So I had one of those very rare and potentially life-changing experiences the other day, and it's got me a-thinkin'.
And I probably wouldn't even write about this, except that I kind of feel like I have a responsibility to.
A couple of chapters in IT TAKES A WORRIED MAN deal with a neighbor who drove me and my late wife Kirsten and our daughter Rowen out of our house. I called him The Troll, because Kirsten and I dubbed him that after the troll in The Three Billy Goats Gruff, since he lived underneath us.
Anyway, so I ran into this man on Saturday. And he stopped me and, tears in his eyes, gave a heartfelt and deeply moving apology for his behavior ten years ago. I thanked him, shook his hand, and went into my car and cried.
This is partly because I just experienced this rush of emotion that I still can't quite process. And it was partly because it is just such an incredible relief to forgive this person and not feel angry at him anymore. (I tried forgiving him without an apology, but I couldn't manage it. Because I'm an asshole.)
I am incredibly grateful to this man for having the courage to stop me and say what he said to me.
And I'm a little flummoxed. Because I had parked a lot of my anger over losing my wife at 35 on his doorstep. Of course, his behavior was unrelated to Kirsten's cancer, but it made emotional sense to me even though it makes no logical sense at all. But who can I be mad at now?
So now I'm not mad at him anymore. In fact, I admire his courage in apologizing to me for ten-year-old offenses. And I feel kind of bad that all the nasty shit I said about him remains in that book. And I wonder, who do I owe an apology to for being a dick? Probably a lot of people. I am kinda haunted by a memory of being cruel to Phoebe Wood in the senior lounge one day in 1986.(yeah, kids, you can feel guilty about shit you did in high school even in your 40's) She ran crying from the room, and, as far as I know, I never apologized. So yeah. That was wrong. Phoebe-- no idea if you even remember that, but whether you do or not, I'm sorry.
I came home from having this conversation and found that a blog entry I'd written had pissed off the internet.
I think I made a valid point, but in such a dickish way that I undermined everything I was trying to say.
For over five years, I've wanted an audience for this blog beyond my few long-suffering friends and fans who check in regularly, and I finally got it-- over a thousand hits in two days. I usually get about 80 in two days. But so, great-- a thousand people who never heard of me before yesterday now think I'm an asshole. I'm not sure that's an improvement.
I wrote that entry in such a dickish way because it's kind of easy fun (and, let's face it, lazy writing) to write snarky stuff, of course, but I think it's also a kind of release valve for all of my anger.
I've written before about the fact that I think anger is a proper reaction to injustice; I don't know how anything ever changes if you don't get mad about things that are unfair. But the world is so incredibly unfair on so many fronts that it just gets exhausting to be angry about everything that sucks.
So, I mean, how do you conduct yourself in a world of horror and injustice? Like, how do you acknowledge everything that sucks without adding to the suckishness by being a dick?
Clearly I'm still working on this question.
I kinda wonder if I should blog at all. If it's just going to be a little outlet for my snark and anger, well, those things are hardly in short supply in the world. And in my fiction, especially Donorboy, Long Way Back, and Forever Changes, which I think of, not completely ironically, as my grief trilogy, I tried to counter the ugliness of the world with beauty. I can do that in fiction, but I clearly have a hard time doing it in this format.
And, anyway, I don't think the blogosphere is a very welcoming environment for beauty.
No conclusions today. But since I seem to be a better fiction writer than nonfiction writer, here's an excerpt from my forthcoming novel NOTES FROM THE BLENDER, co-written with Trish Cook, a wonderful and talented white woman.
This scene is late in the book, so I guess it's got a few minor spoilers. But I think it speaks more eloquently to how I'm feeling than anything else I can write right now. In this scene, Delcan, 16, is talking to Carmen, his dad's fiancee and mom of Neilly, the hottest girl in school and his new stepsister.
“So how are you doing?”
“Honestly? I feel like a piece of crap.”
“Lot of that going around today. Neilly said more or less the same thing before she left.”
“She said I was a piece of crap? I’m not really surprised. I pretty much deserve that.”
“No, I mean, she said she felt horrible.”
“Yeah. I guess that’s my fault. Where’d she go?”
“She went to the Day of the Dead thing with your dad.” Well, that was weird. “I guess—so you guys had some kind of fight or something?”
“Or something. It’s actually pretty embarrassing. I don’t feel like talking about it. I don’t . . . I mean . . . I don’t know what the . . . I just feel totally lost right now. You know? I just want to be happy, and I guess I don’t know how. I kind of thought that having a girlfriend or whatever . . . I don’t know, like the girl I thought I liked didn’t show up last night, and Neilly had told me to give up on her ages ago, which I guess I should have listened to, but anyway. It’s like, I scared Chantelle away by being angry, and Neilly’s been, like, my best friend, like the person my age who’s really stood by me, and now I was a dick and drove her away by being angry. And I’m always barking at Dad. I’m too . . . I’m mad all the time, and I kind of like it, you know, but it gets . . . I guess I’m just tired. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah. I think so.” She ate a bite of Chunky Monkey. “I know this is kind of a dumb question, but is it just your mom that you’re mad about? I mean, this”—she gestured around the room with her spoon—“this was a big change that we sprang on you, and I know it’s got to be—”
“No. Dad was right about that. It’s better. It’s more fun.” I paused for a minute. “I guess I should maybe tell him that.”
“He’d appreciate it.”
“Yeah. Well. Anyway, I guess, yeah, I’m mad about mom. I just . . . it’s not fair that so many people who suck are still alive and my mom is dead. It’s not fair that other people take their moms for granted and I’ll never get to know mine at all, not really, I mean, not like who she was besides being a little kid’s mom.” And now I started to cry. “I mean, you know? It’s not fair. None of it’s fair. I miss her. You know? I mean, I’m happy for you guys, I actually am, and you can tell Dad I said that because I’m probably too chickenshit to say it myself, and I’m glad for Junior that he’s going to have two parents. I just miss my mom. I want my mom back, and she’s never ever coming back.” My head was down on the table now, and Carmen put a hand, freezing from holding a bowl of ice cream, on the back of my head. It felt good.
“I’m so sorry, sweetie,” she said. “And”—my head was still on the table, and I was talking tearfully at the wall—“I don’t want to be mad all the time, you know, but I just don’t want to . . . it’s like being mad about her being dead is the only thing left that connects me to Mom. It feels like I’d be betraying her if I stop.” Carmen rubbed my head some more with her freezing-cold hand. I guess that’s, like, a thing moms do. It was really nice. But it made me cry more.
“Sweetie,” she said, and I didn’t mind her calling me that, “do you think your mom would want you to be mad forever?”
“I don’t know if I can help it,” I said.