Love Means You Can Say “Sorry.”


My grandfather never apologized for anything.

I think he was pretty sure the world revolved around him and the rest of us were simply there to enhance his life.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are lots of wonderful things about my grandfather and he was loved by many people.  He had admirable qualities.  I just have never been one to be blinded by love to the point where I don’t see people as they really are, complete with warts . . . and I sometimes think that makes me love them even more because they seem more approachable somehow.  I know I have warts and I find it fascinating to “study” other people.

My grandfather punished us hard and said horrible things to us.  I look back at being a kid and see a little girl that wanted nothing more than to please him – something that never happened –  and usually, I am left with this impression of this kind of pathetic kid who was never really wanted and didn’t fit in anywhere.  That is not the truth but THAT little girl haunts me sometimes.  Every now and then I get these backward glimpses of a different girl and of the fire that is me and I smile that I was stronger than I ever thought.

One time when I was about 9, my brother and I had fought and upset Grandma.  We, of course, did not hear about it from Grandma because her role was to go to her room and neatly contain all her emotions . . .  and needs  . . . and wants  . . . so that she took up as small a space in this world as possible and didn’t ever upset anyone.  We heard about it from Grandpa.

He told us they had done us a big favour taking us in, we were not their kids, and that he was done.  How much money did we have in our bank accounts?  We had about $125.00 between us.  He said that would get us a couple of meals for a few days and we would have to figure it out from there.  He told us to pack our bags and that he was going to drive us into the city and drop us off on a street somewhere.  He had it all planned out and he explained it to us in detail.  He was not out of control.  He was not ranting and raving.  His words were quiet and even.   He explained in great detail the horrible things that were likely to happen to us living on the streets.  They came AFTER we had both been beaten with the belt and smacked around the head.  That is how we went to bed, being told we were leaving in the morning, and he “wouldn’t waste a moment worrying whether we were dead or alive.”

My brother spent the night crying.

I packed.

I wasn’t angry.  It was just the way it was.  I needed to be ready for the next day.

I had everything in my suitcases and ready to go.  In the morning I took them to the front door and stood waiting for the word we were leaving.  My brother tried to pull my suitcases back into my room terrified that we might actually have to go.  My grandfather walked by, made breakfast, ate it and came out to leave.  I picked up my suitcases to follow him and he said he was going to do the chores.  I waited at the door all morning.

My grandmother got up.  I told her I was waiting to leave and what Grandpa had said and she tried to excuse it and say he didn’t mean it and that I should go put my things back, but I was adamant.    He had not taken it back.  He had not apologized.  He had said it.  He meant it.

Grandpa came in for lunch and we never ever spoke about it.  There was no follow up, no lesson learned, no apology … just he got to do the damage and then go on like it never happened.  Being good meant that we colluded with his silence.   Being good meant becoming the receptacle for all his anger and hate.  We were meant to bend under the blows.  We were the holders of his rage and the secrets.  Our love was demanded, not earned.

I lost all my respect for him on that day.  I hated him for saying those things and hated him more for then not meaning them and not having the courage to admit he was wrong.

But I knew where I stood.  He had said what had been unspoken for years.  And I also knew that the reason we were staying was because of my brother and not me.  Had it just been about me, I would have been gone.

I got real serious about my life and my responsibility to myself from that point forward.  I found out I was stronger than I thought.  I knew I was indeed my own parent and that I would leave as soon as I had the opportunity.  I also knew that I was so grateful that I could admit I was wrong, and say I was sorry, and that I would never ever forget that of all the abuse I had suffered, words cut very deep and last a lifetime.  He broke something inside me that day.

This man, my grandfather, that people so admired and looked to as being so kind and compassionate, had his own demons.  I learned that most people do and what we see in the public arena is often not anywhere near the truth as to who people really are.

I am grateful for my upbringing because it helped me understand so many things.  I love my grandparents and I forgive them completely.  For me, the lessons were learned and so strongly impressed, that I can never forget them.   They are a huge part of who I am.  It would have been a tragedy if I had allowed it to make me hate, but instead, it deepened by my understanding of and appreciation for … love.

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