Accepting Guilt — an Act of Love

“Did you ever find that gun?” asked the hairstylist.  That’s right, even in a place where they paint toes and wax eyebrows, people are talking about the tommy-gun that someone took from me.  It may not be the crime of the century but it sure feels that way to me.

It’s already been a roller-coaster summer for me, testing the patience of one who forgives.  It’s easy when people know they have messed up.  That opens the possibility that they will not again make the same mistake.  Heck, in some churches, confession is holy, if not just darned good for the soul.

When I messed up, my wife Nina would tell me.  Her stare or stone-cold silence spoke volumes.  And when I erred, I apologized, often in writing.  That was the nature of our bond, a savvy businesswoman and a nit-wit, bound by love not even her family understood.

Once, at a professional conference, I spent more time talking to journalism students than I did to Nina.  I returned to our room to find her lying speechless in bed.  I had hurt her.  Nothing I said could change that.   So for 20 years, I tried harder to show my love.

What does love look like?  For us, it was cruising casino parking lots and seedy trailer parks looking for lost sheep, errant family-members.  And sometimes I would go alone, venturing into dangerous places.

In the process, I met unusual people with odd nick-names like “Bullfrog” and “Sprinkles.”  Amiable people, they were.  And I got to know Eureka’s urban landscape, its pot-grows and party places.  I also met its Generation X, kids with purple hair and nose rings.  Ours were folksy chats: “Sorry about your wife.  Wanna try some weed?  Can I borrow your bike?”  All of it sounded so foreign to me.

Naturally, my family tried to protect me.  “Don’t talk to that guy,” they would caution.  But how odd it was that these strange creatures knew how to find my front door?  Through no fault of mine, my neighborhood had become the nexus of new family values, a virtual “Leave it to Beelzebub.”

That’s why it was easy for me to befriend a guy in prison for life.  He knew he messed up and he knew he wouldn’t be doing it again. I am happier for knowing him and certainly, I will visit him again.   Life here at home is not so clear.

Nina was my safety-net.  As crazy as life could be, she would always be there.  Sure there were times when I wondered why she needed me.  I just knew she did.  That was enough.  And of course I needed her.  The moment I realized she was gone, I knew that life for us would dramatically change.

Of course I didn’t need the tommy-gun.  In fact, no one in the family knew I had it.  It’s not something that pops up in conversation.  Still, I showed it off one day this summer to family members, and then showed them where I kept it.  That’s why, when it turned up missing one day, I thought first of them, painful as that was.  It had happened once before with Nina’s jewelry and my camera.

Guilt is a quirky thing.  Nobody likes to own it.  And yet, as imperfect beings, we do sooner or later.  That is why we have overworked police, prioritizing cases by their violence factor.  Literally, a head-butt trumps a light-fingered butt-head.

I celebrate guilt because it is within our power to accept it, an affirmation of life itself.  To be guilty is to be human.  To accept that guilt is to love.  I am…guilty as charged.

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