All Apologies

The man's heavily accented voice hesitated only briefly before he confessed to multiple murders: "I want to apologize. I don't know if even what I did was wrong or right, but when I was in Israel for six months, I killed six Arabs at night with a gang of other Jewish settlers. At the time we thought -- I believed -- we were fighting for our homeland to keep it from the Arabs. But perhaps now that I'm here in America, I realize that maybe killing is not the right way, and I want to apologize."

This message was left anonymously on a phone-message service called the Apology Line, where people recorded their confessions and also listened to others admit to acts of intentional cruelty, silly screw-ups, unfortunate and unintentional mistakes and, on occasion, even murder. From 1980 to 1995, Allan Bridge ran the line as something of a secular priest, offering the potential for forgiveness through the catharsis of taped confession -- until the day he was killed by a Jet-Skier who fled the scene and was never identified.

Allan's wife, Marissa, was convinced that had her husband lived, he would have forgiven the person who hit him. But does that Jet-Skier -- who was seen circling back to confirm that it wasn't driftwood, but a man in scuba gear he had hit -- live the rest of his life plagued by remorse and guilt? And would confessing to someone, anyone, even anonymously, make a difference?

Unless we are sociopaths, we are haunted by what we've done and what we've left undone. If we dare speak about the things we feel ashamed about, and if we are very lucky and the apology is accepted by the one we've offended, we can feel free from the burden of the past. The language of apology -- with its link to the notion of forgiveness -- may have a religious connotation for some, but psychologists and behavioral scientists are now also studying why apology is important and what it accomplishes as they assess what's wrong with people's lives, and how grudges and unresolved stress often affect physical wellness and a sense of well-being. Obsessing over what we've done without taking any action to resolve it puts the body and mind on a treadmill of worry and guilt that can make us crazy or ill -- or both.

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I'm sorry seems deceptively easy to say, but the fear of actually speaking those words can tie us in knots for a good long time. The awkward apologies between intimate partners who regularly hurt each other's feelings, or apologies from one group of people to another that come decades or even millennia past their well-overdue dates, can be the hardest things in the world to offer. In the recent past, Pope John Paul II has officially asked for forgiveness for the Roman Catholic Church for its nasty behavior in the Crusades; for its treatment of women, blacks, Jews, Muslims and Martin Luther; and even for its mistreatment of dear old Galileo.

In the case of apology, it's apparently better to receive one late than to never receive one at all.

And how does a nation as a whole apologize for that terribly clumsy bombing of non-military targets, or those centuries of brutal racial subjugation? It's not enough to say, "With some time to reflect, we do feel absolutely rotten about it. Sorry." Sincere apology, the kind that has real impact and actually matters, comes with an admission of responsibility and a deep expression of authentic remorse. According to Aaron Lazare, the author of On Apology, an apology also restores the self-respect and dignity of the offended party, includes assurances that the offense was not the victim's fault, and provides reparation for the harm caused.

Consider the case of a fourteen-year-old boy who sat in the dark on the steps of his school, waiting for the Denver fire and police departments to arrive. He'd just broken into the building and vandalized it in a state of uncontrolled rage. But once the damage was done, he'd felt so terrible about it that he pulled the fire alarm and simply waited -- to apologize. As the case was investigated, authorities learned that his mother had died a few years before and that his father had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and didn't have long to live. The boy said he had been angry with his teachers, at how hard school was for him, and about everything else in his life. Yet he apologized and really seemed to mean it. In mediation, he heard the distress expressed by others in the school; surely he could understand that the destruction made students feel unsafe. He also heard expressions of concern for his situation and a desire to help him. The Acquiring Restitution Through Talent, or ARTT, program provided the means for him to work off his debt to the school by selling a variety of things he made with his own hands. And in the months it took him to make restitution and try to cope with the death of his father, he saw that strangers cared about him and that it was possible to make things right again.

According to people who work with restitution programs, apologies usually don't come easily. The first draft of a letter to a victim may be worded, "Dear X, I'm sorry I took your car. You shouldn't leave it running with the keys in it." It takes time to move beyond blaming others and minimizing the impact of the act to expressing true compassion for how someone else was affected and reaching that final step of taking personal responsibility for what was done -- with no excuses.

When asked if she is sure Allan would have been able to forgive the Jet-Skier who hit him -- even without an apology -- Marissa Bridge imagines several scenarios. "The person knew it was an accident and that it wasn't his fault," she says. "He couldn't have predicted a scuba diver would surface at that moment right in front of him. Maybe the person was really young and gave into the impulse to run away rather than to stay and face things. I'm sure whoever they are, they are sorry."

She explains that listening to Allan's collection of tapes from the Apology Line helps her understand that the average person is in some level of pain about past actions, and that people who have bigger regrets have a larger burden to carry. "Allan was a petty criminal in his early life, and he worried that people could fall too easily into being either the predator or the prey. He lived his life to say, 'Let's see if we can be better people.'"

Westword offered its services to start the New Year with a clean slate, mend karma, take two of the twelve big steps we've all heard so much about, make amends and lighten the load of a conscience that might need to lose a few pounds. Below are some of the apologies our readers offered; to send your own, e-mail apologies@westword.com.

I grew up in Capitol Hill in Denver. My two best friends were Emmett and Winfield. They were both smart and from wealthy families. I was poor. My folks didn't even own a car. When the three of us were eleven years old, Emmett was trying to build a one-man helicopter out of a lawn chair. Winfield was making a touch-tone telephone using a cigar box and tin cans. I brought nothing to the table except an eye for pranks. Ashton Kutcher was probably not even a glint in his old man's eye when my friends and I began "punking" people.

It started out harmless enough. Emmett had built a small catapult about three feet long, and we'd climb up on the roof of his three-story house at the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Ogden Street. We'd launch water balloons one or two blocks and were never detected. Emmett's machine was accurate. Afterwards, we'd smoke cigars and cigarettes stolen from his father's walk-in humidor. We tried to drink brandy and scotch. Unfortunately, not much diffused the boredom of two months of direct hits on unsuspecting vehicles and passersby. Eventually, it was time for something different -- and I stepped up to the plate.

We pooled our money and walked down to the gas station at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Marion Street. We bought a two-gallon gas can. Later in the afternoon, we filled the can with water. An army-surplus pup tent had been set up by Emmett's parents in his back yard. It was summer, and they believed we liked to camp out at night when the weather got hot. But that's not why the three of us liked to camp out. It was a perfect cover for the mayhem we wreaked through the neighborhood.

After we bought the gas can, Winfield asked his parents if he could "camp" over at Emmett's. I did the same. All of our parents agreed. Near midnight, we crawled out of the tent and quietly made our way over to the intersection of Seventh and Corona Street.

Capitol Hill was not as active back then as it is now. After 10 p.m., the traffic headed southbound on Corona accounted for only one or two cars at a time. Perfect. When a car came to a stop at the intersection's red light, the three of us would appear from the bushes. Emmett and Winfield would crouch on either side of the curbs with boxes of Diamond kitchen matches. I'd casually walk between the lines of the crosswalk, pouring water from the gas can. Our actions dared a driver to move forward when the light changed.

We scared a bunch of drivers the first few nights. Some people waited for other cars to join them at the light before crossing the watery line poured from the gas can. Others rolled down their car windows and called us every name in the book when the light turned green. A couple drivers shut off their cars and ran after us. On the third night, something happened that has left a mark, a regret, on my soul for more than forty years.

A brand-new, baby-blue Mustang convertible came cruising down Corona. The top was down, and I remember its exhaust pipes sounding sweet and powerful, with a sort of thwump-thwump tone. The driver was young, but older than us. The light turned red and the Mustang slowed to a stop. I stepped out from behind the bushes.

I walked between the lines of the crosswalk, splashing water from the gas can onto the asphalt. Emmett and Winfield crouched on each side of the street, holding fistfuls of wooden matches ready to strike on the curb.

The driver of the Mustang yelled out, "Fuck you!" We yelled the same back. He slowly backed the car about a hundred feet north towards Eighth Avenue. Emmett, Winfield and I silently thought, "We got him." As the light changed from red to green, the guy in the Mustang floored the gas pedal and peeled rubber towards the intersection. Other drivers had done that and taken their chances with our mythical gauntlet. Twenty feet before the crosswalk, though, the guy lost his nerve and stood on the brake pedal. The Mustang broke traction and its rear end slid into the left front quarter-panel of a car parked on the right-hand side of the street.

Emmett, Winfield and I took off running, probably faster than we'd ever run in our lives. I remember diving into the pup tent and thinking I was still hearing the sounds of breaking glass and crunching metal. Thirty minutes later, the cops drove down the street and flashed a spotlight into Emmett's back yard. We held our breath, but they didn't stop.

To this day, I get uncomfortable when I see a classic Mustang driving down the street. Even television commercials for new Mustangs cause me minor anxiety. Today, I'd apologize to the guy, assuming he is still alive. In the back of my mind, though, I have this odd sense of foreboding whenever I'm standing in the checkout lines at the King Soopers at Ninth Avenue and Corona and someone comes up behind me. I think it's the guy and he's going to recognize me and jam a white plastic fork into the back of my head.

I wouldn't blame him. -- Scott J. Keating

I wish I had something to apologize for. I wish I had done something, rather than nothing. -- Ms. X

I bet I seem like a thinking person with a moral streak who realizes that my actions affect others, and I have tried my damnedest to be that way, mostly. But the truth is that I was once the worst kind of scum -- a very, very, very drunk driver.

I apologize to all the people whose lives I endangered on East Evans Avenue 21 years ago, during the festive holiday season. I forget just which night, but the cocktail waitresses were wearing little elf outfits. Near the long-defunct nightclub known as Tulips. While passing an empty field that by now must be an exciting New Urbanism development. On my way to the pathetic Aurora apartment complex I called home.

I will now explain the circumstances of the night in question. Not because they excuse my actions, but because if society had managed to punish me back then, I wouldn't be doing it here now.

The man in my life was the particular model of asshole who is charming, good-looking, will never hold a straight job, and needs to be involved with three women while telling each one they're it. If you're stupid enough to get mixed up with someone like this, you always end up out looking for them, trying to track them down. I went to Tulips because it was 25-cent-well-drinks night, and I knew he liked his alcohol cheap.

He wasn't there, but I had a couple of dollars and was feeling very sorry for myself. Hence, I tied one on and proceeded to drive home in my Fiat X-19 with the blown head gasket. On the way, I reviewed the events of my life and began to cry. Then, through the tear-blur, I made out the red-and-blue lights of an Aurora police cruiser. After a while, I even heard a siren. I managed to pull over. I cut the engine and waited.

I heard footsteps crunching on gravel. I waited for the cop to ask for my driver's license -- which I had lost at the laundromat some weeks ago -- and my registration, which...ha. Instead, he said:

"Why are you crying?"

Suddenly it seemed there were lots of reasons. I blurted the first that came to mind.

"My dog ran away," I said.

He turned off his flashlight, came around to the passenger side, got in, sat down and asked me to tell him about it. Well, my dog had been living on a ranch in Parker with my sister, because my life lacked the kind of structure dogs require. From time to time, she [the dog] ran off on exploring missions but always came back in a few days, often smelling of skunk. This time it had been two weeks, though. Too late, I realized that she was such a cool dog, so smart and affectionate and easy, that someone had finally adopted her for good. I had been out looking for a bad boyfriend when I should have been looking for a good dog.

"That's very sad," said the cop. "I had a nice palomino foal out at my ranch in Elbert, and some jerk shot her last week. He thought she was a deer." And he began to cry!

We sat there weeping companionably for a while. In the back of my mind, trying to fight its way through my preposterous buzz, was a feeling of alarm. In a minute this cop would surely dry his eyes, blow his nose, slap me in handcuffs and haul me off to jail. But that's not what happened.

Instead, he put me in his cruiser, drove me home and told me to get some sleep. "All I can say is, maybe you should just think more," he said. "About your life, or whatever..."

"I'm sorry about your horse," I told him.

Surely he has retired by now, to a large farm with many breeding horses, or that's what I hope. Having thought this over for 21 years, I conclude that he is a good man. At the very least, he removed me from the road, which was more than I could do for myself.

I know this won't affect my sentence, but here it is: I never drove drunk again. -- Robin Chotzinoff

Dear D: I want and need to tell you how truly sorry I am. I know I have said it before, but now that some time has passed and we have put some distance between us, I want to tell you again. I am not proud of the way I acted, and I know that I hurt you because I was scared of losing you. I did not give enough consideration to your feelings or the consequences of my actions. I believed in "us" so much that I overlooked your needs. You were talking, but I was not listening. I was selfish, and I'm sorry. I do want you to know that I had an awesome time loving you, and I hope that it's not too late to salvage the friendship that we both enjoyed so much. I hope you will find that special person you are looking for in life, and I hope you will forgive me someday. I'm sorry and I miss ya! Happy 2005. -- Love, T

I knew there was going to be trouble as soon as I heard all the girls in the blacktop schoolyard screaming and the boys already starting to chant, "Fight! Fight! Fight!" I wasn't there. I was down past the edge of the small rise where everyone played four-square and Kill the Carrier and whatever else in the hot sun and sometimes threw soft basketballs at the single rim with no net; down just out of everyone else's line of sight with my back against the chain-link fence, pretending I was anywhere else but here and anyone else but me.

Still, I had a boy's sense for violence and a boy's curiosity, so I looked, even though I wished I hadn't. I looked, and through the heat haze and forest of skinny girl legs saw Chris Taylor just about ready to get beat up again.

Growing up in New York, I was not the most popular kid. Not the least popular, either, but let's say a couple notches up from the absolute bottom of the food chain. If I was quiet and if I kept to myself, everything was fine. I had that unique power of boys born smallish, quietish and too smart that when I wanted to, I could simply disappear.

Chris didn't have that power. Chris was too tall, too heavy, too unusual to just vanish. It was a cruel joke of genetics that had him built like a pear standing on toothpicks -- that Southern State Trooper endotype of a powerful body stuck atop spindly little legs. At ten years old (maybe nine, maybe eleven), he was already as tall as Miss Walters, who was supposed to be watching us all on the playground after lunch but was always out in the parking lot, sitting in her car, listening to books on tape and chain-smoking her skinny little cigarettes. And he was strong -- plenty strong enough to have defended himself against any and all comers in the schoolyard -- but wouldn't because he didn't have it in him. His parents were some sort of religious fundamentalists who believed that the devil crept into a boy through a route paved in television shows and popular music, so they did their best to isolate Chris from all the dangers of this strange world. No TV, no modern music, no comics or books that might be considered corrupting. He'd told me once that at the beginning of every school year, his father would go through his new textbooks and rip out any pages that he thought might be damaging to a growing boy. And I knew that in his room (he lived just two short blocks away from me), he slept under a giant quilt stitched with a graphic rendition of Jesus in his final agonies. He was a boy raised to appreciate suffering on a grand scale, so the thought of just picking up one of his tormentors and throwing them all the way to the moon never occurred to him.

He probably could've done it, too. Or at least I thought so at the time.

One time in the gym, I saw him pick up a bag of baseball equipment that must've weighed fifty pounds, lift it over his head, and toss it into the storeroom like it was stuffed with cotton balls.

But he would never do that to a person, no matter how many times I told him he should. He would never do anything when the more popular kids, the slightly less popular kids, the girls, the bullies, whoever, would start in on him. He would stand there, his head down, his cheeks burning, his eyes fluttering almost closed, and just take it. Whatever they were doing to him, whatever they were saying, he would just stand there -- one big lump of nerd on two popsicle sticks, shaking and waiting for the worst of it to be over.

As I peeked over the edge of the embankment and saw Chris, I knew I should do something. What, I had no idea. Chris was my friend -- not so much because I wanted him to be my friend, but because once, when Chris's mother came over to my house, I remember hearing her on the front steps telling my mother how Chris was so lucky to have someone like me. "Tim," she'd said, "is my little Chris's only friend."

So it was duty and responsibility and something a lot darker than friendship that made me feel like I should do something, anything, to help Chris, but the truth of it was, I hated Chris. For never standing up for himself, for his freaky strength and odd parents, for seemingly always being in the center of some roiling knot of playground drama with him cast as willing victim and everyone else just waiting to see who would hit him first. I hated him for what his mother had said to my mother and for making me feel like I was responsible for the bad things that happened to him -- like I, the 98-pound weakling with the geeky plaid shirts and the bookbag so big that it'd given me a permanent slouch -- was supposed to be able step in and, what? Rescue him?

I watched as the circle closed in around Chris. I listened as the loudest of the boys yelled at him to give up the Walkman he was carrying.

The Walkman, that was a new thing for Chris. His parents had given it to him for his birthday, which was totally unlike them, but he'd told me the only tape he was allowed to play in it was a collection of theme songs from old TV shows that he'd never seen. He'd come over to my house the night after his birthday wearing the headphones on his head and singing along to the theme from Green Acres. He was so proud of it, and wanted to know if I had anything he could listen to when his parents weren't around. He didn't even know what kind of music to ask for.

I'd said no and told him I had homework to do and that he had to go away. He did, shrugging, now mouthing the words to the Brady Bunch theme. That'd been two days ago.

Now one of the boys in the yard had come up behind him and pulled the headphones off his head. He'd yanked so hard that the cord had pulled out of the body of the Walkman, and he'd probably gotten some of Chris's hair, too, because his head had snapped back just a little. His eyes were sliding closed already. He was shaking with rage.

Someone else grabbed the Walkman out of his hands. I crouched down even lower, making sure Chris couldn't see me, and watched.

I saw the Walkman smash on the pavement. Shortly after, I saw Chris hit the pavement. He was the strongest kid I'd ever known, and there was no one in the yard who could have knocked him down if he didn't want to be knocked down just to put an end to this. Maybe he was learning, I don't know. But I know his eyes were open when he fell, and I know he saw me there -- his only friend, hiding in a ditch -- and I know that must've been awful. We looked at each other through the forest of legs, the dust, the heat haze, and for just a second -- in the instant that our eyes met, before I watched him reach out to grab the broken pieces of his Walkman and roll around it like a ball on the hot blacktop -- I saw what real hate looked like.

I thought I hated Chris for what he'd done to me, for saddling me with the responsibility of his friendship, but when I saw that look, I knew I had no idea. I wanted to say I was sorry for abandoning him like that. I wanted to explain how I didn't really hate him -- not the way he hated me --but Chris never came over to my house again. -- Tim

The only thing that has gotten me this far in our relationship is our love. You have stuck by me through the worst. You're a great person, and you came into my life when I didn't know how to love and respect someone like you. I'm sorry for the lies, cheating, disrespect, repetitive stupidity, and wasting time we could've enjoyed. I have no shame in admitting my many mistakes because that's not who I am today. Whoever believes "once a cheater, always a cheater," doesn't know me; I'm maturing and beating the odds every day. I love you so much, and you're everything I need. It took me a long time to open my eyes, and I almost lost you. I know you've heard this before, but I hope you can accept my apology and continue this great relationship we survived. One day you will trust me. I love you, Aaron. -- B

Back when I was about thirteen years old, I would spend some days during my summer break riding around with my brother while he worked doing pest-control jobs in central Denver. The day would be spent driving from one job to another. One day a crab apple somehow appeared in the truck, and I decided to throw it at a pedestrian walking on the side of the street. A crab apple going 35 mph hitting someone in the back, although somewhat funny, probably doesn't feel that good.

Well, that one act led to my brother and I seeking out crab-apple trees so that we could fill bags and bags with enough ammunition to pelt hundreds of people. We also decided to try out other items and get more creative, such as cutting out the middle of the crab apple and filling it with mustard or ketchup. We also tried out grapes, chicken nuggets and water balloons. The water balloons were more difficult to hide from other cars but gave a great display when hitting the target.

So I would like to apologize to the hundreds of people in Denver who I pelted with crab apples back in 1987, whose clothes I ruined with the mustard/ketchup-filled ones. And most of all, I really would like to say I'm sorry to the man in a suit sitting at a bus stop who I nailed with a huge water balloon. After the giant water explosion, I realized that he was handicapped -- which made me feel like a big piece of shit. For that, I am very, very sorry. I hope you weren't going to a job interview or something important. -- MF

My father, after an incredible run, is fading. After nearly sixty years of marriage to one amazing woman and fifty years of warfare with three children, he is giving up the fight. Like most sons, I never knew him until his last years, and I fought a long campaign of passive aggression against his autocratic rule. I rarely won, except by disappointing him, which I did plenty of.

Each of us found ways to undermine his complete authority, in ways that now sadden and shame me. In many a race, I pulled up at the finish to deny him a blue ribbon that he could boast of. My sister was perhaps more cruel, and she still thinks that he deserved her spite. I no longer do, and mourn the opportunities to forge a functioning father-son relationship out of our dysfunctional bond.

What I know now is that he could not help being who and what he was, a warrior from a working-class family, fighting a world of privilege and his own children to win the respect and, yes, love denied him as a child and a young man.

He married better than he could have known, to an aristocratic bride from a long line of very patient women. Her father had lost all the family's money in the Depression, but carried enough upper-class hubris to hate Roosevelt and the two Southern junior army officers that his two eldest daughters took as husbands. By the time it came time to part with his youngest daughter, he was nearly broke and drinking more than was good for him. When my father asked, over a martini, for the hand of his daughter, he laughed. Then he got up and fixed himself a drink. He never gave an answer. My father, a man not easily hurt, was shaken when he told that story a half-century later.

When he was seven, he lost his brother to a childhood disease that today would be curable. His older sibling was "Bud" and "Sonny-boy," a chip off the old block, the spitting image of my grandfather. The favored son. My father probably thought that he would now assume the princely crown. He was wrong. The family went into mourning, and the guitar, banjo, harp and mandolin of the family band were all put away, never again played. His brother, even dead, robbed him of his mother's love and taunted him from beyond the grave.

He went on to become a champion athlete, win a scholarship at an Ivy League college and marry a society bride, but the family that deserted him for the dead brother never returned to him, and when I came along, I became my grandfather's "Sonny-boy," getting the best of his love and attention and some very special Christmas gifts.

And so my father came to hate me on some dark Celtic level, and even in the love he kept hidden from us all, he nurtured a deep-seated resentment, which we all bear as his enduring legacy. We fought on and on, he and I, in an uneven match that nearly always went to the stronger warrior. He had many ways to give me pain, and did not spare himself. All I could do to hurt him was deny him the son he wanted. And that I did, damaging us both in the process.

And now, at the end, I think of missed opportunities, of moments when we talked, when he was proud of me (twice) and times he apologized to me (twice). Once he was proud of me, when I was a teenager, for shaking the hand of a business associate so hard that I hurt the man. My father didn't like him, and he chuckled all the way home about it.

I stood by the side of this gruff, brusque, cold man during a recent surgery, stripped of all his character armor, in a paper gown, peeing into a plastic cup. Utterly defenseless, completely charming, he flirted harmlessly with the nurses and told us that he loved us.

It was a simple surgery, a hernia, and he was home by evening, complaining that dinner was overcooked. -- George M. Wheeler

MBB: I am so sorry for hurting you....you are forever in my heart. -- Love, KKR

I won't even get into why she did it. Let's just say the "issues" were all hers and really had nothing to do with me. She had been my friend for about seven years. She called me her "best friend" and her "sister." Her daughter had been my eleven-year-old daughter's best friend since my daughter was three.

Then, for Thanksgiving 2002, she invited my family to dinner at her house. But we had already been invited to the home of people she was mad at. (She was always mad at someone; it was difficult to avoid.) I told her that we were going to their house and invited her family to come to my house for dinner the day after Thanksgiving. But that wasn't enough! Suddenly, at the age of forty, I was plunged back into the eighth-grade world of catty, vicious girls who will only allow their friends one best friend. To say the least, it was not a world I wanted to be in. She called on Thanksgiving night and left a message saying her family would not be coming over the following day, since there would be "drinking" involved at my house. Oops -- I didn't know drinking booze on holidays was frowned on in these parts. For some reason, I thought just the opposite was true.

After a few messages, one of which informed me that I was "not a true friend," I decided to give her, and myself, some space. I had already bought Christmas gifts for her family; we exchanged them every year. About a week before Christmas, I wrote what I thought was a nice note, put it in a bag with the presents, and left it on her front stoop before I went to work. When my husband got home that afternoon, he called me. "The presents are back on the porch," he said. He wondered why I was surprised, but I guess I wasn't. She did, however, keep the gift for her daughter, and sent her daughter to my girl's classroom to give her a gift. Maybe, I thought, she intended to let the girls remain friends.

In January, my daughter called hers to wish her a happy birthday; her daughter invited mine to dinner. So I ran out and bought a birthday present. My former friend didn't speak to me when she picked up my daughter, and she didn't speak to me when she dropped her off. And that was the last my daughter saw of her friend. In the wise way of children, she told me, "Well, Mommy, she wants to hurt you, and she knows if she hurts me you'll feel even worse."

There's more, much more, but the bottom line is this: I have nothing to apologize for. But I still want an apology, and so does my daughter! -- Anonymous

Since all things karma-related reside somewhere out on the mystical edge of my mind, it seemed appropriate today to make some new confessions and apologies based on what people might have recently discovered about me from their new vantage point.

As a child, I always believed my parents had some sort of supernatural powers that allowed them to know when my Pee Wee baseball game might be rained out or to discern whether I had truly vacuumed the carpet or just quickly picked up the big chunks of visible lint. And the miraculous discovery of my masterfully hidden Playboy magazine? Nothing but divine intervention there, dude. Later it dawned on me that listening to the weather forecast or looking at the rug with adult eyes accomplished the same thing as consulting the spirits. Experience also taught me that hiding anything under your mattress is just a plain old bad idea when your mom is the one who changes your sheets. Memo to budding self-pleasurers: You aren't the first one to "find yourself." They know what you are doing in there.

Now that I am an adult, or at least of adult age, I can dismiss the obvious youthful mistakes I made as never really counting as a secret to be confessed, anyway.

The freshly swept gravel in our driveway probably didn't hide the fact that Randy and I stole the school bus my dad drove so that we could spin doughnuts in the yard. (Don't be too impressed with the power of that particular unit or our driving skills at age eleven: It was a short bus.) In fact, everyone I knew rode the short bus to school. Different part of the country, different time, different meaning. With fewer than eighty students in eight grades spread over several square miles, all we had were short buses.

The barn windows that seemed so far away from the house, the ones that suddenly sported little BB-sized holes while we were visiting my grandparents? I'm guessing that damage probably wasn't all that mysterious to them.

And I doubt if they thought I was just reading the articles, too.

So I will now get into some events that may actually need a bit of heavenly cleansing. Living thirteen miles from town, I would never go home between the end of the school day and that evening's high school ballgame. Instead, I would head to the pool hall, where I could play pool and hang out until it was time to board the bus or hit the locker room. Racks of 8-ball cost a dime, or you could play snooker for a quarter. Oddly enough, cases of beer, conveniently stacked by the rear door that led to an alley, were sometimes free. We didn't abuse this handy little small-town perk, but we didn't ignore it, either. And for that, I am truly repentant.

My firm belief in the option of making a deal with unknown, all-seeing beings hovering somewhere "up there" was reinforced at an early age. When I was in the fifth grade, a friend and I relieved his dad of the thankless chore of smoking a couple of cigarettes. We would do the deed ourselves, carefully lifting them from the open pack and sneaking up into a grove of trees behind his house. His father apparently possessed the same otherworldly powers as my dad, or at least the investigative skills of the CSI folks, because he was soon crawling up to our hiding place, using his bat-like sense of hearing to follow our adolescent coughing and laughing that led to our ultimate bust. Fearing that he would tell my dad what he had witnessed, I immediately promised any spirit listening that I would never smoke another cigarette if I could just skate on this current deal. It worked. I didn't light another one, and the rest is karma history. I am forever grateful to Jake Jacobson for not ratting me out.

But he knows that now. Not because I told him at the time, or even several years later. And certainly not because he will be perusing the pages of Westword this week. Jake is dead, and I believe that people in the great beyond have the power to see in our hearts, to witness in retrospect the events that will be or have been recorded in our ultimate naughty-or-nice ledger. Santa might threaten to leave us a lump of coal for Christmas, but powers greater than him may be using us for coal, stoking eternal flames with our rum-soaked carcasses if we list too heavily to the bad side. And being a formerly human Sterno can is a sobering thought for a soul, no matter how drunk we may be.

My mother is also in that position of knowing and seeing all, peering down at the rest of us as dead people living in heaven are wont to do. So for all the bad things I have done -- the eggs on the police car; cheating my way through algebra; sharpening a cutting wit on the defenseless, warm goo of my schoolmates' teenage self-esteem; voting for Ralph Nader; all those times my friends made me do something against my will, especially that time we...oh, crap. She can see right through that "friends" story now. Let's just say, to Mom and everyone, "I'm sorry." -- Neal Combs

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