This afternoon, I apologized to my dropped phone. I apologize to the television when I mute it. I apologize to a photograph of my dead dog because I didn’t take him to the beach enough. Each morning, I apologize to my mother’s hutch — she’s gone, too — because it will not survive the imminent kitchen renovation.
And yet, saying you’re sorry when you’ve hurt another person — that’s hard. I’m not a cheater or a felon, but I am a flawed human with certain, um, tendencies: too judgmental, too smart-mouthed, too much with the in vino veritas. I have said — and will probably say again — something hurtful to someone I care about. As I’ve gotten older, I recognize the foot-in-mouth warning signs: tight neck, hot ears, high voice, bottomless wine glass. I’ve learned to shut up, mostly, except sometimes, I don’t. If I apologize, the relationship deepens and I feel good.
There have been times when I needed an apology that never came from a friend, a lover, a family member, a husband (no longer mine). Decades later, that need for unsaid words — I am sorry I hurt you — takes up space in the dimly-lit storage unit that is my brain, where shelves sag under the weight of poorly-cataloged memories and fuzzy assumptions about way-back-when, all of it crammed next to boxed-up grievances and regrets. By now, — sorry, Marie Kondo — it’s a hoarder’s paradise. Remembering hurt brings the hurt back, and I know that I was not — am not — worth an apology. I feel bad.
So, starting next month in this column, I’ll explore an incident from two angles: my belief that I am owed an apology, and then, wondering if maybe I owe the apology.
Why take this backward look?
I’m sixty-six. The stark reality is that age isn’t just a number, no matter how many “you go girl” cheers I collect. I occupy a body, I inhabit a face, I see my reflection and I am keenly aware that the years ahead are fewer than those I’ve already loved living.
I don’t want to get old — who does? But since no alternative has presented itself, I do know I want to grow old with intention and purpose and, dare I say, some grace within the chaos of life, especially these crazy days. I want to take a hard look at who I have been, so I can do better as I move into my foreshortened future.
Heavy, I know. But there’s a benefit to all this aging business and it’s called wisdom, and it’s real and you can’t have any until you’re around fifty-five or sixty (or thereabouts). Mine is a concoction of perception, and experience, and intuition (a woman-thing I’ve often ignored), and common sense (which my father said I didn’t have, but I do). Wisdom lets me recognize the poor sense of direction that took me off course in the past, distracted by shiny things like desire and ego.
As a canary in the coal mine of aging — I write about it a lot — I need the GPS of wisdom to help me navigate better than I did when I was young and heedless. When I crashed into people and hurt them and couldn’t, or wouldn’t, acknowledge it. When I got crashed into, or crushed. Because I still feel it, all of it, like once-fractured bones that ache with the weather.
Next month, I’m going to check back on one of those painful events, long ago though it was. I was 21, about to be married in a big, glitzy, Long Island wedding, and I went to my mother and told her I wanted to — had to — call the whole thing off. What happened next, the way it went, is one of those things that pokes at me, still, in the middle of the night. I want — I need — to take a closer look. I’m going to try and remember the hurt, and reframe it so maybe, possibly, it will hurt a little less. Or at least, make more sense now that I’m older, and a mother of daughters. Maybe, possibly, I’ll be able to turn up the lights in the storage unit, do a little Kondo decluttering, and trust my hard-won wisdom to help me find some fresh joy.
Is there anyone you wish you could apologize to? Are there still apologies you’re waiting for? Share your story in the comments below.
About Stephanie Gangi
Stephanie Gangi is a poet, essayist and fiction writer. Carry the Dog is her second novel. Her acclaimed debut, The Next, was published by St. Martin’s Press. Gangi’s shorter work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Catapult, Dame, LitHub, Hippocrates Poetry Anthology, McSweeney’s, New Ohio Review, Next Tribe, The Woolfer. She lives in New York City, where she is at work on The Good Provider, her third novel.
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