My feet pounded the track, music blared in my ears and I was looking straight ahead when she walked into the field house and the first words that came to mind were, "I was a different person then." They came to me not because this woman represented a part of my past, though she did. They came to me as peacemakers.
We were colleagues but never friends, not for lack of effort on her part. She came to work in Adult Protection late in my career there, at a time when I was burned out but didn't recognize it which is not surprising because I was unrecognizable myself. I trained her in but she was earnest and I had little patience, so after her training was done, so was I.
She described me to another colleague as the Godfather of Adult Protection--if I didn't like her, no one would. When my co-worker told me that I laughed it off because I didn't see myself that way and couldn't imagine having that much power over others. Now, years later, I wonder if I did. I no longer trust my perceptions of myself and have learned to pay more attention to my reflection.
I accepted an invitation for coffee with her after that because I wanted to explain that it wasn't personal. We sat awkwardly in Starbucks and she was honest and vulnerable and I was honest but cold.
"I am just trying to survive."
"I can be your colleague but not your friend."
"You want more than I can give."
She teared up and I felt nothing and, for those who know me, that right there is a sign of how bad things had become.
For the rest of the time we worked together, I was cordial but not terribly friendly and I think the last time I saw her would have been in late 2011, before I moved from the Government Center to the satellite office in North Minneapolis. Goodbye and good luck.
And then today, she walked into the gym.
I waved and smiled as I passed and she looked as surprised as I felt and I kept running but, with each step, I realized I had things I needed to say. We didn't really know each other and we were at the gym and I had already greeted her--that was a sufficient response and appropriate given the layered circumstances. But the words kept playing through my head...
"I was a different person then."
"That job broke me."
When I finished and my footsteps and the music were quiet, the words were even louder so I sat down on a bench and I waited for her. She came over and I said hello with warmth and I asked her how she was doing and what she was doing. She told me she had retired and she was happy and I told her that I was happy too. We smiled genuinely at each other and that would have been enough but I realized I needed to say more. I looked her in the eye and said, "I didn't like the person I became doing that job." She nodded and said, "I'm still getting over what it did to me." I was able to say that I'd been broken and--yes--that I was a different person then. And as we talked, I became lighter and the conversation became lighter and that is what forgiveness feels like. I never said the words "I'm sorry" and, though they were there in the other things I said, I can't know if she forgave me. But I know that in that moment--that imperfect moment in a most inopportune place--I was able to forgive myself and maybe that's what I needed all along.