Episode 04:10:2023 - Prompt: Forgiveness
It's a chilly Halloween night, and Paul McCartney is singing “Yesterday” on my transistor radio. We kids walk the dark rural-neighborhood roads holding flashlights for the younger trick-or-treaters like my sister. At ten going on eleven, she doesn’t need my fourteen-year-old protection. But that excuse allows us teens to hang out and snag some candy even though we’re far too cool to dress in costume now. Along the way, I say to thirteen-year-old Karen, a sometime playmate, “I think Peter’s cute." Peter is fifteen. She looks at him and says, “Yeah, he is,” as if just noticing. I scoot close to him and say, “Hi.” He doesn't say anything. Then Karen saddles to his other side and giggles. He laughs, and she touches his sleeve. After a while, I fall back with the younger kids, watch Karen and Peter lean into one another, and scowl. At the end of the evening, I say, “You know, Peter, I don’t care if I ever see you again." A total lie. "That's not a very nice thing to say," he says back. I don’t say anything to Karen because I don’t want to speak to her. Ever again. At home, I tell Mother the whole sad story. “Karen only made a play for him because she knew I liked him, and he fell for it,” I wail. "I hate them both.” Instead of consoling me, Mother sighs and says, “We are our own worst enemies.”
Peter and Karen dated throughout high school and college but didn’t end up marrying one another. Years later, Mother called to tell me that a swimming accident had claimed Peter's life. He left a wife and two young children and died without my apology. That's the thing about forgiveness. My confession of wrong-doing and request for forgiveness would have been hard. But I'm here to tell you, we are our own worst enemies if we don't, because living with regret is much, much harder.
“Leave him in the car, he never sleeps,” I thought as I parallel-parked my VW Jetta on Sunset Boulevard a few feet past The Viper Room, my employer. I was the resident DJ on Wednesdays, known for spinning quality underground dance rock. Normally I drove to work alone but this night came with a passenger crashed out on route, my upstairs neighbor, Dave.
Dave and I had a decent friendship after living in the same building in Silverlake for years. Like a tinker Santa Claus, he would pull up in his truck with the bed full of scavenge and hand out random items from his sleigh. A vintage lamp, an antique six-pack of empty Coca-Cola bottles, a broken chair. See, Dave was a tweaker. A veteran user. Up for days at a time. Polite and well-kept but beholden to a massive addiction.
He wanted to go to the club with me. So, we went.
I ran into him outside on the sidewalk after my set. “Where did you go? Why did you leave me in the car?” he shouted. “Dave, you were sleeping so soundly, you looked cozy. I figured you wanted some peace and quiet,” which was the truth. “You’re not gonna be happy with me,” he whimpered. “Why, what did you do?” as I walked over to my car. So far, so good. That’s when I saw the black marker scribblings covering the windshield. Mad scribblings all over the seats. The driving wheel had been stabbed. He had no idea why he did it. “I’m sorry. I need help,” as he broke into tears. “You’re a mess. WTF! This is it. I’m done,” I screamed. “Can you take me to the bus station downtown?” he whispered. “Yeah, that’s the last thing I’ll do for you. Get some help. You need it.”
There are times to choose forgiveness quickly. It helps us on the journey. Keep your forgiveness at the ready. You never know when you will need it but need it you will.
My brother and I didn’t forgive our stepdad when he left my mum for the second time. We could finally say it – David was a nobhead, and had always been one. My grandma, who disapproved of swearing, called him ‘a bastard’.
This new perspective allowed me to forgive myself for an incident that still had the power to twist my stomach with dread. It went from being one of the worst things I’d ever done to being a non-event.
When I was thirteen, I lost David’s tennis racket. He’d let me borrow it even though he’d gotten it for his Bar Mitzvah. It was slightly embarrassing, using a chunky racket with weird flannel stuck to the edges, but at least nobody would want to steal it. So where the hell was it? We never found out.
On the last day of term, I couldn’t find it in the school’s huge racket cupboard, so I assumed it was at home – it wasn’t. Mum saw right through my breezy ‘Oh, it’s around here somewhere’ and went ballistic. She told me to go back to school, even though it was closed. I called my grandma in tears and she got two buses to help me look. The school caretaker helped too, but it wasn’t anywhere.
For days, Mum and David barely spoke to me. I woke up every morning with a horrible feeling in my gut that haunted me whenever I thought about the incident, even years later – until the nobhead epiphany. When David left, I not only forgave my thirteen-year-old self for losing his beloved tennis racket, but the memory made me smile an evil smile.
I had taken responsibility for my mother after my father-s death. Shortly after settling in with me in Baltimore where I was working, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her answer to what she wished to do about it was “cut it off”. She seemed to be healing nicely when after a routine visit the Dr. discovered that the cancer had metastasized, and the prognosis was not good. It was at this point that I let the “headhunters “who had been recruiting me for a position in Philadelphia know that I would consider it. In January of 1994 we arrived during an ice storm.
I arranged for a caretaker to spend the days with my mother while I was at work. We bravely accepted the circumstances, and I was happy to have this time with her and bring some closure to our tumultuous relationship.
One day the care person was alarmed by my mother’s condition and said we should call an ambulance. We went to the emergency room where they treated her for dehydration. I was ready for us to go home and arrange for nursing care. However, the Dr. insisted she would be better off in the hospital as they could monitor her during the night.
The hospital was full and the only bed free was on the AIDS ward. The room had not been cleaned. Shortly after they put things right. I was so uneasy about her being there. She in her “mother knows best” mode insisted I go home and get some rest.
Two hours later I received a call that she had died. I raced to the hospital finding a sheepish group of medical staff awaiting me. “How could this have happened? Three hours ago she was resting.” My mother’s body was covered up to the neck and her pale face looked grotesque as they had hastily put her teeth in crooked. I pulled the sheet down and found her skin had been flayed from when they tried to resuscitate her.
It was at that moment I felt I could never forgive myself for yielding to authority, that of the medical staff and my mother. To this day I have a recurring dream in which I beg for forgiveness. There was a more humane and dignified death that I had envisioned for my mother.
My father was a passionate goalkeeper and our daily life was about training and championship. My mother met my stepfather, who later turned out to be an alcoholic, and left my father. My father disappeared from my life for 11 years. Until the day my stepfather died.
The contact slowly developed again, but our meetings were always characterized by reproaches and tears. Then my father visited me once in Heidelberg during my studies. Again… the past. But this time we broke off the discussion and we just hugged. We haven't talked about the old stories since.
Last week I had a lovely experience with my father. I went to dinner with my partner at our village bar in Spain. Football was on that night - Madrid against Barcelona - and the bar was full of people watching the game. And we - having no idea about football - right in the middle of it. I quickly wrote to my dad. My father stood with advice and action to the side, watched the game also, and we sent us photos via Whatsapp and cheers. A "joint" football evening that ended with a "good night and kiss emoji".
I spilled my dad’s secrets. He was in the bedroom, music playing loudly, and his love and I sat in plastic chairs at the table. I used a translation app and pantomime to help me say it. It felt important to speak because she told me how much my dad loved us and my mom. And there were too many years of not addressing things with him like we did with our mom.
After speaking with her I went to their bedroom because I don’t like talking behind someone’s back. He was on the bed, bony, still, a thin sheet covering some of him. The room was dark and beautifully filled with music.
Speaking clearly even with a lot of tears, something like, Dad, I remember a lot. I still picture different moments, still see you outside of the screen door on Hope Street. I don’t hold anything against you. We love you, we’re at peace and we want you to be, too. And so on.
He needed to know what I knew before he died. I didn’t know what he’d say but now I love that it was just this: I’m glad you could reconcile that for yourself, baby.
When Eric and Kenny got a puppy, their cats, Tux and Millie, took to hiding out in a closet. Eric got a job back East and arranged for the new tenants to take the kitties. I offered to check in on them between when the guys left and the new folks moved in. "They'll be fine, we left a box, water, and food". I insisted on checking in. No sooner had they left then workers immediately got rid of everything and left a window open. Tux was found hiding behind a curtain. No Millie. I set up a trap and she was caught a week later. I took them in; overwhelmed and resentful, now with 3 pets in a tiny studio. Tux was especially affectionate which felt more like neediness; only amplifying my resistance. When he got sick and began to loose weight, he drew closer. I softened, but not enough. When it was time, I took him to be euthanized. His eyes were still bright and trained on me as he fell into the sleep that comes before the final injection. I cried. I apologized. When they carried his body away, I didn't ask for his ashes back. I deeply regret that. I did email Eric and Kenny and told them exactly what I thought of them.
In her life story, she was cheated out of a better life multiple times, and the anger she carries with her because of that is what keeps her alive.
An education cut short because she had to work, a marriage cut short because of betrayal, a career cut short because of racism, a daughter who doesn’t live up to her duties – someone else is always to blame.
So when I experienced what some might think of as betrayal, I made an effort to forgive, though it wasn’t easy. How dare he/she/they do that? It helped to acknowledge my own role in it all. Now we are a well-adjusted patchwork family.
Forgiving myself is harder when that small critical voice inside, embedded during formative years, rears its head and expresses its disappointment at goals not reached, successes not met, dreams unfulfilled. It took me a while to realize that, although it might be impossible to silence, it is possible to accept it, and simply move on.
I deeply believe in actively avoiding the need for forgiveness, especially from yourself. One of the first serious interactions I had with my husband was when his frail father had a terrible accident landing him in critical condition. Many years ago, the family was left for another woman, who also had children, and my husband was sent to boarding school. He had only briefly mentioned their “strained relationship.” My immediate thought was that these two stoic British males had a diminishing opportunity to resolve the dissonance between them. “Go tell your father that you love him,” was advice I knew sounded typically American and wholly uncomfortable to him, but I liked this new man in my life and urgently encouraged him to avoid regret over an awkward but potentially pivotal moment. Forgive him and avoid needing to forgive yourself for not doing so by seizing this opportunity. I didn't know him well at this point but on the evening he was visiting the hospital, I spoke with a close friend of his who had already lost his father. He quite seriously congratulated and thanked me by reservedly stating,”You've done a good thing there.” I think that, along with my willingness to play make-believe and my adventurous spirit, this event is why Christopher married me.