About 15 years ago, when I was an incredibly awkward teen in junior high, I said something that was unintentionally, but (now I realize) undeniably offensive to a classmate. I received a disgusted look and I was confused; I had thought I was being clever and didn't realize what I had said. It wasn't until about five years later that I heard that word I had said, in another context, and realized what had happened.
I didn't understand at the time what I had done, and in the time that has passed since I cannot forget what I said, how it must have made that person feel, and how it changed his perception of me. It bothers me to this day, because I didn't know what I was saying, and what I said absolutely does not reflect my attitude toward him or anyone like him.
The fact that this happened over half of my lifetime ago and that it still weighs on my mind may seem silly, but I have such regret over the incident now that I understand, and I just don't know what to do about it. Should I attempt to contact him and explain myself? Should I just say that I'm sorry I said it? How do I get over this moment of dorky ignorance?
Opened mouth, inserted foot
Dear Opened Mouth,
You know, I have many faults as a writer, and one of them is that I rarely just say what I am thinking; I always try to say it a little differently, or explore the edges of it, or try to make something literary and lasting, and sometimes that can get just a little tiresome. Well, the other day someone said to me, What if you just played it straight? And I thought, yeah, I could do that. For once I could just play it straight. In fact I started out pretty much playing it straight with this column. And then for a variety of reasons ... which, if I went into all of them, I'd be doing it again, wouldn't I?!
Not that I think there's anything wrong with how I usually do it. But here is me just playing it straight (though I must say, the minute a writer says he's just going to play it straight, you should check to see if you still have your wallet).
So here is what you do. You write a short note to the person saying pretty much what you said to me. You say it has always bothered you and you are taking this opportunity to formally apologize. You write what you have to say on a piece of paper, you sign it, you put it in an envelope, you address it, you stamp it and you mail it.
Keep it simple. You might hear back from the person and you might not. You don't need to. Your part is done.
"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
What? You want more advice?