like freckles falling on a fair and tender face, and a person dining alone in a happy sadness that isn’t sad, with a movement and sway that comforts and soothes in its quietude. They are notes in their touching caress and the passing of the minutes and hours of a night that lure the man into a wakeful sleep where his heart beats slow and calm and there is nothing else, just the song.
In those many orbits around the sun, and the moon around ourselves, in that figment of time and space that we call months and years, and in those days of our passing, in that time that I’ve been gone from that place where I had worked and worked and wondered for other years and gone, things changed and progressed and grew and became other things that someone else had imagined. Technology and practice and practice became new and better and more precise and less invasive in a personal sense, for some, for those in the practice of this medicine and art and then. Time has changed some of the occupants, too, of the circles in which and around which the plagues are passed and given and shared and transmitted in knowing and unknowing senses all. While some advances have been made in several of the related realms, some of the old and tried and true remain and serve as beacons and exemplars of what works and what lives still in our humanity and theirs. A handshake and an eye-to-eye look of greeting and acceptance or a touch on the arm or shoulder or a shared smiling frown still connects their lives and ours as we mix and meld in our humanity and striving so. There is the unknown and the fear and the real pain of their physical pain and non-understanding and guilt and shame and glistening eyes and downcast, as they ask questions and await answers as they stare at the lines in the tile on the floor. No quivering today in that unshaven and rugged chin on that young man, little boy, who described his estrangement from his parents, their disapproval of his life and his mom’s fears for his future and health and physical living. He spoke of church bonds that are harsh and unforgiving and uncompromising and are tied harder and faster and sharper than a love for a child. He said, too, that there is a sister of mom or dad who still loves and accepts him and will always be there. He wonders at what a test result might mean, in that it changes the way even friends look at you. They don’t joke the same, can’t tease the same way…maybe like stepping on an un-dug grave, so he couldn’t share it with them either. “You are so young,” I said, “and that is both good and bad. You believe in your invincibility, still, and in your right to conquer the obstacles in front of you, but you’re not old enough to remember your friends wasting away and dying from what they contracted during the fun and love of an earlier time. Your brain tells you that the others’ memories are true, but you live in your actions as if they aren’t.” We think it can’t happen to us, he said, unconsciously squirming at the sensation of what was leaking out of his front and back-sides as he has waited so long to come in for a simpler malady. He was quick to respond to my call that he’d been exposed and needed treatment. Whatever he had scheduled was suddenly less important because he now knew and understood that what he had been feeling for weeks and weeks was real and could be ignored no longer. And so he was there…and so was I.
No radio was in the background and I had no concern for a status-list. I couldn’t feel a headset cord at my side and there were no black-banded badges or shields on posters on the wall reminding me that it wasn’t how they died that made them heroes, it was how they lived. My heart wasn’t beating with an anxious pulse waiting and waiting for someone to clear that it was Code-4, it was beating in sympathy and empathy for the distraught young man who sat in front of me who was wondering at test results and the fact that his father hadn’t spoken to him in over three years because of who he loved, yes, both the father and the son, the “he” in their each and solitary selves…and the men they loved.
Many things have remained the same…since I’ve been gone.
The clouds forgave me for my shortcomings and unrealized dreams from their heights, and they did so without the condescension one might expect from someone or some thing of their station or stature. They acknowledged my temporal eternity and honored my striving. They hung up there in their desert afternoon in their high lightness and form. I gazed beyond the queen-palms’ efforts at obscuring their slow dance and noticed they were standing with an earthly stillness in that solitary spot above me. They moved not in their hanging there. They were beyond the effects of any high-minded breeze or jet-stream, like a kite stuck in a dream that had reached its height on the wings of a storm and had then become frozen in its ever place. So they forgave me, as I said, for the many things at which I have failed or fallen short…and for my impractical dreams and dreams and then. They told me that it’s ok, whatever it is and was. I can try again. I can dedicate myself anew to my pursuits and responsibilities. The dirt of the past is done. They said this as they started to shift, though, so I’m not sure I can believe them. They said this as their ethereal mass began to dissipate and their bodies became only mist with a thinness that belied their certainty. Their substance was fleeting, as was my confidence in their sentiment. I began to doubt their sincerity and wondered if I should believe in them or no. I think this may have irritated them, for they started to move together again, to join again unto their parted selves. Their furrowed brows darkened in their gathering and they moved with heavy footsteps. I heard their grumbling in the distance and wondered if it was at me that they were scowling and then. I had only doubted them. I had only questioned them as they began to flee after being so sure of themselves, as they were so insistent that my soul was salvageable. How could their confidence abide in me when their substance was so weak as to not be able to withstand the breeze? How could I trust their assertions when they couldn’t keep it together long enough for me to look to them for support from that one moment to the next? Their black and creasing brows continued to gather on that outside part of my periphery and the sky was soon dark in their brooding. The sun was inching itself away from them as they came together again in a mass of anger and self-righteousness. They fought in their glances and speared looks. They hurled insults on the breeze and tossed the winds upwards and down again. Dirt and detritus they caught in their absent hands and cast at my delicate skin and eyes, blinding and stinging me in their driven anger and storm. I thought they would have been more objective in their protesting, in their dissertation on slight and ignorance, but they weren’t. They were as insulted as I had originally been relieved in their forgiveness of my frail and human self. Their scorn became arrow-like darts of light and flash; indeed, they were brazen and razor-sharp piercings of my skin and soul. They flew in their rage and black cavernous hate and stacked themselves anvil-like in a column of evil air and haughty turbulence. Had I seen through their façade when I doubted them? Had I roused their ire when I questioned their ability to be steadfast in a storm? I waited for them to get over themselves, those miserable black and gristly clouds, those temporal harbingers of fright and concern. I stood there in defiance of their anger and shot my own scornful black-eyed gaze into their bursting souls and surprised myself and them. They broke into tears and sobs of quaking anguish and sorrow as their black hearts emptied into the gray evening and they lightened in their form. Moments and hours passed and the sun was down and the black was gone in the breeze of their passing. Those vaporous beings that were so sure of themselves and angry in their confidence were indeed light and frail, just like me. Their substance was mist and their temporal hearts were tender. They possessed and gave life in their coming and going and asked only to be believed-in, to be trusted, and then, those clouds in their desert sky.
The ages-old expression of “forgive and forget” is so hackneyed and overused and overextended that it is nigh unto empty in substance and possibility, me thinks. It might have meant something those many years ago when it was first uttered, but it seems to have lost its pizzazz as something that might have even the potential to mean anything today. Essentially, it offers that once we have forgiven someone for an offense, we no longer even remember it to hold it against them…or we disallow the sentiment of “being-hurt” from any and all situations or interactions with the person from that moment of “forgiveness” onward. Tell me how true that might be, really.
According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2008), forgive means “1) to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon 2) to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense); overlook 3) to cancel or remit (a debt).” Forgiveness means “1) a forgiving or being forgiven; pardon 2) inclination to forgive or pardon.” And for this record, pardon means “1) to release (a person) from further punishment for a crime 2) to cancel or not exact penalty for (an offense); forgive 3a) to excuse or forgive (a person) for some minor fault, discourtesy, etc. b) to overlook (a discourtesy, etc.).” And finally, forget means “1) to lose (facts, knowledge, etc.) from the mind; fail to recall; be unable to remember 2) to fail to do, bring, etc. as because of carelessness; overlook, omit, or neglect unintentionally 3) to overlook, omit, or neglect intentionally.”
We have all done things that we shouldn’t have done, some on purpose and some by accident. The ones that we did on purpose must have had a rather compelling or selfish reason to lead us into that spot of knowingly doing something that was wrong, inappropriate, or would bring hurt, shame, or embarrassment to someone else…yet we did it. And then the errors that we committed accidentally likely came from acting out of ignorance (not being stupid, just not knowing), as in miscommunication of one manner or another, or misunderstanding of a person or of the rules or of a situation, or something else of that nature, and sometimes because we didn’t have the skill or weren’t otherwise prepared to handle the situation correctly or in the best manner.
When we intentionally do something wrong, how serious can our confession and request for forgiveness be when our mindset was or is, “I got mine, and the rest be damned.” How much contrition can exist in the aftermath of that intentionally wrought situation? What are we actually sorry for…the damage and hurt that was done…or the fact that we got caught or identified as the one who committed the offending act?
I have wondered in my wondering at forgiveness and the passing of time. How do we really forgive someone or ourselves for the transgressions and/or sins that we have had committed against us or have cast upon those others in our lives. Does forgiveness actually occur, or does the sting of the offense just weaken with time and no longer affect us as strongly or as deeply as it once did? And if forgiveness actually does happen, where does it come from; when there is no God, what is its origin, or where does it lie in its hiding place within us? Further, is forgiveness simply a socially constructed notion, or do we find it necessary as a species in order to continue our corporeal existence? Part of me thinks it falls into the altruism debate arena – we do things for the group that help the individual survive…while that individual’s survival efforts also keeps him from forgetting what was done so he can keep a watchful eye for further transgressions that may threaten his emotional or physical survival. I wonder….
We say we forgive others and we tell others that we have forgiven them and we know inside ourselves that to be forgiven, sometimes, to actually feel the forgiveness that others have offered to us, we have to first forgive ourselves for those sins and crimes and wrong-doings and shortcomings and offenses and then…but does it really happen and can it really happen? When we observe a certain body movement of someone else or ourselves, or an averted eye and the hang of the hair or the non-remark that combines with a lamp’s glow or the sun’s reflection or a numbered day of a calendar’s month…or even just the inarticulate soul’s corporeal memory…to remind you or me of the moment of a committed or revealed sin…it seems that forgiveness is gone again in that stormed memory from the hinterland of our recollection…it has come to the forefront of that battleground, that place of unease and fright and hate and…we hang ourselves again on the cross of our making, not as martyrs, but as self-convicted vagabonds, and we bleed again in our fury at ourselves for the committed act or touch or spoken word or neglect or look or printed offense or whatever…and we are un-forgiven again.
When we catch the reflection of ourselves or our deeds in the literal mirrors of our life or in the figurative ones of recollection and we see again that someone in the eyes of ourselves and our Selves and we’re reminded of that other person who reminds us of another person who reminds us of the act or deed or injurious word, the stripes break open again and bleed in their viscous fluids of remorse and shame…we see that black-breathed monster of guilt, again, leaning on and into our shoulders, driving its fiery talons into and through the muscle and sinew and substance of our souls. We don’t want to live in the past, but this is about forgiveness and moving-on…but the wounds don’t really heal completely…the tissues that have started to heal in their forming of scars are still tender and easily inflamed and torn anew…they simply are.
I watch my children and reflect on the father that I was to them, the young ones and older ones. I reflect upon what I was and wasn’t in their young and tender lives and I evaluate how I’m what I am to them today because of what I was and wasn’t to them in the past, my older ones, and I wonder if the difficulties they have in relationships with each other and others are a result of the difficulties that we had, that I had, when they were younger, when they were under my direct hand and influence…under my wrath and disregard. I wonder how their lives would have been different, how they would be different, if my hands and words were as gentle then as they mostly are with my younger ones today. I wonder, here, at forgiveness and how it can truly exist. How it can exist from me to my parents, my father, when I see things in my adult children that seem to reflect the way I treated them when they were kids…and those things that are being repeated unto their children, or not. And when I gaze at my older ones and feel the absence of what I missed with them, but found for my younger ones…it becomes hard to forgive myself again, it becomes hard to forgive my parents again, my father again. I ponder the words of “We did the best we could,” or “I did the best I could,” and wonder at the lameness of those words. I wonder at their lameness when I imagine myself saying them to my kids today or down the road and when I compare my uttering them to my hearing them from my parents…and I know that they are lame. They suck ass…they are weak and fraught with excuse and displaced blame, deflection of responsibility…and shame. I would like to blame them. I would like to lay the burdens from that part of my life down at their feet, and at their parents’ feet and say that it’s not my fault, it’s theirs…and sometimes I do. Sometimes I give them the responsibility for harm and disease and poisonous parenting…and I know that I learned it from them, from their modeling, behaving, their hard hands and words…but I’m still the one who did it to my own kids. I’m the one who didn’t cherish and adore them when they were little, the older ones. And regret is harsh, and forgiveness tries to come to me in their embraces of today and greetings of “I love you” with their piercing or averted eyes and special occasion cards…and it makes me feel more guilty and undeserving and loathsome and un-forgiving of myself and my parents and….
So…from whence cometh forgiveness, today and then…?
While driving to work the other day, I thought about having skeletons in our closets, those sins from the past, forgiven or not, and thought about the things and experiences that inform us and our lives, the baggage that we carry, the wounds and scars that have created us as we are. I thought about these things, somehow, in the context of the book by Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, a collection of war-stories from his time in Vietnam that told of the things the soldiers carried in their bags and in their hearts, the things they saw that they couldn’t forget or get out of their minds and ended-up causing them to be different people, or people who thought about things in a different way. Again, I wondered at the things that we carry…our constituted parts and pieces…the luggage of our lives. Our childhoods inform our present, the way we deal with things and people. Relationships with those in our past cause us to be careful or heedless with the people in our present. Former bosses, friends, lovers, co-workers, children, even books or articles that we read or hear about can impact our lives or the way we conduct ourselves…from novels to scriptures and myths and horror stories. They become part of our load, part of our burden and the expectations that we have of ourselves and others. Those skeletons in the closet cause us to suspect or doubt others and their intentions. We wonder at what they have in their own secreted places that touch their thoughts, words, actions, etc, as they deal with us and others in their or our realms of life and the everyday. Our successes and failures also color our thought processes and behavior. And the guilt of our sins, likewise, molds our words and their expression, shapes them into the things that they’re going to be, or used to be, or are. So too, does the forgiveness and love from the offended and others. It heals our broken spirit and helps us do better, to think differently, and to behave in other ways. The love and kindness from expected and unexpected sources can and do open our hearts and minds, allowing us to accept ourselves, to love ourselves and others when we would be inclined to do otherwise because of the guilt and other things we carried and carry. The forgiven sins and assuaged guilt are still inside of us and still inform our beings, but hopefully in positive expressions and not as anchors that keep us tied to our past miseries…the forgiveness can be turned as keys opening doors to new things, possibilities, loves, and wonder, providing new opportunities to add other things, good things and then, to our life luggage and the things we carry.
Every now and then, we do something that we end up regretting later. We may deplore our actions or performance because it was not the best we could do. It is ‘just our luck,’ sometimes, to have our hindsight end up being better than our foresight. At times, we would like to erase certain events because they have caused damage to ourselves or someone else. If we are lucky, the injury was not too severe and we can make reparations. Occasionally, life forgives the mistake and allows us to go on without too much of a scar. And then there are times when nothing will change the results of our actions. What has been done is done. No matter how much we repent, no matter how many times we swear that we will never do that again, the damage is done and we will not be forgiven.
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Jennie’s life was not unlike the lives of many people we might have known. Her origins were probably similar even to those of our own. Her family life was just a touch out of the ordinary, but not too uncommon. At twenty years of age, she was still living with her aunt and uncle, in a respectable, middle-class neighborhood in northwest Phoenix. She was old enough to be out on her own, but just hadn’t quite made the final break; she wasn’t completely ready to take that first, big, fluttering attempt to launch out of the safe nest of home.
Shortly before Christmas, Jennie started hanging around with a different crowd. She met a guy named Todd, who had a bunch of friends on the south side of town. They were new people, unlike the ones with whom she had previously surrounded herself. These folks had a certain twist to their lives. There was something peculiar or almost ‘naughty’ about them. They lived outside of the norm, and to her, this was exciting. At first, it bothered her that her aunt and uncle didn’t like them, but after a while, that didn’t matter. Jennie started staying out later and spending more time with Todd and his friends. They became more appealing to her. These other people were somehow more alluring than when she first met them.
Right after the New Year, Jennie went down to Broadway and Seventh Street with Todd. He introduced her to some more people and showed her what good friends they were. At first, the parties she attended included only alcohol and marijuana. When the people began to trust her, however, they reincorporated their normal fare into the party course – cocaine and crystal-methamphetamine. They either smoked it or shot it. The needles were a trip; they were so scary that they were immediately exciting. She held her breath, closed her eyes, felt the little stick in the skin, the tingling in her arm and then it was there – – the feeling Todd had told her about – a rush and a blast – she thought it was wonderful.
The one thing Jennie didn’t consider was that she might become entirely wrapped up in this other world. She thought she was just going to a really long party and would be home in a few days, but months went by before she realized how much time had passed. Was that possible? She partied every night for a week, slept for two or three days, ate like a starving maniac when she finally woke up, and then…she repeated the cycle over and over for four months – four months of getting high and having indiscriminate sex. Having sex just for the pure pleasure of the animalistic rut. The crystal made her desire so intense, she literally ached for the sex. So, there it was – a group of young males and one or two equally young, willing and high females, who desperately wanted to have sex.
There was never the thought of consequence. It hadn’t really entered Jennie’s mind that something bad might come of this. A half-thought or premonition was there at one time, but it never materialized into a complete, solid idea. The substances she was using numbed her conscience and intellect. As they wore off, she only wanted more – more cocaine and more crystal.
Sometimes, rational thought comes back to us in the middle of our folly. It seems to burst through the clouds of delusion like a ray of sunlight, almost blinding us with the sudden recognition of our errors and then leading us back to our sensibilities. Jennie was struck with the stark realization of her mistake on the last Sunday in April. She woke up at about noon, lying on a beer and urine stained mattress. Crumpled next to her were the bodies of other people, some partially clothed and some not. During the night, someone had vomited in the corner of the room and had then passed-out with the side of his face lying in the puddle. On the other side of the room was another mattress covered with more half-clad bodies, all dead asleep. Full daylight shone through the broken-glass rimmed window frames, lighting this hellhole she had called home for the past four months. “My God!” she thought, “What am I doing here?” The linoleum had been ripped from the floor years ago and the bare plywood was coming apart from the rain and sun that had streamed in through the broken windows. Every manner of dirt and filth littered the floor. Through the door to her right, she could smell the human excrement that had been smeared on the bathroom floor. The last visitor had missed the full, broken toilet and had then stepped in his mess while stumbling back to the main room. Flies were buzzing everywhere. Cobwebs had strung themselves across the ceiling rafters with reckless design. Gaping holes stared blankly from the walls where the plaster had been punched and kicked.
Jennie pushed herself off the mattress and followed the tide of filth and destruction that spilled down the hallway and into the back bedroom. This room’s outer walls had been stripped from the outside and light shone in through holes where the electrical outlets had been. On the floor of the closet, she found a shard of mirror. Without hesitation, she picked it up and shoved it before her face. She gasped aloud when she saw her reflection. Facing her was a stranger; a shadow of the person she had been when she arrived there in January. Jennie had lost forty pounds in the past four months. While the one hand held the fractured mirror, her other hand absently held up her soiled and stained pants. How had she not noticed her clothes hanging from her bony shoulders and hips? Her hair was crusted with some kind of dried food that had been forgotten on the mattress. Stringy, filthy, blonde, tangled mess. Dark rings circled her once bright, blue eyes and a road map of burning veins pulsed through the sclera.
Right then, at that exact moment, Jennie knew that she had to get out of there. She had to leave. This was all wrong. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to her. Clenched jaws prevented her from screaming “Get me out of here!”
Somehow, Jennie made it home. She made the seventeen-mile trek in about four hours, mostly on foot and the rest by hitching a ride with whomever would stop for her. Her aunt and uncle were not home when she got there, so she climbed the wall and tried getting into the house from the back yard. After checking all of the windows and doors and finding none of them unlocked, she sat down in a patio chair and waited. She must have still been incredibly tired because she fell asleep within minutes. Several hours later, her aunt shook her awake and took her into the house. There was no celebration or joyous reunion, but her aunt was relieved to have her home, alive and in one piece.
The next three weeks was a time of healing for Jennie. Her body began to mend from the abuse it had suffered and her mind began to become whole again. There were still the urges to feel the rush from the chemicals she had been using, but now she had the mental capacity to withstand the temptations and get past them. Her aunt and uncle were wonderful in the care they provided her, basically nursing her along in her recovery. Very little was said about the past four months. When she would mention a certain event or talk about specific people, they would listen attentively, but not offer much in response. They had been crushed by her absence and still couldn’t understand why she had left.
Toward the end of May, Jennie was back to her normal self. One could almost have said that the past four months hadn’t even happened. She had gained back a portion of the weight she had lost. Her hair once again had a healthy shine and her eyes were bright and beautiful, full of hope and appreciation for life.
With her new outlook, Jennie began to plan for her future. First, she went to several local restaurants and department stores and completed applications for work. Then, her aunt took her to the community college and helped her complete the forms for registration and financial aid. Life was good again. Jennie and her aunt became closer than they had ever been before she left. They would spend hours talking about dreams and possibilities, hopes and aspirations. It would be grand to finish school, get a great paying job and succeed in life. Jennie’s hope was to meet the man of her dreams, settle down, make a few babies and then live the full life – with all of the best – even the white picket-fence.
Part of Jennie’s response to her new perspective on life was taking responsibility for herself. She realized that if she would become anything, it would be by her own making. Along with this realization, was the new awareness she had of her health. The one drawback was that she had no health insurance. Her aunt and uncle couldn’t carry her on their plan because they were not her legal guardians. Her biological parents couldn’t do anything for her because she was no longer a minor and she was not yet a full-time student. So, what could she do?
Jennie’s aunt checked with some of her friends and learned of the free clinic on Sixteenth Street. They didn’t perform complete physicals there, but they could at least detect whether or not she had a sexually transmitted disease. This was a significant concern of Jennie’s because of the number and type of people with whom she had had sex in the past four months.
Sometime in the second week of June, Jennie went to the clinic and had a checkup. While she was there, she spoke to one of the counselors who suggested that she also get a test for HIV. “Sure, why not. I’m down here anyway, so I might as well. I don’t think I have it, but it can’t hurt to get it done, right?” The counselor assured her that it was probably the best thing to do. Considering the high-risk activities of her recent past, it would almost be negligent not to have the test.
A week later, the counselor called to inform her that she had tested positive for gonorrhea and chlamydia. Jennie still had to wait another week for the HIV results. She wasn’t concerned, though; she had hardly given it a second thought. For some reason, it hadn’t really occurred to her that she might be positive.
When another week had passed, she went to the clinic to get her test results. The same counselor greeted her and then asked for her copy of the lab slip. He compared the numbers to make sure he was giving the results to the proper person, and then told her in a calm, slightly wavering voice, that she tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A minute went by, and then another. Jennie just sat there. Her mouth was literally hanging open and those blue eyes were like saucers, staring, wide with disbelief. “Are you sure?” He placed the two lab slips side by side and showed her the numbers. They were identical. He then pointed to the results: POSITIVE.
“Oh shit! Oh my God! I’m only twenty years old and I’ve fucked-up my life!”
That single line seemed to bounce from wall to wall in the small counseling room. It held such finality. It wrapped up the whole situation in one statement. Sure, there was supposed to be hope. This wasn’t supposed to be the end of the world. But…it was. At that point in time, there was not a cure. The odds were against the positive patients in that they would probably get sick; and then, they would die. It was only a matter of time.
The counselor just sat there, waiting for the echo of her words to fade away. Training and practice were designed to almost skirt the emotions and face the altered truth that it really was not the end of the world and there really was hope. But…how could one refute the truth in Jennie’s pronouncement of doom? Would one be correct to dismiss the blatant reality of her words? Carefully, the counselor validated her feelings and tried to steer her toward a more optimistic view. He told her that her life would certainly be different, but there were things that she could do to help postpone the end. It was in her control. If she lived a healthy lifestyle, she could possibly achieve some of her dreams….
* * * * * * * * *
And then there are times when nothing will change the results of our actions. What has been done is done. No matter how much we repent, no matter how many times we swear that we will never do that again; the damage is done and we will not be forgiven.