I'm big on talking-it-out. I think holding on to things we need to say creates a kind of inner dam, and that eventually, when things get too backed up, we get all calcified and hard.
I don't want to be calcified and hard.
And so I do a lot of talking.
I call people to tell them I love them. I call them to let them know I'm thinking of them as they suffer. I call people to check in and make sure we're cool.
But the most terrifying and gratifying calls I make are the apology calls.
I've made a lot of apology calls.
Years ago, I called my mother-in-law to apologize for being a sassy, indignant, know-it-all after I'd written her a shocking letter telling her about all of the ways in which she was offending me as my boyfriend's mother. Last year I called another member of my family to apologize for not opening myself enough to her, for not truly allowing a deep closeness to form.
For years, my sister and I have had a predictably up-and-down relationship; the first day of a visit is great, then we fight for a day and half, then we cry and make up and vow to do better next time.
She's told me that I mother her. I've emphatically denied it.
But last night, I really started thinking about it. And I realized that, however we choose to label it, I have, in fact, been less-than-stellar to my sister. l've looked at her through raised eyebrows and said, "Yeah, that's great," while thinking, "If you did it my way, though, it'd be better."
Bullshit is so fucking easy to spot and my sister's been spotting me for years.
So this morning, I called her and left her a lengthy apology message. I told her that I'd recently experienced something that gave me a new perspective; I felt like I'd been in her role and someone else had been in my role and I really didn't like how it felt. She texted me back saying, "I love you."
About a decade ago, I was a nanny. I was young, the couple I worked for was successful in ways that made me envious (though I'd never have admitted it) and I quickly became disgruntled. "I'm worth more than this. They don't even appreciate me. Why doesn't society value the work I'm doing here in a real way?" I was important and no one really saw it.
I began to get completely sucked in by this narrative, and soon I'd written a letter. In it, I detailed all of the ways in which child care in America is underappreciated, how much more money most private house cleaners make, and that, effective immediately, I quit. I drove to their house, rang the bell, handed Mr. X the letter, and said something like, "I can't work for you anymore." I walked away while he stood there, confused, inside his open front door.
A few years later, everything was different. My father had died in a car accident. My life as I knew it had ended. I'd gone through the deepest grief I'd ever known, and had come out the other side a different person. I wrote Mr. and Mrs. X a letter apologizing for the childish, disrespectful, and jarring way in which I'd left their employ. I ran into her a year or so later - by then I had my own baby - and she thanked me for the letter. She was nothing if not lovely.
And then last year, after seeing them a few times at the restaurant where I work, Mrs. X called to make a reservation. I took her number down in our book and we made small talk for a few minutes. And I realized that I didn't feel like we were done yet. For a few days, I sat with this feeling, of knowing I had something else to say to her, but was terrified of actually doing something about it.
But then one day soon after, I found myself sitting in my studio, dialing her number. I thought I was going to throw up. I hoped she wouldn't answer so I could leave a message.
I stumbled through my introduction, trying to make her know who I was as quickly as possible. She sounded understandably surprised.
I told her, again, how sorry I was for being so thoughtless. She told me how brave she thought it had been for me to send her the letter all those years ago. "And you didn't put your return address on the envelope. I loved that. You apologized without wanting anything in return."
We talked for about ten minutes, both of us noting what we'd learned from our strange, shared experience. We agreed to give each other a hug when she came in for her reservation.
I hung up and felt electric. I was amazed and grateful for her graciousness. I was proud of myself for making the call.
When she came in for dinner, we smiled and hugged. I hung her coat up.
I didn't feel resentful.
Say the things. Whatever they are.
Because everything flows when the dam goes down.
To the truth,