December 9, 2013

Forgiveness: A Short Story of Reconciling My Teenage Badass. ~ Jenny Boyle

When I lined up to catch my bus today, I had no idea I was walking into a full-on life lesson. Funny how that works.

At first, I didn’t recognize the woman in front of me; she looked like any other elderly woman about to board the bus. Grey roots poked through her brown hair, thick rimmed glasses made her eyes much larger than they were, and her face was intricately lined with about 80 years of expression. Her old tweed coat was too large for her small body, and she was wearing, of course, practical leather shoes.

It wasn’t until she asked the man in front of her a question that I realized who she was. Her voice, so nasally and direct, threw me back to a time when I was about 16 years old.

I’ll preface this by admitting that I was a bit of a badass when I was a kid.

I shoplifted brown lipstick with my friends after school, had fake I.D, went to parties on the weekends, hung out with people older than me, and may have been voted ‘Female Cheech and Chong’ in my grade 11 yearbook. I spoke back to teachers and negotiated my way to higher grades in school than I probably deserved. I had to go see the principle on more than 10 occasions.

To be honest, (sorry mom and dad) I have no idea how I graduated with near straight-As, besides the fact that I was relentless with staying up late and getting up early to accommodate studying around my social schedule.

Part luck, part strategy, I suppose.

One weekend near the end of grade 11, a friend of mine’s parents were going away, and she decided to throw a party. We’re talking around 1998 here, so there wasn’t the massive concern with instant communication resulting in house-crashing nightmares. But we still had our pagers. My friend was not discreet about her plan, and I remember watching while she played the cool kid telling everyone about her parents being out of town that weekend.

Fast forward a couple nights and we are in it. Music was blaring, people started showing up from other schools, things started to get broken, and there I was, for some reason, sober. Everyone was wasted, and I was holding my friend’s hair—the host of the party—while she vomited in the bathroom as her parent’s house crumbled around her under the weight of drunken teenage rebellion.

It was out of control, and I was undrunk enough to know that the shit was going down. There were older guys there I didn’t even recognize, looking through her cupboards for booze and valuables. Some jerk had gone into her parent’s bedside drawer and was throwing her mom’s female condom around like a frisbee. When someone told me that there were people having sex in her parent’s bed, I’d had enough, and decided to exercise what little control I had as a 16 year old female amongst a bunch of older, cooler peers. I started telling people to leave.

My friend was nowhere to be seen, so I started going up to groups of people and telling them the party was over. I turned off the music. I was being hated, and I didn’t care because it all just felt so incredibly out of control. I was no angel, but I knew the consequences of what was going on far outweighed any cool kid benefits.

Just then, word got out that the cops were there. Everyone started filing out, and as I started looking for my friend, in walked Neighbor Jane. She was that archetypal old lady next door that came over just to check up on things. The one who always asked what you were up to, what your parents did for a living, and which post secondary institution you would be attending when you graduated. She was a preacher, self righteous in her expectations and categorizations, and she had always made me uncomfortable.

She was so upset when she walked in, she was almost shaking. When she saw me—I’ll never forget it—she shrieked ‘YOU!!! WHERE’S MARY? GET THESE PEOPLE OUT OF HERE!!!’  It was as if I was the one who started the whole thing.

I found my friend, barfing in the bathroom, and told her Neighbor Jane was there. When I came out, the old woman looked me up and down, shook her head, and said ‘Get out of here right now. I don’t want to see you anymore. I always knew you were trouble.’

I was absolutely stunned, and I never forgot that night. I don’t think I’d ever been talked to like that in my life.

After that, my friend’s parents were unkind. I still came over, but I always felt so judged and uncomfortable that I would go out of my way to tell them my high test scores. Like me. Approve of me. I’m good, I swear. It didn’t matter. They thought I was a bad influence on their kid, even though I had been the one trying to end the madness.

I thought briefly maybe they were just embarrassed about the whole condom frisbee thing, but no…it was deeper than that.

There was never any reconciliation. They probably have no clue how much their judgements affected me, but even to this day I marvel at the way they made me feel during those formative, insecure days. They never even asked what happened; they just needed somewhere to store their judgement and anger, and I was that storage space.

Fast forward to today, at the bus loop, with the old lady in the comfortable leather shoes. As soon as she spoke, I knew who she was. Her voice sent shivers of terrible memory down my arms. ‘YOU!!!’  We boarded the bus together, and she asked the bus driver if she was on the right track. He said yes. Then she scanned her card the wrong way and held up the line. She apologized about four times, and then sat down across from me, fidgeting.

I watched myself closely. I expected to feel resentment, even anger towards her. I thought of whether or not I should say something to her, even just say hi, remember me? After I decided that I really didn’t need to revisit the situation, she moved seats and sat directly beside me. She kept looking around to see if we were close to her stop, and tried to speak to the bus driver, but he didn’t hear her. So I asked where she was going. She said to the stop outside the mall. I told her I was headed there too, just a couple stops before, and that we were about 20 minutes away. She looked relieved. Then she started talking to me.

She was incredibly sharp. We talked about infrastructure and population, about transit fees and car pollution. She knew stats that I had no idea about. She asked where I was going to school, and I told her. She looked impressed and said that nutrition is a ‘very rewarding field’. It was funny, after all these years I still felt validated by her approval.

Finally, she asked me if I grew up in the area and I said yes.

You don’t happen to know Mary Smith, do you?’ she asked in her direct, nasally voice.

‘Yes, actually, I do.’ I answered quietly.

‘Oh! What’s your name dear?’ she implored further.

Jennifer.’ I answered simply.

‘What’s your surname dear?’  she was relentless. And actually said surname.

‘Hanover,’ I said her, not breaking eye contact.

She looked at me for a long second before looking down at her hands. I didn’t say anything. It was awkward, but sometimes these moments need to make us squirm, even just a little bit.

I had no idea if she even remembered what had happened, or if she was trying to recall, from some far gone corner of her mind, where she remembered my name.

She looked up and me and spoke, slightly softer this time.

Oh my dear. We were very hard on you.

I nodded. ‘Yes, you were.

‘I think you took a lot of the blame for Mary’s monkeying around dear.’ She said.

I smiled. ‘Yes, I think so too.’

I was so surprised at what came next.

‘Well, I am very glad to have run into on this bus dear, and to have the opportunity to tell you how sorry I am for what happened. I was very harsh, and you didn’t deserve it. I hope you can accept my apology.’ Her tone was as direct as ever, but filled with sincerity.

I am now 32 years old. It was half my lifetime ago that I was admonished by this woman, and there I was almost tearing up on the bus out of this overwhelming feeling of reconciliation with all my bad ass teenage ways. Out of the realization that everyone makes mistakes, even when they are full grown adults, but very few own up to them, and even fewer actually apologize.

I don’t think Neighbor Jane will ever know how much she hurt me, but much more importantly, I don’t think she’ll ever know how much her apology meant to me.

When it came time for my stop, she reached over, took my gloved hand and looked me straight in the eyes.

‘Best of luck to you dear.’ I thanked her, and when I went to pull my hand away, she held on for just a moment longer. ‘I hope you accept my apology,’ she repeated. 

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Apology accepted.’

I walked off the bus and into the cold with a smile and a wave.

There’s nothing quite as powerful as a sincere apology, except maybe the forgiveness that can follow.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: Teresa Delcambre on Pixoto.}

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