Content Warning: This story contains mention of suicide. Reader discretion is advised. This is a work of fiction.
In a little Italian neighborhood near the Coit Tower, a swath of green space invites families to sit on park benches with aesthetic spikes, keeping them empty. Some stray travelers use their time to read real books or eReaders; many play on their phones. The locked public toilets hide behind green and gold painted metal – inaccessible monuments to the city ordinances against the homeless. On a light pole near the Washington Park toilets, hangs an Italian flag – acceptable ethnic pride in a city so focused on Pride.
Two large dogs – larger than their owners – try to distract each other by initiating play. The Bay’s blue water shimmers through the trees as Union Street heads downhill. Against a clear blue sky, the world maintains an invisible boundary: the city on one side, me on the other.
This boundary follows my neighbors when we enter stores, or avoids us on trains. It turns heads when I speak Spanish to those that speak it to me. It garners looks in even the Mission and Bernal Heights neighborhoods, depending on the street. Fuiste de mi vecina. Hablé el idioma de mi vecina. Planning outings, I hear people say they’re “just not comfortable taking public transit because of the people using it.” By “the people,” they mean anyone too poor to use Uber or Lyft – my neighbors, as they’re priced out of their homes. Anyone forced into homelessness by landlords taking advantage of the influx of affluent young people coming to the city, anyone hurt by those supporting and choosing to be part of the problem.
San Francisco culture obsesses over hustle and definitions of achievement, creating blinders for “focus.” I watch my coworkers and the people I thought I knew focus to the point of denying that anything bad ever happens here. They shun or punish those that dare try to draw their attention to something outside their minds. In our company’s Human Resources department, I watch as they “solve” problems by silencing employees that raise concerns rather than admitting any harassment incidents occur. The company wins workplace culture awards from a third party reviewer based on an employee survey none of us ever see.
My friends seek out cults of social acceptance on the weekends. Each event they attend promises their problems will go away and solve themselves with enough positivity (and denial). I hear them talk about the latest seminar over a group dinner. Mental illnesses are a mindset problem. Anxiety, depression, or anything else can only be solved by seeking out “your higher power” – the goals you wish to achieve rather than fall for this weakness. They discourage each other from seeking medical help.
One friend throws himself in front of the commuter train. I imagine him, so positive that the only escape from the pain he felt powerless against was to throw himself in front of that train he shut down for four hours. His mother sobs over thousands of crackling miles of static and telephone lines. His mother lives in Vietnam. I meet her at SFO and pay for the Lyft to her hotel. We sit in silence in the back seat, and she reaches for my hand. “Sean was a good boy,” she whispers to me. I squeeze her hand, feeling the lump in my throat grow and choke out tears. She flies out two days later after collecting his remains and making arrangements for his belongings. I never hear about a funeral.
But the mantras continue for the others: yoga and kale cure everything, including major depressive episodes. Your higher power is what you wish to achieve. That causes people to throw themselves in front of trains. They tell me that I don’t understand. They tell me I’m not eating enough kale. I’m not doing enough yoga. In San Francisco, every conversation leads back to Yoga and Kale. No me gusta col rizada.
From the top of Twin Peaks, I gaze out at the sun reflecting off The Bay and compose my resignation letter. My brain can’t choose to ignore what I see. Closing my eyes, I imagine Sean with his mother – a pair I never saw in life. His beautiful mother, a refugee in America, now, a returned Việt Kiều, lives on without her son. Would my own parents return to the land that they fled? How far does this invisible boundary between water and sky extend? ¿Hasta dónde llegaría para echar agua en el mar?
If this story brought up any difficult feelings for you regarding suicide, please reach out to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 (USA). They are also available to chat 24/7/365
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Here’s a poem I wrote in 2016. Some poems age into themselves and their meanings change to readers over time based on current events. I won’t attempt to provide explanation or analysis. I do hope it resonates with you though.
A Moment Aflame
at tables cleaned and polished by our own hands we sit attempting personal renaissance: a moment in time caught fire. we sit, write, talk, eat, drink, breathe in- to creation the desperation for a life out- side of this very existence controlled by desire to satiate the disease of purpose symptoms driven deep into young minds by careless words; unanswered questions: unfulfilled dreams pushed onto another generation as lost grown children wander with empty eyes and imploding hearts.
they told us we were equal, instead, we are searching for explanations – why this world has treated our existences like matches: struck aflame burned out thrown away
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this poem today. If it speaks to you and you find connection, please let me know by liking, commenting, or sharing this post. This helps me know which posts my readers like best.
Remember, without you these words would serve no one other than myself and the company getting paid to host the data.
We define “apology” as “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure” as a paraphrase of multiple dictionaries.
I have struggled with apologies for as long as I can remember. At one point I was the person that said “I’m sorry” in response to everything. What I found out the hard way is that being trained to apologize for my existence results in others devaluing me. Through school I repeatedly was forced to apologize for my own existence to those bullying me as the only way to escape physical, psychological, and emotional harm. Later, people I called my friends, potential romantic partners, and individuals I did date took advantage of this same pattern. Here are some examples of things and people I have apologized for/to in the past:
I have apologized to someone that attempted to rape me and succeeded in sexually assaulting me. I apologized for “keeping calm” while I figured out how to get away from them safely because this “implied consent” and sent “mixed signals” to them despite me saying “no”, “no, stop” out loud, repeatedly.
I have apologized to someone that cheated on me for the entire duration of our relationship for not focusing on their feelings and the person they had cheated on me with the whole time.
I have apologized for having panic attacks that other people caused on purpose.
I have apologized for my existence in spaces where I was made to feel unwelcome.
I have apologized for being too sensitive when hurt by humor and for not finding bigoted jokes funny.
I have apologized for not being what strangers expected based on descriptions provided by others.
I have apologized for many things I should never have apologized for and rather were reasons the recipient of the apology should have been apologizing to me.
Those are a few examples that I will never repeat. The thing is, at the time I genuinely believed that everything I experienced was my fault. In everything that went wrong and every experience I had I always saw the common denominator as myself. I still struggle with this.
What Defines Types Of Bad Apologies?
Apologies should be done because the individual providing them feels genuine remorse. Part of this means not using apologies to manipulate those around you. There are 3 “Don’ts” of apologies (see above), I’d like to address. These include the “I’m sorry you feel that way“, the “never add an excuse“, and the “never expect an apology“.
The “I’m sorry you feel that way” is rarely used in cases of actual empathy or sympathy if the speaker is indeed the person that caused the listener to be upset. This phrasing should never be used in response to someone being genuinely hurt and attempting to discuss their feelings or thoughts on a subject. Using this phrasing belittles the individual you are speaking to and attempts to erase their experience by devaluing it while elevating the status of the “apologizer”.
On the other hand, the advice of “never add an excuse” is often over generalized and used to abuse individuals that are attempting to defend themselves. The difference is there’s never a “I’m sorry, but…” when people are attempting to defend themselves against abuse. Instead, the phrasing used will focus on the logic and/or reasoning someone used as an indication that they should perform the behavior and a recognition that this information was received incorrectly. I have unfortunately dealt with people that would suggest saying anything beyond the words “I’m sorry” including what is being apologized for counts as an excuse.
People using apologies to manipulate, belittle, and otherwise damage the individual making the apology are ubiquitous throughout society. Many people that do these behaviors do so without recognition of their actions, instead focusing on their own emotional experience. The last piece of advice plays into this.
I lived by “never expect an apology” for a long time. Instead, I was the one apologizing every time I felt like someone needed to apologize to me and I wanted an apology, but knew I would never get one. Why? Because obviously whatever happened was my fault and therefore I should be the one apologizing since it couldn’t possibly be anyone else’s fault. Here’s the thing: it’s okay to want an apology, but you need to be okay with not receiving one and knowing how to respond if that’s the case.
Remember the phrase, “actions speak louder than words?” Sometimes people don’t know how to apologize using words and instead they do so through actions. It’s important to be receptive to this alternative method of apology, especially for appropriate offenses. Apologizing through action involves recognizing an uncomfortable situation or a pattern and stopping recurrence. For minor offenses nonverbal apologies are often enough. Alternatively, nonverbal apologies combined with verbal apologies take on synergistic amplification of the perceived sincerity.
Sometimes handwritten or typed apology notes are the way to go. These provide an indication to the recipient that the cause for apology has been contemplated. It also means that the ability to view and evaluate the apologizer’s response.
Rifts In Relationships
Apologies and forgiveness are meant to repair relationships and bring the divided parties back together. If someone wrongs you, does not see it even with some assistance, and does not apologize of their own volition you need to ask yourself: should this person be in my life? Apologies require the recipient to be receptive and the apologizer to be willing. So, the answer is maybe, maybe not. The relationship should be reevaluated.
Attempting to apologize using manipulation tactics will hurt relationships and drive parties involved further apart, particularly if a wrong has occurred. It’s important to be able to recognize these manipulation tactics when they arise, such as the examples previously mentioned.
When manipulation tactics are used, and/or the individual demanding the apology is doing so as a means of manipulation, it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship entirely.
It is important to note that sometimes a person may need to ask for more information before they can understand what they did wrong and apologize. That need for more information should be taken as a tentatively positive sign. Let the rest depend on the outcome.
Apologies And Boundaries
I mentioned that it’s okay to want an apology.
The way that people apologize can help you set boundaries with those around you. As an example, there have been times in my life where I was faced with the need to reevaluate friendships where manipulation tactics disguised as apologies have been used toward myself and my life partner. In these circumstances, I kept wanting an apology for the behaviors these individuals exhibited with communication as to the offenses. Only then could I be confident that these friendships were worth salvaging.
In cases where someone demonstrates their lack of respect and manipulation attempts in writing, actions or spoken phrasing, I can only control myself. I can choose not to respond and I can choose how to provide information regarding my own emotional state moving forward. By wanting an apology, but not expecting one, I have set a boundary that removes these individuals from the previous privileges of friendship until a rejoining moment, such as an apology, can occur.
This needs to be okay. If you remove someone from your life or from the privileges of friendship this needs to be respected. I’m not suggesting abandoning professionalism, the inalienable respect all humans deserve, or common decency.
If someone does not show you gratitude for your efforts, what does that mean? What if they demand gratitude from you, but do not show it in return? What if they express gratitude in words, but their actions do not match up?
Dictionary.com defines privilege as “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.” I am a very private person. It takes a long time to get to know me and those that succeed I make every effort toward maintaining a friendship. Here’s the thing about privileges: they can be taken away.
Take a moment and think about the last time you had to break up with a friend or a friend broke up with you. Do you know why it happened? Did it happen despite apologies? Did one party refuse to offer forgiveness for the other?
Even the most socially blind among us notice when someone stops contacting us entirely when before there was constant communication and support. That said, not everyone recognizes why friendships end and after time has passed, it is within reason to reach out to attempt to reconnect with the understanding you may not receive a response. Don’t spam the person and don’t continuously reach out. Respect their boundaries.
Being your friend is a privilege, but it is also a privilege to be friends with someone else. If any friendship does not involve two individuals treating the other with mutual respect that acknowledges this, then it is unlikely to be a friendship worth keeping.
Especially if the dynamic of forcing another individual to apologize is observed.
This is not meant to garner undue sympathy for, or excuse these behaviors. Instead, I want to use this as a springboard for the thought, “it’s about them, not you.” You can’t control other people. You can show them compassion and understanding. You can communicate with them. You can hold boundaries with them. Hopefully they recognize this pattern and break it, but in my albeit limited to my own life’s experience, this takes attempting to explain the behavior, severing contact, and not speaking to the individual with the assumption that it may be indefinite.
I can’t expect apologies from anyone. I can’t expect people to change their behavior or recognize how what they did was wrong. I only have control over my own actions and the way I choose to interact with these behavior patterns and the individuals expressing them. I choose to understand the reasons behind the behavior, but it is not my responsibility to fix anyone.
When Do I Apologize?
I apologize only for things I know I’ve done wrong and am remorseful for. Besides this, I do apologize for my actions if the results did not match my intent. But my apologies are offered less often – not out of pride, but rather self-preservation. I have learned standards for apologies that I hold myself and others to. As a few examples of these standards:
I do not use apologies as manipulations and do not tolerate it in those around me.
I provide and accept apologies years after once time and introspection has passed. These apologies should not have justification or excuses – as time goes by all that’s left to mend is the pain. Situations and words are distorted and lost by faulty memories – all that matters is the expression.
I apologize in that awkward English language way as a sign of sympathy, but reserve when I do it to be driven by compassion. Accepting cultural norms in the face of contrary life experience – yay!
I still apologize to people more frequently than I should, despite efforts to practice otherwise. I still struggle with deciding when enough is enough in unhealthy friendships. I still struggle to stand up for myself after years of training that tells me anything I say counts as an excuse, therefore invalidating the apology that I never should have said anyway.
I never expect an apology, but I don’t suggest the absence of one be “water under the bridge”. It’s important to surround yourself with individuals that remind you what healthy relationships look like – mistakes, apologies, forgiveness, absence of manipulation, absence of physical/sexual/psychological abuse, and mutual respect.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post. Without you these words fail to complete the reception portion of communication and instead hang out idly on servers somewhere. If you found that this content resonated with you, please like, comment, and/or share with someone else you think will appreciate it.
Today I turn 31 in the year 2020. The world is chaotic (to say the least). But there is so much for which to be thankful. We have an opportunity in this dark time: we can use this as a pathway to finding our similarities and common ground. We can use this as an opportunity to show compassion toward our fellow human beings. Don’t believe me? I have a challenge for every person reading this.
If you’re ever feeling alone, think about the population of the country where you live. I currently live in the United States – a country with a population of 328.2 Million people. Approximately 27% of Americans report using Google as their primary search engine. That means approximately 88.614 Million Americans use Google as their primary search engine.
That means that whatever the statistically most likely predicted completion of a search phrase is results from millions of people searching that phrase.
This means you are not alone. With every crazy question you have for the internet, you are not alone. For these first fifteen, I’m going to be very general. Then, once this concept has been demonstrated, let’s go on a journey. Some of these are funny, some are depressing, some are revealing.
1. “Is it…”
2. “What to…”
3. “Does the…”
4. “Are there…”
5. “Do I…”
6. “Why is…”
7. “Who was…”
8. “Did I…”
9. “Where are…”
10. “Am I…”
11. “How to make…”
12. “When will…”
13. “Does the United States…”
14. “How many…”
15. “How often…”
That’s a doozy.
Okay! So 15 questions in and you’ve noticed that Americans are just as confused about our units of measure as the rest of the world and things do seem to be interesting. Plus, if you’ve been sedentary and are questioning while your bowel habits have changed, you’re not alone. Drink more water, eat more fiber, and start going for more walks. You’ll feel better.
These next questions are for those of us that recognize that search histories get a little weird when you’re writing. So, let’s start looking at some of the autocompleted questions related to writing research I’ve seen lately. These get a bit dark and others are truly revealing.
1. “What do serial killers…”
2. “Why do serial killers…”
3. “Why do wives…”
4. “Why do husbands…”
5. “Why do partners…”
6. “Do cows…”
7. “How to fake…”
8. “How to destroy…”
9. “Why doesn’t…”
10. “Humans are…”
I warned all of you that was going to get dark.
There’s one final search I am going to show you – it leads to one of my favorite poems I had forgotten about and hadn’t read in over 10 years.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers (314) – Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard – And sore must be the storm – That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land – And on the strangest Sea – Yet – never – in Extremity, It asked a crumb – of me.
I hope you can hear Hope’s song, and even if you can’t right now, know that you are not alone in searching for it amongst the noise.
What were your autocomplete results like when you searched similar beginning terms? Were they the same as mine? If you have suggestions of other terms for me to search please leave them in a comment 🙂
I am so thankful for your company on this bizarre journey through search engine autocompletes on my birthday. If you enjoyed this post, please share it, like, or comment. Without you, this post would be stored quietly on a server somewhere. Have a wonderful weekend ahead 🙂 With Love – Lo.