The Apology

The Apology

by Mallory Ortberg

You’ll go down there and apologize. You’ll go and apologize now. It’s ridiculous not to, ridiculous even to wait as long as you have to do it. Stupid and petulant and a waste of time to wait here. It was a stupid thing to say in the first place, too, as long as we’re listing what ought to and what ought not to be done.

It was a stupid and a terrible thing to say and you knew that as you said it. You wanted to see what it would draw out, what the words would feel like in your mouth as you said them. Fine; now you know, and now you’ve hurt all of them, which is exactly what you didn’t want and what you knew would happen. You’ve had the fight, you’ve argued it to exhaustion and turned on your heels; now apologize to them. Apologize. Just apologize. Just move your body — right now, this minute, now — and leave this room and go find them and apologize.

It will be so easy, once you start moving, to keep moving, and once you start apologizing, to finish. They want to make it easy for you, you know. They want you to apologize. They didn’t ask you to disappear like this. This isn’t any fun for them either, you know that. You’re ruining things for everybody else, not just yourself now. You’re the problem and you know it.

There’s no point in not getting up now if you now that it’s inevitable that you will get up, if you’re just putting it off. Look at it this way.

1. You want to.
2. They want you to.
3. “I’m sorry” is a very short and easy phrase to say.
4. It’ll be so easy to do it, once you do it.
5. Everyone will be so happy and then it will be over.

There is the rise and fall of voices in the next room, and every now and then the sound of laughter. In five minutes, they’ll have left, and you’ll have missed it for no reason. It’s not the same if you call to say it later. It’s not the same if you talk about it tomorrow. You can go down there — right now, right now, this instant, you can put on that green coat over there on the chair, you can open the door and go out into the hallway and go downstairs — you can go down, and their faces will light up to see you, and your face, if you could see it yourself, will light up to see them still there, still waiting for you, because they all knew you were coming down to apologize and they wanted you to and they’re glad to see you now. They’ll smile to you. They’ll say soft and kind words in low voices to you.

You’ll come down, and they’ll rise up to greet you, and you’ll all meet in the middle of the room. And you’ll say you’re sorry, and it will feel so good to say it, and they won’t mind, they won’t mind at all. Every sore and sorry thing that passed between you will burn harmlessly away.
They want to forgive you. They’re ready to forgive you. You can still go with them. Nothing’s ruined yet.

But if you wait long enough, by the time you get there, they’ll be gone, and then you’ll be able to congratulate yourself for being right and get down to the real night’s work of feeling sorry for yourself. The room will be empty and you’ll have missed your chance.

They might as well have all died and left you to rot alone on Earth, if you got there and the room was empty and you were all alone with your apology. How they’d feel then, if they knew you’d come all the way downstairs with the sweetest, the most beautiful — the finest apology, the tenderest and most heartfelt apology ever pulled from a human heart — if you’d come all that way to find an empty room and no one to take your apology out of your hands.

Don’t you feel sorry for yourself. There’s no reason to. Get up, right now. What are you doing here by yourself that’s so worth preserving? What’s so wonderful about this drawn and noiseless room, sitting with your hateful self, that you should stay in it?

You are being hateful, you know. You know, you know. Leave their feelings out of it entirely; you need to beg their forgiveness for your own sake, so you don’t grow completely insufferable.

If you lie here and imagine how sad it would be if you never made amends, never gave in, and severed yourself from their friendship, marking the break to this very hour and building a new and lonely life, it’s almost like you’ve already done it.

How sad you’d be. How awfully, awfully sad that would be for you. This could be the beginning of it all. This would be the first hour of your growing apart, of your new and lonely life.

They’d like that, wouldn’t they? They’d just love to wear you down and catch you out. They don’t need anything. They’ve got themselves. You’re the one who’s being cut off. They’re the ones who crowded you out; they’re the ones politely closing the doors and locking up the windows and stoking the fire bright inside the house.

You could count the tiles on the ceiling before you go anywhere. Just to make sure they know that you could stay up here without them, if you needed to. There’s no reason to give in right away. You could count the tiles on the ceiling twice. Backwards and forwards, just to make sure you got the number right. One then two then three then four them five, not forgetting the quartered tiles in each corner where the pattern skips.

They’re probably having a wonderful time.

They’re probably talking about you right now. They’re probably talking about you in low concerned voices, hushed and feeling pleased about how hushed they’re being, how solicitous they are. They don’t need to search their own hearts, mining for apologies. They already know that they’re in the right, because there are more of them. They’ll be smug, you know. You’ll run down there and they’ll purse their lips and raise their eyebrows and your perfect apology will wilt on your tongue. You’ll get there, and you won’t be able to say anything. Your mouth won’t move, it’ll just hang there, and the words will bury themselves, and everyone’s faces will go long and flat.

Suppose a world existed where you had gone down, and crawled to them, and made your apologies, and then they didn’t embrace you but instead asked you questions. Why questions and Why didn’t you questions and Why now questions and How come questions, questions that would clamber cold-handed over your face and down into your throat.

Suppose you were met with silence and coldness. Suppose you went to all that trouble only to watch them begin to hate you. Suppose you gave them your apology and they asked for more.

And you were going to apologize to them. Think of that. Think of that. You were going to unspool your pride out onto the floor for them to pick over and criticize. The size of the gift you were planning on handing over would have bankrupted you. You were going to apologize to them! They almost had you.

You could count the tiles forever and live like a king here in this room. Every tile and every floorboard and every speck of dust in this room is subject to your will. The tiles will never rebel against you. They cannot mutter sedition when your back is turned, they cannot argue, they cannot disagree, they cannot turn cold shoulders to your pleading heart until you whine and weep for their forgiveness.

You have never needed anyone, and it took this moment, this very moment, just now, for you to truly realize it. They were a distraction. They never had your best interests at heart, not once, the mean and jealous Theys. They had small eyes and nervous hands and stupid, useless minds and you would apologize to a spider before you apologized to one of them.

If you imagine what you would look like when you said you were sorry, and if you imagine how warmly and how eagerly they take you back, it’s almost like it’s already happened.

It’s the easiest thing in the world. It’s the easiest thing you’ve ever done and you’re going to do it in a moment and then this will all be over and you’ll laugh about how silly you’ve been.

Maybe they’re all lying dead in there. Maybe you’ll walk in and they’ll be all white and red and horribly crumpled on the floor, and every one of them will be dead. Maybe one of them will still be wide-eyed and gasping when you walk in and there’ll be just enough time for the two of you to lock eyes. Then you’ll stoop to caress or rise up and bellow as you choose, a ministering angel or a conquering god.

You’ll go in a minute. You’ll go now. You’ll go, you’ll go, you’ll go. You know you will. You’ll go down and apologize.

Mallory Ortberg is a writer in the Bay Area. Her work has also appeared on The Hairpin, Slacktory and Ecosalon. Photo by Fe Ilya.