I’m sorry

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Writing prompt: Do you owe an apology to anyone? Why?

I like to think of myself as someone who will readily offer up an apology when I have done or said something wrong.  Note: I like to think of myself in that way. The truth of the matter is that I am more than capable of being stubborn and hard-hearted and downright stingy when it comes to admitting fault. Whether it is out of anger or pride, I know what it feels like to slam shut the door of my heart on someone.  Once that door is closed, no embers of anger or love are left, only indifference.  It can take months, or even years before I’m willing to open that door again.

But, that’s not the apology story I’m going to tell. No, this is more a tale of ignorance and regret. It’s a story about my mom.

Growing up, my mother was the ultimate stay-at-home mom at a time and place where stay-at-home moms were the norm. At the time it never crossed my mind that it wasn’t normal for someone to never leave the house.  I just thought she just had nowhere to go and no one to go with. Why would she leave the house? My dad did all the grocery shopping, and I started shopping for own clothes at a pretty young age.  I honestly don’t recall thinking it was odd that my mom never went anywhere, nor do I remember being particularly bothered by it.

Even though I was a relatively (please note, I said relatively) good kid as a teenager, I probably was a bit of a brat. I distanced myself from my own family and spent as much time as possible with other people’s families. These families had nice homes, fathers who were working, and moms who seemed engaged in their children’s lives.  It makes sense why I was drawn to them. I just wish I hadn’t been so cruel and insensitive to my own folks.

One day, for reasons long forgotten, I pretended to call Camarillo State Hospital, a notorious Southern California psychiatric hospital, to report that my mother was crazy. I was just goofing, but I saw that it got a rise out of my mother, so I kept going.  I was a good little actress, and I managed to convince my mother that someone from Camarillo was coming to take her away.   She was genuinely scared.

I didn’t know then what I know now, that she did suffer from a mental illness. She was an agoraphobic, an anxiety disorder associated with fear and panic attacks. Mental illness was not much discussed back in her day, so she probably thought her panic attacks were a sign of insanity.  So my “joke” phone call to Camarillo struck a raw and painful nerve.

It wasn’t until my mid-20’s, a couple of years after my mom died that I started to experience panic attacks myself.  Lucky for me, mine weren’t severe or disabling, and I had access to mental health care.  But, it gave me a small understanding of  what my mother went through.

I never meant to be so insensitive and cruel. I had no idea. I’m really sorry, mom.

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7 responses »

  1. It’s true isn’t it ~ that painful experiences often arise when jokes get out of hand. On the other hand, like most kids you probably had some sense there was something lurking behind the curtain and in some unconscious way were just trying to have a look.

    Your post serves as an illustration too, I think, on the faults of not discussing these things openly with kids (in age appropriate way of course) ~ and on the other other hand that typo thing just twernt done back in the day.

    Under the circumstances it seems t0 me you done the best you could ~ perhaps everybody did.

  2. Again, I ditto AQ.
    very moving.
    I think BBG really hit the nail with this one, too.
    “… that painful experiences often arise when jokes get out of hand.”

    I regret so badly a joke I let get out of hand and wound up saying something completely out of line, unfunny and downright hurtful to a co-worker who I actually liked very much. I regret it to this day.

  3. BBG – Yeah, I did know something wasn’t quite right as evidenced by how much time I spent with other people’s families. I guess that’s why I regret my cruelty – I knew on some level it would hit a nerve. And as for being open with the kids that there is a problem, I kind of doubted even my mother knew what the problem was.

    Ron – yeah, shit does happen. I had hoped this post had come across as genuine regret rather than “woe is me.”

    AQ – Thanks. 🙂

    Jules – It’s a fine line, isn’t it – taking a joke to the point of hilarity vs the point of being hurtful. It’s a gamble I used to make more often, but seeing it go wrong too often, I tend to edit a bit more now.

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