I know who I am, I said to her. I mentioned the time I called from New Orleans but asked her not to tell family where I was, the time I called her from a hospital, the times I called in the middle of the night but never remembered the next day. I mentioned the time I told her I would, if I had a dollar, buy a beer, but I didn’t have a dollar. I mentioned postcards from Paris and Boston and Georgia that must have felt like a trickster’s version of a treasure hunt, the clues leading to nothing. I apologized for ruining her suede boots, and the lilac colored kitten heels, and the red ones with the strap around the ankle. I apologized for not being at her high school graduation or her bridal shower. I apologized for getting drunk at her groom’s dinner, hungover and scowlish through the whole wedding. I acknowledged not remembering half of the things I ought to be apologizing for, and wondered aloud whether it was ever the drunk times that were the hard times, or if it wasn’t simply exhausting to deal with me, always. I recalled the time I promised I would get help, and didn’t. The time I got help, and quit. And the time I showed up at her apartment in the middle of the night, sober and too skinny, saying I had no where else to go. Slept on her couch a week, and then left a note that said I’m sorry, I can’t. I apologized for the time she came to see me in New York and had nothing but sour milk in the kitchen.
I’ve hated you, sometimes, I said. Envy I talked of, shame, neediness, grief and hard corded anger that had simmered so long and gone so deep it was varnished cold.
There is an element of reparation to apology. One pays one’s debts or restores losses as best as can be. One tries to ‘make up’ for what has been lost. But any honest accounting acknowledges that there is interest accumulated in harm done: that it is never the material lost and no time lost can ever be restored. These are important, but as gesture, as seal, as acting on the desire to be better henceforward. But they do nothing, nothing, to heal.
The injured does not want to be compensated because they’ve lost something. They want to be healed because they have been hurt.
I know you, I see your hurt, it is real. I know what I am. restored not my dignity, but hers. Step out of me, heart. Or: step into me, world.
We both looked into the river. She wondered how old a willow was. I didn’t venture to guess.
Do you remember the willow? She asked. She meant the one on the shore of the lake where we grew up, grown out sideways from the bank that became the shore that became a hill. When we were little, she called it the hairy tree. The yellow hairy tree. You could walk out on its branches, eight or twelve feet over the water, and disappear from earth. Below, sunfish and sandy bottomed water, shoals of minnows, dropped leaves of the willow like a carpet, flowing.
Yes, I said. I remember.