anger avalanche

          In 1983, I received orders.  I was to be stationed the entire next year in Korea, separated from my wife and infant son.  We decided to find an apartment for the two of them, where she could work during my year overseas.  Fortuitously (I thought when I learned of it) my step-father and mother were planning a two-week vacation without my 15 year-old half-sister (because she'd be in school).  I asked my mother if my immediate family could stay in the guest room during their vacation, in order to apartment hunt (I assumed my parents would welcome an adult and car for errands and emergencies).  

          "No," I was told. "Your sister has been promised unsupervised-use of the house.  Her boyfriend has a car."

          Wow.  Unexpected financial stress (paying for a motel in my hometown while four bedrooms sit empty in my family's house) combined with parental favoritism (always visible, rarely this overt) and jealousy (rarely an unsupervised hour when I was in high school...but she's permitted a fortnight) became anger.  Sticky anger.

          Over the next several years I didn't reply to the handful of letters sent by my mother or step-father—all I recall of them were that they ruminated on my lack of religion and never contained an apology.  During those years I divorced my first wife, my sons were adopted by her second husband, I married a Korean woman, and completed a few more overseas and stateside tours.  Eventually, I wrote my mother and step-father and asked to visit and introduce my wife.

          Using racist verbiage, the gist of my mother's answer:  'You are welcome.  She is not'.

          Which cased my anger to avalanche.

          Many years later, after realizing my mother's bigotry only explained the last few years of our estrangement, I chuckled over the memory of that long-forgotten sticky anger and pondered how those years may have been different if I hadn't stopped communicating with them.

          Had I only been angry because my immediate family members were never welcome in my parents home, or did I hold my anger because my mother and step-father never apologized...would one have occurred without the other?  If I'd never expressed anger and, therefore, never expected apologies, would those decades have been estrangement-less?

          Is the party who causes someone else to be angry always responsible for an apology?  Is someone else getting angry at you sufficient reason to be angry back?  If so, who should apologize first?  How do insincere apologies fit-in here?  Does just blurting the word 'sorry' (like a bed-wetting preschooler) ever suffice for anything more serious than accidentally stepping on someone's toes?  If not (most have a keen eye for hollow apologies) how does one clearly and concisely communicate one's contrition?       

          Over the decades I've come to realize that, for my mother, it's always others who are unreasonable and always those same others who express unwarranted anger—while she never has reason for apologies.

          Which has taught me I'm not so much my mother's son—I can, and do, say I'm sorry.

To sorrow I bade good-morrow, and thought to leave her far away behind; but cheerily, cheerily, she loves me dearly...she is so constant to me, and so kind. — John Keats

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