Hamel: Late apologies, early regrets

Opinion editor and columnist Peyton Hamel digests a late apology from someone in her past. 

Peyton Hamel

Content warning: This column contains content related to sexual assault and harassment. 

Triggers. We all have them. In fact, sometimes we have made our own emotional triggers that put us through emotional hell. Sometimes someone else makes those triggers for us, but the same could be said for the opposite. Sometimes we make them for others. 

It’s the inevitable. Someone’s our bad guy in our superhero stories and we are someone else’s. No one’s a saint. 

But that doesn’t mean bad guys always have to be bad guys. Sometimes bad guys turn into great sidekicks or faint memories. I have certainly forgotten about all my childhood bullies. 

The other day, however, I received a text message from one of the antagonists in a different chapter of my life. A chapter from three years ago in high school. One of my closest friends who committed some sexual misconduct against me. 

I was surprised I still had his phone number after what happened, so I sat there for a good few minutes staring at his name on the banner notification on my home screen. My eyes were peeled to my phone. Face recognition finally got me and I had the privilege of reading the first few lines of the message. 

It was an apology.

“I don’t know if you will get this and, if you do, I do not expect a reply if you don’t want to. But I think I have more to say to you than just about anyone. I will never be able to express to you how sorry I am for everything that I did. You were the kindest friend I’ve ever had and I think maybe the only one to actually care about me.”

The text continues for a few more lengthy sentences. An apology from a person who is at the top of the “who hurt me most” list. 

I remember reading it over and over and over again. Why? Why now?

I couldn’t help but think, “What happened in their life that has hurt them so much to apologize for something that happened three years ago? Are they okay?”

It’s a three-year late apology. I told my friend about it and they reacted, “Why are you so empathetic to someone who did that to you?” I didn’t have a good answer. 

Just because they used to be a bad guy in my story doesn’t mean they don’t have their own bad guys in theirs. Maybe they became their own bad guy. I know how much that can hurt. Internalized hate and frustration. Yeah, it hurts pretty bad.

My imagination ran wild. 

What if they are asking for help?

What if they need someone to talk to?

Did something happen at home?

Are they feeling alone? Isolated? 

What hurt them?

What went so wrong that they feel so guilty now? 

I want to ask if they’re OK, but it seems like a rotten can of worms I shouldn’t open. Pandora’s box. I decided not to respond. I hope that’s the right decision.

I had another conversation with the same friend, and they said they had been on the other side of a situation like that, where they felt guilty for how they treated someone a few years ago. They said it took a lot of time to realize how much better that person deserved to be treated and they hated being the source of their pain.

I don’t think it’s ever too late to make that sort of apology. There’s a certain aspect to having “closure” that needs to happen in order for it to be effective. Closure acts as a window. It needs to be cleaned on both sides before the view can be beautiful. On one side of the window is the person hurting, probably on the outside. On the other side of the window is the perpetrator. 

Healing is a long process, but I tend to think apologies expedite the process. Even the late ones. I was hurting over my incident for a long time, but I still have to live with it. When I read the apology, I first thought it was strange, but in the end, I appreciated it. I hope he found his closure by finding the will to apologize. 

I told my friend — who regretted their maltreatment toward someone else — that if they wanted to apologize, it was OK to do. They might respond, they might not, but at least you’ll know they saw it. If it’s been weighing on you for years, it’s time. 

When the coin flips on the wrong side, the world doesn’t stop spinning on its axis and the clock doesn’t freeze. For every second you spend floating in regret, guilt, anxiety, remorse, sadness, that second is lost. Feel your emotions, but don’t let it fester that long. 

I never expected a late apology. But somehow, I ended up cherishing it even more because I know that person has been growing and doing better than they were. I couldn’t ask for anything else.