Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sorry after 21 Years....

One of the amazing things about online sites where you can get reacquainted with people you haven't seen in years is that you get the chance to say as an adult things you wish you had said in younger years. In this case, "I'm sorry for...," whatever it was you did to hurt someone else. This in no way means to excuse the actual harm that was done, it means letting maturity acknowledge that you wish you hadn't done what you did. There is no mandate stating that forgiveness must be granted, but having the one who wronged you actually acknowledge their role does matter.

Let me start with a story from my own life where I did the wronging to set the scene for what happened tonight. In my own life, I wanted so badly to apologize to a girl whom I had hurt deeply. I went to a Christian school that was just getting going, and many of the things that would be no big deal in a public school were major issues at this private school. The truth is, I was jealous that my best friend my Junior year, Angie, was becoming closer to the new girl, Sarah, than to me. I knew Sarah needed friends, and truthfully, they had more to relate to in each other than I did to them, as their lives growing up were similarly difficult. I was feeling like the oddball out. At the same time, I began hanging around with some friends who didn't like Sarah much, and began spreading stories around about her- some true and some exaggerated. I didn't at this point do any spreading, but I listened and laughed or began to harbor the information internally for later use.

When Sarah began dating the boy who had just broken up with me, my jealousy just increased with their happiness. A letter was found between the two of them, and its contents became public knowledge around the school. The Administrative Staff felt it necessary to take the occasion as an oppurtunity to separate the 9-12th grade boys and girls for a three hour discussion on "appropriate behaviors between young Christian couples." At this point in my life I was the biggest "tease" in attendance. Guys knew I wouldn't do things with them, but I knew exactly what to do, how to walk, when to stretch, and how to give a certain look to attract their attention. I could make them believe I was interested in activities I had no intention of actually participating in. I was 5' 8 1/2" tall, weighing 125 lbs.- taller, thinner, and built more well-endowed than most of the girls. As guys caught on to the fact that I was only a "tease," their interest faded and they sought girls who would participate. Instead of dating these guys, I became best friends with several of them. This gave me a place the other girls didn't have, and the oppurtunity to hear exactly what the guys were thinking.

Through this, Sarah became a target. One day, I was walking with my guy friends and we passed Sarah on the steps. Winter was upon us, and we bagan to say, "Ho Ho Ho- Merry Christmas!" We knew this wouldn't be strange to the administration, but Sarah would get the point. After all the fuss that had been raised over the letter between she and her boyfriend, and comments being made already about her by others, our jesting was the final straw, and she burst into sobbing tears and ran into the office. My friends though it was funny, but I immediately felt a pang of immense guilt inside. I knew we had just hurt her deeply, but instead of feeling triumphant or justified, I felt awful! Of course, I didn't say this to my friends because I wanted their acceptance.

I didn't see much of Sarah after that. She would come to school on some days and stay home on others. She withdrew from everyone except for Angie. The next year Sarah didn't return. After I graduated the next year, I left and never looked back. I didn't keep contact with most of the people I knew. A couple of years later, I ran into Angie and she gave me an update on both she and Sarah. At the mention of Sarah, I would have flashbacks to that moment on the stairs of the school. Too proud to say anything about feeling bad or apologizing, I let it go.

More time passed, and then about five years ago, Angie called me. I hadn't heard from her in years, but she turned to me at this particular moment.

"Sarah's dead," she said.

"What?" I responded.

"It's complicated," she continued, "but they rushed her to St. Luke's Northland in Kansas City, and she died. Things weren't going well in her life. Her little girls are with her mother, as they have no one else."

I took a deep breath and all the guilt poured out in tears, "I am so sorry!"

I knew I meant this in so many ways. I was sorry to Angie for losing her friend, I was sorry to Sarah for never being a big enough person to apologize, and most of all I was sorry that Sarah's life was gone so young. If only I hadn't said what I had to break her, then maybe she'd have gone a different path in life. I was unable to attend her service, but was able to arrange for beautiful flowers in her honor to be sent for Angie, to know that I supported her and cared. It was the only gift I could give to Sarah at this point, too. I asked if I could do anything for the girls, and asked Angie to keep me updated on things. I told Angie about the horrible thing I had said to Sarah, and how I wished I could take it back. I told her how I had for years wanted to apologize to Sarah but hadn't. Now it was too late, and all because of my pride.

I haven't heard much from Angie since then, but I've never gotten over the guilt and I have used this as an example in my life for taking caution and care in my actions and words to not cause pain. I wish I had said, "I'm sorry, Sarah. I was a jerk. Please forgive me!" I wish she had known that I meant every word of it before she had died.

I tell this story to set up tonight's story. Late last night I was reacquainted with someone who had hurt me both emotionally and physically my Sophomore year, at a different Christian school. He was a Senior, and I was smitten with the idea of having an older guy for a boyfriend. I was willing to tolerate being mistreated, not only by him, but his best friend, as well. They would slap me across the face and say mean things as they walked by my cubicle. Then, he would be kind and want to take me out. It was always a yo-yo of behaviors.

On one such occasion, I had begged my parents to let me go with him to get stereo speakers at the mall, and then to his mom's house to hang out. They had hesitantly agreed, as I had convinced them that things would be fine, and we wouldn't do anything we shouldn't. We did go to the mall, and stop by to see his mom shortly, but then we went and picked up his best friend. At this point, he changed into a bully. They drove me to a neighborhood I really wasn't familiar with and knew no one in. All I knew was that it was a dangerous neighborhood. They drove to a school that had an unlit playground. They pulled me from the car and tied me to the domed jungle gym. They slapped me and told me they were going to rape me. I began to cry and was terrified. This made them laugh. I begged them not to hurt me, and they said they would leave me alone tonight, but that they were going to leave me tied up there for whomever came along. It was so dark, I could hardly see the houses. I was shaking and sobbing. At that time cell phones weren't in, so I had no way to contact my family and tell them where I was. They got in the car and drove away. They were gone for about five minutes, and then they reappeared and untied me and shoved me in the front seat between them. They told me that I had better not tell anyone or they would really rape me next time, and tell all my friends things. I cried and promised not to. They drove me around until I calmed down, and then dropped me off at home, where I was forced to kiss this acquaintance goodnight.

My parents were already in bed asleep when I crept in and climbed the stairs to my room. I tried avoiding seeing anyone so that I wouldn't have to talk about the night. I believed the threats they had made. I never told my parents what happened. My dad would have retaliated with violence.

I never asked to go anywhere with this particular guy again, but his buddy was my daily ride to school. He enjoyed taunting me about it and I could say nothing. They would continue to walk by me at school and slap me when the adults weren't around. School ended shortly after that for the year and they graduated. I decided not to return to that school.

How does this all play into the first story? Tonight, after 21 years, this particular acquaintance apologized to me for how he had treated me back then. He shared that he was a husband and father of a son that he wanted to set a good example for. He hadn't had a father around growing up. See, I realized that he was carrying around the guilt of his actions for 21 years, and I could understand that need to apologize. I understood the sincerity of his adult apology, and because of this I could say to him, "I forgive you for anything that happened back then."

He got the chance to apologize before it was too late, and because I understood both his guilt and the need for grace, I could forgive him tonight.....after 21 years.

1 comment:

Doobie Star said...

I don't know how to comment on this. I wish I had been your friend back then. But I realize also that there is a reason for everything. You are an amazing woman to be able to relate your pain to the pain caused in another person. I admire your strength and am proud to call you my friend.