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Eighteen

Eighteen

It was August. Warm and sultry, the night air so sweet. There were stars for miles. Some lunar calendar will probably say my memory lies, but I recall a moon bright enough to light our path. It was the kind of night I’ve craved ever since—warm enough to walk late into the night, late into the future, talking until it is no longer late, but early. Secrets told and kept and loved. And I can look back and see what should have been obvious: this night was the beginning of everything.

But it felt like such an ending. I remember standing there, clinging to you, my arms wrapped around my best friend. Underneath your down-filled coat I could feel your heart beating, never suspecting the cause. Running my fingers over and over the coarseness of the twill of your jacket—it’s a physical sensation that is embedded into my core. So soothing to hold you, to hear your heart, to trace figure eights in the texture of your clothing. Even then, I was seeking patterns I could recognize.

So we stood there for hours. Our faces turned up to see the sky—bright, bright and yet, the stars couldn’t outshine you, even in the dark. You were such a giant. So full of life and hope and boy were you dreaming that night. We stood there, hanging on to our childhoods. Holding back the change tomorrow held. To separate colleges, in different countries. We could not be going further from each other.

It was August, warm and sultry and tomorrow you were leaving for college. And then, then you changed my world forever. You kissed me.

I didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect you. It wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t tender, it wasn’t hesitant, it was nothing I expected a kiss from you to be. Who was this man kissing me? No boy I knew. That kiss, that kiss was powerful. It ripped wide my expectations, it tore away all my preconceptions, and it told the truth even you didn’t want to admit. We were saying goodbye, but you’d been harboring a lot more than friendship. And judging from the state of my knees, you weren’t alone.

I wasn’t ready then to love you. But I couldn’t ignore the power of that kiss—and it would eat away at me until four months later it would occur to me, that glorious you were probably kissing other girls that way. The very thought made me jealous! I was always slow to figure things out.

I have to tell you—and yes, maybe I need to tell the world—nothing has changed. Baby, when you kiss me, I still feel like my world is being ripped wide open and exploding with potential. You believe in beauty and truth and all that is noble and when I kiss you, I believe it too.

I’m still weak in the knees at the very thought of you. At eighteen I didn’t know that you could fall so completely in love with your best friend. I couldn’t know that tracing patterns on your jacket, standing in the moonlight, counting stars would be the beginning. I couldn’t know that your kiss would set me on the path to my LIFE. But what I did know, was that you were a giant.

And baby, when you kiss me, you still are.

So for you. . . Happy Anniversary.

Someone tell me how I feel
It’s silly wrong but vivid right
Oh, kiss me like the final meal
Yeah, kiss me like we die tonight

Cause holy cow, I love your eyes
And only now I see the light
Yeah, lying with me half-awake
Oh, anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day

When my face is chamois-creased
If you think I’ll wink, I did
Laugh politely at repeats
Yeah, kiss me when my lips are thin

~~Elbow: One Day Like This.

On the Content of an Apology

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill. ~Buddha

I heard this tentative knock on our front door. Before I opened it, I could hear the unmistakable shuffling of feet and muffled sounds of laughter. Boys. There are boys at my door. Their voices grew clearer as I opened the door. “I’d like a word with Boy Wonder,” said the youngest of the group.

Uh oh.

I stepped into the living room where I shamelessly eavesdropped on their conversation. What I heard took my breath away.

“I’m sorry I was such a poor sport yesterday and called you mean names.” With a peek around the corner I could see my son’s young friend looking a little sheepish, his feet pigeon toed and his face sporting a hesitant smile.

And right before my eager eyes, all was forgiven. In an instant, all was well. As a mother of a boy, I can’t help but marvel at the swiftness of these exchanges. Because, while I don’t have a girl, I can clearly remember my childhood and the drama that seemed to swirl around the “fairer” sex. Watching my son with his friends makes me question if indeed womanhood has been misnamed. But, perhaps I’m over-reaching here. Perhaps this swiftness has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with experience.

The thing that gets me about this exchange is not its brevity exactly, as much as what is missing altogether. No justifications are to be found. No modifiers included. Not one trace of obfuscation. That apology was perfectly devoid of any qualifiers. I’m impressed by what it wasn’t: an adult apology! In fact, it seems to be missing all the hallmarks of every apology I’ve ever heard ,or given for that matter, in adulthood.

What happens to us as we grow up that makes us loath to admit responsibility without qualification? Why is it so difficult, when it is clear to everyone involved, to admit we are wrong. Wrong without excuse. Wrong without exceptions. Wrong without explanation. JUST PLAIN WRONG.

And in being wrong, sorry. Terribly sorry for our behavior. So much so, we do not recognize ourselves in the mirror and cannot imagine how we must be viewed. Simply put, we were mean and we’re sorry.

Not, “I was mean, but my sister picked on me all day, I’m sorry.”

Not, “I was mean, but I didn’t really intend to be mean, so I’m sorry.”

Not, “I was mean, but I had a hard day at work/school/life, I’m sorry.”

Not, “Well, you did this to me, so I felt justified being mean, but I’m sorry.”

No. No, no, no, no, no!

It’s not that the “Why” doesn’t matter. Sure, there are reasons for our behavior. Not that we ever really want to admit to all of it. I mean, if the reason is, “I was a real shit!” then, yeah, it’s not so fun to look at that! But in truth, there will be plenty of time later for the reasons. Tacking them onto an apology dilutes the emphasis on our contrition.

If you’re listening to an apology riddled with explanations and qualifications, it can be difficult to hear that contrition. Oh, it’s there. It’s just buried beneath a pile of “yes, buts”. It seems a bit cheeky on the part of the penitent to require you to dig through their denial for your apology. “Here’s a shovel, you’re going to need it, because I’m sorry.” And beyond cheeky, it’s presumptuous to assume those we’ve wounded are interested in our “whys”. We hope they will want to hear our explanations; but tacking them onto an apology is rawest form of entitlement.

No, instead, I would suggest that when we find ourselves in the wrong we choose courage. Courage to admit we screwed up. Courage without qualification. Courage without excuses. And it does take courage to face those we’ve injured and not explain our actions away. It takes a great deal of personal fortitude to face the consequences that come with such an apology. It is possible there will be no easy fix, no fix at all. Qualifying our behavior does not abate the risk, it only lessens the blow for us. And in the process, we side-step being responsible. I’m not sure we can actually call it an apology if there’s a caveat.

We cannot go through life without injuring those we love. It’s just not possible. What marks us, what lays claim to our character, is what we do AFTER we realize we’ve been, well, a shit! We can only strive to be courageous. We can only hope to claim our inner eight-year old self with pigeon-toed feet and hesitant smiles and simply say, “I was mean, I’m sorry.”

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