Earlier this week my father sent me a text message. “I think you owe me an apology,” he said. I thought back through our interactions over the last few years. All the names I’ve called him. Asshole, adulterer, pathetic, idiot. The time I threw my keys at him when he wouldn’t let me drive away. The way I pushed my weight against my bedroom door so he couldn’t come in. How the dog cowered while we screamed at each other. I probably do owe him an apology. I owe lots of people apologies. I need lots of forgiveness.
Last night my brother and I went through the mail at my mom’s house and found the bill for the spring semester. According to the divorce decree, my father is legally obligated to pay a third of state tuition. He reminds me all the time. “Enjoy your last 3 semesters,” he said in another text message this week. “That’s all you get—if you get that.” But it’s hard to be thankful when he states his provisions like threats. I get close to being sorry and then the remorse goes away. And then I turn into a jerk.
My father tells me I don’t know the truth about the circumstances surrounding my parents’ divorce. He tells me I don’t know the truth about my mom, about him, about his new wife. He tells me I need help. “You may want to consider talking to a pastor about your anger issues,” he said. But I get it. The truth is that we’re all monsters. So I do owe him an apology. I’ve said things to him that I would be embarrassed to share with most of the people in my life. Not that I have to because he usually sends my disrespectful texts to family members so they’ll know my character before I have a chance to explain myself. But what’s to explain? I am an angry, hurt person with the capacity for saying and doing terrible things to other people. My debt is enormous. And asking for forgiveness is hard.
When I went to Mass last Sunday, the priest led the congregation in the confessional prayer. “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” we said, tapping a hand to our hearts as if to pound the message into those places that aren’t really sorry. Well, he was being manipulative! But I called him an asshole. I did. But he doesn’t provide for me. How could I not tell him to fuck off? No, but I can’t control my temper. But he drank as much as he wanted to! But he didn’t make me buy that alcohol for myself. No. That was through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Yes, it’s true. God dammit I’m a fucking unrepentant monster.
Driving home last night, I passed a cemetery just a few miles from my house. I noticed how the gravestones were really just rocks suspended in blackness. Such a landscape was both devastating and familiar. The light from my passing headlights wasn’t enough to reveal the names or dates. Who could find anyone there? Only God can distinguish the dead from each other. Eventually we’ll all lie down there, one sleeping monster next to another. Me, my father. All of us.
Until then, here I am confessing. Here I am the daughter of a monster, admitting my own anger, my own selfishness. Here I am with my own dirty words, my own drunkenness, all the apologies I still owe to so many. All these debts are entirely my own. The hard part is saying, “I’m sorry.” The hard part is that space between “you owe me” and “now it’s okay.” What do we do with the time between our sins and our graves? It’s no wonder that when it’s all over and we’ve buried each other, we call it “laying to rest.”