From a very young age, I remember trying to apologize. It was never anything specific, but I always seemed to feel that if I could say I was sorry for (whatever), people would feel better and would be happy.
I remember apologizing to my 5th grade teacher (oh, how I wish I could remember her name!). Not because I’d done anything wrong, but because it seemed like she needed to hear it. We’d had a substitute the day before, and somehow I knew that the class as a whole had not been very good. The next day when our regular teacher came back, I remember vividly standing in front of her desk waiting for a chance to say something while she chatted with another teacher. And I remember vividly how she ignored me until she no longer could.
“Mrs. Bucannan” (there it is!), I stammered. “I’m sorry that the class misbehaved yesterday.”
She brushed me off, but she did say thank you, and then told me to sit back down. I remember feeling ashamed. Not because I’d done anything wrong. But because it didn’t seem like my apology was enough. Because she laughed at me as I walked away, and rolled her eyes at her friend.
As a teen, this continued. I remember not feeling like I was good enough, but that it was somehow my fault. I didn’t dress right, or I didn’t act right, but rather than try and work on these things, my family let me continue to try and apologize. A lot of frustration was born during those years – nothing I could do was right, and no matter how much I tried to apologize and fix it, it didn’t matter. Even when I did something right – making the drill team – it wasn’t right, because stepsister didn’t make it. That day, I called to share the news, and when I got home, I had a flyer from a boarding school for troubled teens waiting for me in my room. Gee. Thanks. (The attempted selling point on this school? They had a car that you could drive if you got enough points during the week. Whee.)
People don’t hear apologies when they don’t want to.
Many years later when I got married, I wrote a letter to my dad, and tried to apologize. All those teen years of frustration had culminated into a great big ball of hurt, but once again, I wanted to try and make things better. Looking back, it was one-sided. But this time, there was a turning point. I wrote a very long letter, asking for forgiveness for the wrongs of the past, and asking if we could move forward and start over. I did actually get a phone call after the letter was received. But it wasn’t the acceptance of the apology I offered. I was told that it was a very nice letter, but that the water under the bridge, so to speak, was deep.
That was the year that I moved on. The letter and subsequent phone call started it, but it was Christmas that year that did it. We were invited to come to the step-aunts house to exchange gifts. I was so nervous – it was the first time in roughly five years that I had been invited “back.” We knocked on the door, and dad answered, and then brought us to the formal living room in the front of the house. Seems wonderful, right? Wayward daughter invited back to be a part of the family again? Not.
The remainder of the family – stepmother, stepsister, step aunts/uncles/cousins/2nd cousins – didn’t join us. They stayed in the back of the house. I could hear them, being a normal family. Except that we were very obviously not included. In that front room was just me, my husband, and my dad. I think we were there for maybe an hour, and not once were we joined by anyone.
It was humiliating. Devastating. I cried all the way home, and then even more after. No matter what I tried to do, nothing was good enough for them. And sometime after that I came to the realization that I’d needed for a long time.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough for them. They weren’t good enough for me. And by continually playing into their wants and needs and dysfunctional behavior – I was letting them control me. Not any longer.
It took many, many years to come to peace with my dad for choosing his “other” family. It took many, many more years to overcome the hurt of his choice. I’ve been told he missed me every day. I missed him as well, but I had come to realize that he had made his choice, and in his eyes, my hurt was insubstantial and unwarranted. Before he passed away in 2008, we did have a chance to talk, honestly and openly. And all the ugly got talked about instead of avoided. His family didn’t appreciate the things I said to him. Frankly – I didn’t and still don’t care what they did or didn’t think, because my conversation with him was just between the two of us. What he cared to share with them was his choice, and if they were hurt by that – it was by him. The only apology I offered that night on the phone was that I was sorry I hadn’t expressed my hurt before. Because I’d put on a pleasant face when we interacted, he believed – or convinced himself into believing – that everything was fine and that all that deep water under the bridge had cleared. Which couldn’t have been further from the truth, but it was okay by then. I was okay by then. I switched bridges and took a different path.
By the time we hung up that night, we both understood each other better. And his “family” can’t take that away from me. They were the reason I missed many years with him, but they can’t change the fact that in the end, when it mattered, we found each other again. By that time, I was a very different person, and we never did develop the relationship we had when I was much younger. But it didn’t hurt anymore.