May 3, 2005

In this manner, II

There was this guy, in New York I think, but it doesn’t matter. He bought a phone and a tape machine and he put the number in the paper with an advertisement soliciting apologies. It was for anonymous apologies, anything. He didn’t care, it was just this space he’d created for people who wanted to apologize but couldn’t, a public confessional. It was an automated answering service for the guilty-feeling, a place to confess in a world without priests, a world without gods ready and able to forgive.

He got hundreds of phone calls a day. People called him Mr. Apology and the tape machine ran for 10, 15 years. Until he died. Mr. Apology took all the tapes of all the apologies and spliced them and sorted and filed them. He rigged some of them up so callers could call in and listen to the apologies. I heard some of the apologies, once, on PRI.

There was a woman sounding sappy and pious apologizing to her dead mother in hopes the dead can hear us. There was a man apologizing for adultery, and a child apologizing for being vandalizes. A runaway girl calls to say she’s sorry, but mostly just lonely. There were a few jokes, a few justifications and half apologies, a few responses to other apologies.

This man called the apology line, and for the first minute of the tape he just breathes.

I’ve never told anyone this, except my shrink. he says. I accidentally killed my younger sister when I was a very small child.

My lungs seized at his stuttering, his stumbling not to cry, and I thought, I wanted to hope, that this was just an overactive conscious, that he just somehow blamed himself. That he was just a kid, he misunderstood. It wasn’t really his fault.

I was putting her head inside a plastic bag, he says, and putting a rubber band around her neck, just to see her face turn blue, and I guess it was a lot of fun, and I didn’t mean . . . anything bad to happen.

He didn’t mean it, didn’t know, didn’t realize. And then he sees her stop, sees death in her blue face and suddenly the sees evil and it is his own, suddenly looks with horror, with guilt, at his hands holding a plastic bag and a rubber band.

He hides. He hides the bag and the rubber band and he never tells his parents. They think it’s crib death, sudden infant death. They think it’s an unexplainable tragedy and they never know it was him, never look at their son and see a monster, never see his face as the face of a murderer. He sort of wishes he could tell them, that he could tell this to them, that he could receive their forgiveness, but he knows he can’t. He knows no forgiveness, knows it is impossible. I started to cry.

When I try to pray, I think of him.

(see part I)