Tag Archives: self-forgiveness

The Other Side of Things

(Continued from June 3rd, 2012.)

In beginning of the summer, he told her he would be flying in.  She waited for a clarification, in silence.

The flurry of his messages resumed in a few days:  the tiny little jabs that, with his craftiness and her gullibility in tow, could easily be reinterpreted as tiny strokes of her ego; and if she really, really wanted to feel needed and missed — she could be pleased.  He was visiting his mother.  She said hello, said that she was sorry about how things had turned out.  She’d always “liked her”.  He spoke about how sick and tired of the North-East he had grown.  (They’d moved there together years ago, on the basis of her curiosity alone, pretty much.  Being young in New York sounded perfect, at the time.)  And wouldn’t it be nice to raise a family out here, instead?  She would’ve made a wonderful mother.

On that, she came out of her silence:  “What do you want, Mike?!” she texted.  (She had always avoided abbreviations in her messages; but with him, she also insisted on being brutally precise with her punctuation.)

But her irritation went right over his head:  “dunno hang out?” he wrote back.

It had to be a bliss to not see life’s gray areas at all, and to trample over other people’s precious boundaries with this much oblivion.  Or could he be simply manipulative?  Perhaps, he enjoyed watching her lose her cool, for his sake.  But the casualty with which he treated their break-up she found plainly and increasingly offensive:  He had been acting as if nothing terrible had happened at all and as if they could remain friends, on the other side.  Didn’t he know long it took for her to achieve the lightness of the forgiven past?

They took a few days off from talking.  She began sleeping a lot.

 

When he finally appeared, she wished her mind had tricked her into not recognizing him.  She wished he had changed.  But no:  A pair of long shorts ending at his half shins; a one inch buzz cut of his coarse, tight curls, which he had worn the same way for years; and a backpack.  And a sizable backpack at that!  (The day they met back in college, she was stumbling across the campus from the bus stop.  Having left her glasses at home, she was walking by memory.  He was leaving his Calculus class, in shorts and — yes! — with a backpack.  A sizable backpack!)

Now, he was walking on the opposite side of the street.  He seemed to have noticed her from ways away.  Eventually, she noticed him too:  that gait, that tilt of the head.  She felt zero sentimentality.  Once they made eye contact, he didn’t smile.  Neither did she.

“Oh, no!  Your hair!” he said right off the bat.  He now stood in front of her, his lower lip chapped from the wind.  “What happened to your hair?”

She had cut it all off, in the heat of the new city; and she’d been keeping it that way, since they’d last seen each other.

“And where are you off to?” she responded, immediately defensive.  “Camping in the canyons?”

It was just like she remembered the very end of them:  terse non-sequiturs and impatient physical contact.  Now, they had both grown older, but not kinder.

Considering to take an offense, he looked at her with his shiny eyes, then shrugged.  They exchanged a stiff hug.  (How long does it take for the muscle memory of lovers to fade?)  She braised the air near his cheek with a polite kiss, but their skin never touched.  He pulled away, held her arms for a moment, looking into her eyes.  Forcing it.  Then, after studying her boyish hairline again, he shook his head.  At least, he was smiling this time.

“Can I get you a drink?” he sized up the empty plastic cup on her end of the patio table, with its walls murky from a blend of coffee and milk.

“I don’t know:  Can you?”  She narrowed her eyes.  She was beginning to feel tired and bitchy again.  A tension headache was squeezing her temples.  She sat back down.  His backpack now took up the chair across from her.  She began to study pedestrians, particularly the ones with dogs.  When the dogs were left waiting outside, tied down to immoveable objects, she wondered how this much love could ever be forsaken.  How could love survive this much waiting?

When he returned, with two identical iced drinks, he plopped the backpack down onto the dirt patch, himself — into the chair.  Brazen, she thought.  Not even an apology for having her wait for him for nearly half an hour.

“So.  How the hell are you?” he said, while twirling the cubes of ice inside his coffee with a straw.  They clunked against each other, dully.

“Well.”

He nodded:  “Yeah.  I’d say.”  She watched him take a good stretch in his metal chair and yawn.

“You?” she said.

“Bueno!” he said and grinned at her with that boyish bravado that he’d nearly lost at the end of their marriage.  His arms hung stretched behind his head.  “It’s good to be back, I’ll tell you that much,” he said.

She felt her headache tighten.  She needed fresh air, or rather moving air, against her face.  She wanted to be crying under the rain.  She wished to be in the water.

So, she stood up, groped the chair for her purse and picked up her drink.  “Mind if we walk to the beach?” she said.

His eyes, despite the panicked confusion (was it something he said?), began to shine with a curiosity.  “Yeah.  Sure,” he responded.  “That would be awesome!”

She shook her head.  He was pushing now.

Not wanting to go through the store filled with other people, exhausted by the sun, she began to search for the gate of the patio.  She needed to be near the water, to hear it, and to imagine all that distance stretching ahead of her and all the places on the other side.

“Set Me Free, Why Don’t Cha, Babe? Get Outta My Life, Why Don’t Cha, Babe?!”

“First of all:

I am tired.  I am true of heart!

And also:

You are tired.  You are true of heart!” — 

Dave Eggers,  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Sometimes, forgiveness — means being silent.

You are still thinking of that person who has mishandled you, who has mistreated, misunderstood it all — someone who has committed a sad misstep.  But, of course, you think of him!  How could he?!

But time happens.  It keeps on happening.  That just can’t be helped.

And as the time happens, his misstep seems sadder and sadder.  But it’s rarely tragic, really — if you look at it hard enough.  It may be chaotic, self-serving, unfair.  Foolish and hideous.  Confusing.  Unkind.

But in the end, it’s just sadder.  Especially if you commit yourself — to forgiveness.

For a while, his face floats above your head like a helium filled balloon, tied to the shoulder strap of your luggage.  And you lug it around:  Because these — are your “things”, you see.  And you feel like you’ve gotta keep holding onto them.  You’ve gotta keep holding on!  Because what would you be — if it weren’t for your “things”?

So, the balloon keeps following you, floating above — a strangely pretty thing:  The head of a decapitated ghost.  If you look at it closely enough — it’s quite beautiful, actually, in that post-fuck-up sort of a way.  You can still see the beloved’s face.  You remember the cause of your love.  But there is also a tiredness there that can be confused for peace.  And there are consequences that may result in grace, eventually — when the time allows.

You just gotta commit yourself to time.

You just gotta commit yourself — to forgiveness.

But you aren’t ready yet.  Or so you say.  So you keep lugging the luggage around, earning calluses on your shoulders:

“These are my ‘things’, you see!”

“Oh, yes!  How could he?!” others respond.

At first, you are selective with the audience to your story.  Perhaps, you’ll tell it to your shrink, or to your folks.  When you do, there will be grief written on their faces.

Okay, maybe the shrink will remain stoic:  She’s got too many of you’s — and many more are worse off than you.  But your folks:  They might humor you.  They’ll feel badly.  They’ll behold.  They’ll even claim to pray, on your behalf.  (You’re too busy to pray for yourself, with all that condemnation being flaunted at the balloon-face.  But don’t worry:  Your gods will forgive you for forsaking them (and for forsaking your better self), until you’re ready to commit yourself — to forgiveness.)

“How could he?!” your folks will say.

And it’ll feel good, for a while:  all this attention to your story.  To your “things”.  So, you’ll start telling the story to your friends.

They are good people — your friends, aren’t they?  They will leap to conclusions and advice.  They’ll take your side, if their definition of friendship matches yours.  But some will judge.  Others will hold back.  And some will even want to share their story, because to them, that’s how empathy works:  It gives space — to their sadder, sadder stories that aren’t really tragic.  Except, when you (or they) are in the midst of the story, tragedy is a lot more precise.  It matches the weight of the “things”.

You may get annoyed at your friends.  You may disagree.  You may even demand more kindness.  Or more time.

Because time — keeps on happening.  That just can’t be helped.

And you wish, it would move at a slower pace, sometimes.

And, okay, you just may get a little bit more of it, if you keep retelling your story to enough new people.

“How could he?!” they’ll say.

And you’ll get off, for a bit.  (Feel better yet?)

One day, though, you’ll catch yourself in the midst of sadness.  You’ll be showing your “things”, the way you always do, waiting for the “How could he?!” to follow.  Your habitual anticipation of likely reactions will suddenly feel tired.  You — will be tired.

A thought will flash:

“I don’t know if I wanna keep lugging this ‘thing’ around, anymore…”

His face — still floating, hanging above your head like something that used to belong to your favorite ghost — will seem slightly deflated.  Sadder — NOT tragic.

Still, you will keep lugging.  For a bit more, you will.  You still need more time.

You’ve started this thing, and the ripple waves of gossip and misinterpreted empathies will keep coming in, for a bit longer.  But they won’t bring you any more catharsis.  And as you keep retelling the story (which will now sound a lot more fragmented), you’ll notice your people lingering:

“Isn’t it time yet?” they’ll ask you with the corners of their saddened eyes.

They are tired.  You — are tired.

So, you’ll feel stagnant; stuck with that silly, slowly deflating balloon shadowing you and your “things”:  RIDICULOUS.

And time — will keep on happening.  That just can’t be helped.

And the relief will linger on the other side.

But then, again:  What would you be — if it weren’t for your “things”?

Whether because you’re finally tired of retelling your story or because every one of your people has heard it — you stop.  You stop retelling, and you stop asking for more time.

You let go.

You unleash the face of your favorite ghost:  You let go.

YOU LET GO.

And you get a hold — of silence.

“When You Got Nothing — You Got Nothing To Lose.”

I was studying the face of a good man the other night…

“You jump to conclusions too fast,” my father would have said had I told him this story.  “Too trusting — that’s your problem.”

Dad is fearful, especially as a parent; and I can’t really judge the guy for that.  History has played a hideous prank on his country and his life, and it continues treating him and his people as dispensable.  Surely, there cannot be a bigger heartbreak than that.  There cannot be a bigger absurdity.  And I can’t really blame the poor guy caught in the midst of a Kafka play.  

So, I forgive him for his limitations, his shortcomings, his imposing fearfulness.  Instead, I stretch the boundaries of my unconditional love — of my compassion — and I choose to think of him as a good man.

My father — is a good, good man.

But I would never tell him this story:

I was studying the face of a good man the other night.  I barely knew him, but not once had I wondered whether he had made his share of mistakes in life, his share of missteps.  I suppose I was certain he had.  But they mattered little in that moment.

Because I chose to think of him as a good, good man.

(I AM too trusting — that’s my problem.)

And I listened.

He spoke to me of his travels, of leaving his doubts, vanity and fears behind; and biking across the country with nothing but a backpack and a camera.

He told me about the perseverance of the body if only one could control the mind.  In survival, he said, there was a chronic juxtaposition of reflexes versus fragility.  And when confronting the most basic needs, there was a balance and a great humility.

And there was beauty in the defeat of despair with one’s courage, in the elation of that success; and in the overall simplicity of living.

“What a good man!” I thought.  “What a good, good man!”

The road threw him for a loop a number of times, but he told me about the clarity of the mind if one was traveling light.

“It’s a good thing I hit the road without any expectations,” he told me.

It made sense.

He spoke about having no possessions to weight down his choices and no expectations.  Neither were there any grudges or resentments against humanity — others’ or his own.  His journey was not a conquest:  Not a thing dictated by the ego.  So, he traveled with a lesser emotional baggage, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.

His only responsibility on the road — was his family.  He would have been a lot more reckless, it seemed, had it not been for the nightly on-line messages that he promised to send their way.  And so he would.  No matter the difficulties of the day, no matter the survivals and the defeats, the despair and the courage, he would telegraph his experiences home.  And these letters — his road journals, the confessions of a transcendent mind — were the only threads leading back to the people he loved.

(I chuckled.  I would never tell my father this story:  He’d find me too trusting.  That’s my problem.)

“What made you do this thing in the first place?” I asked.

The humble badass smiled at me as if he could read the answer on my face — my good, good face — and he said:

“Because the one thing I know — is that I cannot stop knowing.”

And so, I was studying the face of a good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

My life — was not the life of my father:  I had bigger control over my circumstances; enough control to allow myself the occasional hubris of assuming that I was a person of consequence.  I could make choices, you see.  Unlike my father — my good, good father — I could choose my situations, or even change them.  And I had the luxury of freedom:  to pursue my life’s ambitions and to continue “knowing”; to continue learning.

Somehow, I had made the choice — to be good, in life.  There had been plenty of situations that tested my ethics before.  Yet even in defeat, in shame, in pain, I could always return to the track of goodness.  I could always see my way back to redemption.  Because even though my life was not my father’s, my ethics — were indeed his.

And my father — was always a good, good man.

And so, I was studying the face of a good, good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

“But I just can’t forgive myself,” my father had confessed a number of times.  “That’s my problem.”

Alas:  That was the main difference between my father’s character and my own.  I always chose to travel lightly, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.  I chose to have the power of self-forgiveness.   And I could always see my way back to redemption.

Oops, I Did It Again! (and Other Psychological Disorders)

Crawled out of my skin last night, hung it on the door knob and, till this very gloomy morning, I haven’t put it back on yet.  Stark naked I write to you, my comrades — souls all over the world who share with me no private history but the common ground of humanity.  And every once in a while, completely unexpected (for my art needs no reason to exist), I hear your “Gotcha!” echo via an electronic transmission; and in that moment, you’ve gotta know:  you repair my very heart.  So:  Fuck yeah!  Fuck da!  Thank you for reading!

Still stripped and skinless, superimposed by the little girl I once was a few decades ago in a country that exists no longer, I am about to have a lil’ tete-a-tete on the topic of grief.  ‘Cause you see, you magnificent co-participants in the utter chaos of living — I’ve got me a shit load o’ that.  (“A shit load,” by the way, is V’s democratic solution between the metric system of her Motha‘ Russia — and the rest of the world — and that other one she still doesn’t know how to convert to.)

I haven’t lived long, my comrades, but certainly a lot; enough to accumulate some losses.  I’ve lived through deaths, heartbreaks, break-ups and a divorce.  I’ve commemorated violence — others’ and my own — by jotting it down on my skin.  I’ve been thrown around by historical turmoil and have survived poverty.  And although I still insist on calling upon humanity’s goodness, I have seen it at its very worst.

And that is exactly where grief comes from:  From its mama — the Loss. I wiki-ed it for you, my stubbornly good people; and according to wiki-wiki, it’s “a multi-faceted emotion.” A free-for-all, eh?  And emotional twofer.  A Round Table for your every feeling.  (A’right, V:  Settle down with those metaphors!)  Numbness, blame, sadness and anger — yep, I’ve done ‘em all, a shit load of each, to be precise.  But the part of grief that I still seem to be unable to reach — like the only dream I deem to be impossible — is acceptance.

I gotta tell you, I have managed my forgiveness of others, “for they know not what they do,” right?  (But that IS a funny one though:  forgivenessFor me, it rests somewhere between mercy and the resignation of justice. In other words, only when I’ve suffered enough and when I want to be justified or carry the weight of the mistakes no longer — I cry uncle and I forgive.  Sometimes, forgiveness results in dismissing the offender entirely:  leaving him to his own devices and never wanting to hear from him again.  Other times, my forgiveness is more peaceful:  It permits for a friendship after the shit storm settles; but boy, do I tread carefully there.)

But acceptance:  That one — is a bit of a moody bitch for V.  Just when I think I’ve tranquilized the ghosts of my past, some current player wakes them with his misbehavior; and off I go:  reliving the emotional free-for-all of griefs I thought have already exorcised and put to sleep.  (“Hush, hush, you little monsters!”)  And if I’ve learned anything from my relationship with my beloved shrink:  these above mentioned players — the hooligans that set me off — are here for a reason.  They are part of V’s pattern.  Kinda like that Britney song:  “Oops, I Did it Again!” — right?  So, until I figure my shit out — the hooligans will continue to pop-up out of my Pandora’s Box.  (Does that sound naughty, or is it just me?)

So, I am starting to gain some unsettling glimpses at the correlation between acceptance and self-forgiveness.

“DING-DING-DING-DING-DING!”

— I can forgive others:  Check!

— I can forgive my life for its sorrows:  Check!

— But can I forgive myself for my choosing all the wrong hooligans in the past chapters of my life?  Not so fast, you Russian gypsy!  Thus far, it’s been seemingly easier — messier, but easier — for the vagabond in me to pack-up and run away.  I am a woman with no country after all!  But alas, to stay and to deal with the hand I’ve been given (or rather, I’ve given myself) — that, my comrades, has been much harder.  Because at the end of it:  I must hold myself accountable. Isn’t much easier to blame others; to parade your scars and bad deals in order to earn the compassion of your witnesses?  Or to suspend your self-forgiveness via embarrassment?  Yep.  But in the end — I’m SO gonna go existentialist on my own ass here (no pun intended) — it’s between you and you.  Or rather, it’s between me and me.

Well, that’s enough psychology for one Saturday morning, nyet?  I’m gonna go put my skin back on and get to work, my adored boys ‘n’ girls.  But in the mean time, allow me to leave you with this little bit of wisdom by another foreign comrade-in-arms.  (Shit!  We, foreigners, do like to get heavy!):