19 March 2013

Step 9

About four years ago, he contacted me out of the blue.

I am still friends with several people I dated before I got married, but only one is, well, not. We are not friends. I called to check on him in the aftermath of September 11, and I ran into him about a week later, because we lived in neighboring buildings. But aside from that we've had no contact since.

So, four years ago I get a phone call in the middle of the day from the woman who was my best friend in college, and who is still a very good friend today. Now, at the time, I was a stay-at-home-mom with a sideline in adjunct and online teaching, but I did remember that it's odd to get personal phone calls in the middle of the day from people with office jobs.

"Who's dead?"

No one, she assured me. But she had a Facebook message from Jeff1.

Jeff? Jeff Who? Bridges? Goldblum? The guy with the puppets? Who?

Nope. Jeff. She paused to let it sink in. Jeff Jeff. Ohhhh. Jeff. Crap. He had asked her for my contact information so that he could regain lost karma, express regret, and make amends.

You see, Jeff and I didn't "break up." That's far too kind a euphemism for what happened. After nearly two years together, he sent me an email in the middle of the work day. When I got home from being nursed through dinner by a friend, I found 75% of my belongings bagged up in trash bags in the vestibule of his apartment building. Luckily, I had an apartment in the building next door. I saw him take off in a cab as we pulled up. The note he left stated that he would be staying elsewhere for a few days. This guy had so far exceeded his karmic credit that Goldman Sachs would have said, "Whoa, dude, show a little restraint."

I thought for a minute, and talked it over with my friend. I eventually told her, sure. Give him my info. What the hell. Maybe he'd grown and learned over the intervening years.

There's also a lovely bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

The email promptly arrived about forty-five minutes later, and let me tell you, I have never seen a more eloquent pile of horseshit. There was no apology, there wasn't even an admittance that he'd done anything wrong. Regret was expressed, explanations were given. Wishes for a good life were proffered. But there wasn't a single "I'm sorry I treated you like a hooker at a papal conclave."

So, there no response from me, because I had no idea how to respond to the apology that wasn't. It all seemed to be an exercise for the writer (that'd be him), rather than an actual attempt to mend fences with the reader (that's me).

A few weeks later, I get a Facebook message congratulating me on the birth of my daughter. Which had happened about a year earlier, but I get that he was behind on the news. Truth be told, it wasn't the emails, per se, that had me yanking my hair. It was the tone. "Have a good life," "You deserve to be happy," "I wish you all the best." What a bastard, huh?

Seriously, though, maybe it's the lack of inflection inherent in electronic communication, but it just came off as too formal and dramatic to be truly sincere. Maybe if I'd heard it in his voice, maybe if I'd read it in his execrable handwriting, it would have had a chance. If you put in the work, I'm really a pretty soft touch; but nothing shuts me down like a half-assed effort.

I sometimes think that maybe it was all part of Step 9 of the famous AA 12-step program. (I have a working theory that Jeff was an alcoholic. High functioning, mind you, but an alcoholic.) That's the one where you reach out and, according to AA's Big Book, make amends to all the people you hurt through your alcoholism. But I suspect that if that's the case, Jeff's mistook apology for amends2,, and then compounded the error by offering the apology badly. To be honest, I don't a hundred percent know what the finer differences are myself. But I do know that my world tilted on its axis that day, and while it ultimately worked out for the best, I felt angry, and hurt, and, worst of all, worthless. And I'd like to know that he understands that, and is sorry he did it.

So maybe, in this case an apology would have made amends, at least for me. But it had to have been executed with sincerity and without drama. Which is something I've had to work hard at learning in therapy the last few years. Save the rent clothing and ashes for when you're hired as a professional mourner. Put away the plaster saints and banal blessings. Say you did wrong, say you're sorry you did it, and be done.

That being said, Jeff, if you ever wind up reading this, I did a lot wrong when we were together: I ignored boundaries, was not always a very good emotional support, and should have been in therapy having various issues--most notably insecurity and anxiety--dealt with, instead of foisting all my issues on you to fix. I shouldn't have cornered you like that. I'm sorry.

1. Names have been changed to protect the, ahem, innocent and keep me from getting sued.
2. A really nifty resource about the difference between the two can be found here.

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