I’m not a conflict-oriented person; I’m more of a defuser. I’m the one that mediates. I don’t escalate. I navigate and create, if not peace, then at least a working truce.
I’ve made a fist and punched someone once in my life (my friend Chris back in 3rd grade when we argued over comics and I gave him what might be the wussiest punch/slap in human history). I had a best friend in high school turned enemy by a girl (‘mine’ then ‘his’) that resulted in one shouting matches (with him behind a closed door), and one night where he show up with friends at a fast food restaurant. I was driving away before they could all get out of the car.
Yet there is one relationship in my life that got to the point of ‘in your face’ shouting, threatening of legal action, months of cohabitation misery, and, for several years after, the desire to inflict bodily harm. By the time it all ended, my then-wife and I vowed to never speak his name; he was to be “He who shall not be named” or, the shorter version, ‘Fuckface’. My nickname for this friend (before Fuckface) was K-Swiss and that is how I will refer to him. I am not opposed to using his name but I want to respect the last vestiges of privacy left in this cyber-world.
This is the story of that relationship and how I came to forgive him, forgive myself, and to move on.
In other words, this is a tale of true and complete forgiveness and I posit that many of us (including myself until recently) have never actually experienced that emotion in its totality.
Maybe someday K-Swiss will stumble upon it, read it, and share this peace as a result .
In the Beginning Was the Friendship
I met K-Swiss at my first job–teaching reading–in San Francisco in the summer of 2001. During the training, K-Swiss and I quickly realized how much we have in common: we both role-played, liked music, drank good beer, and loved to intellectually muse. He had a large group of friends who quickly became my friends. We drank beer, played Dungeons & Dragons, waxed philosophical, and watched SF Giants games together.
He was a grad student at San Francisco State University as was my fiancee (at the time) so they became friends as well. In the summer of 2002, my fiancee and I decided that we would rent the extra room in our rather spacious San Fran apartment to K-Swiss. It became a house filled with good music, food, and vibes. K-Swiss even mixed the ‘after the ceremony’ music for us and it was a hit at our wedding.
Special Ed, Death, Grad School, and Newlywed-ness
Two days after my wedding in September of 2002 I went back to work as the lead teacher in a special education class working with emotionally and behaviorally ‘challenged’ kids. The day after that, I started my master’s degree in adult education at SF State. A month later, my father died of leukemia.
I was a full-time teacher, newlywed, grad student who was grieving the loss of a parent. Part of the grieving involved training for a 100-mile ‘Century Ride’ with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.
I call that autumn my ‘dropkick into adulthood’.
Drawing Battle Lines
By the winter of 2002, my wife and I decided that we could afford our entire apartment and we asked K-Swiss if he could find a new place to live in six months.
He adamantly refused.
Of course, I can only tell this tale from my perspective and therefore can only tell you what I heard from K-Swiss. The gist of his argument was that we had no right to ‘kick him out’ and that it was merely the evil machinations of my nefarious wife that was forcing him to move.
Civilized dialogue ensued.
Then, one night, I snapped. I remember that we’d been talking for about a half-an-hour when I suddenly lost it. I stood up and shouted something to the effect: ‘I don’t know why you think I give a fuck about you anymore. I don’t know why you won’t let a young married couple start to build a home together. I don’t know why you think you can stay here. I don’t know why you would want to.”
Things deteriorated quickly from there.
No one was budging and my wife and I had no legal recourse; why would ‘friends’ need to sign a rental agreement? In high-rent markets like San Fran, the renter has all the power (a fact that I am generally thankful for) and the landlord does not. Especially without a contract.
We stopped talking altogether. I sectioned off the living room to represent the amount of space that we all paid for and told K-Swiss that if I saw any of his stuff anywhere other than in his room or in ‘his part of the living room’ (a roughly 8×10 section accessible from his bedroom and blocked off my bookshelves), I would throw it away.
If we ever interacted, it was usually only when I would ask him to move his car out of the way so I could get out of the garage and drive to work. I took special pleasure in this since I left for work around 6:30 in the morning and he was a notorious night owl.
Months of this passed slowly and painfully. We tried to draft agreements (passed under closed doors), call in advice from our lawyer friend (a bad move as it made K-Swiss entrenched and paranoid), and hole ourselves up in the back rooms of our apartment as much as possible (doable save trips to the kitchen and bathroom).
It wasn’t until after our first anniversary in September of 2003 that he finally left. For all sorts of reasons, this marked the end of the (to date) hardest year of my life… also the first year of my married life.
Forgiving and Forgetting
Fast forward to the summer of 2010. As my spiritual journey continues to unfold, I spend more and more time with my past relationships: healing old hurt, forgiving, asking for forgiveness. This process took me through my relationship with my parents, my friends, and my former lovers.
In the seven years in between, K-Swiss was no more than a rare passing thought. There was a few years where I vowed that if I saw him randomly on the street, I would attack him and fully accept the assault and battery charges as long as I could inflict some serious harm first.
I forgave misgivings, let go of the hurt caused by the two women I loved most (both of whom ‘left me’), and sent out the intention that those who needed to forgive me would find the inspiration to begin that journey. I thought of K-Swiss during this time of reconciliation but I decided that he was an evil fucker and he was the one who was entirely in the wrong. I ‘forgave’ him and affirmed for the millionth time my intention to never speak or hear from him (or about him) again.
That was good enough right?
‘You remind me of someone’
I was listening to Doug Bentley, a Canadian ‘Oneness Guide’ who spends his time in India as a monk, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that he reminded me of someone. While it may be clear to you at this point, it wasn’t until about an hour into his talk that I said (almost out loud), “Holy shit! His mannerisms, vocabulary, and inflections are exactly like K-Swiss’s.”
The divine works in subtle ways and in smack-you-upside-the-head ways; my head was definitely ringing from the spiritual blow. I approached Doug after the talk and told him what happened. His response was, “Dude, that’s totally cool. What an experience man!” If I’d had my eyes closed, I could easily believingt K-Swiss was standing in front of me.
So it was this kind-natured monk from India who reminded me of the depth of hatred I carried. He showed me without conscious effort how powerful my charge was. He made me face the reality that I need to heal this relationship; I need to let go of the poisonous loathing.
I suddenly knew I could… for two reasons:
1) I’d already experienced powerful emotional charges during that week. All the charges and the emotional intensity dissipated within minutes and without very much ‘suffering’ on my part. I think suffering is caused by resisting that which hurts rather than being with it. Having recently started to really understand ‘forgiveness’, the Divine knew I was ready and she let me have it.
2) Looking into the compassionate eyes of an earnest monk while feeling the deep currents of old hate made swimming against the stream a ridiculous notion.
This Story Sounds Oddly Familiar
Beyond divine guidance, there is a part of the process that gave me a perspective into which I could ‘bury my hatchet’.
As I was telling the tale to some friends, I first described K-Swiss’s state of mind in 2003. He was at a point of eminent transition (finishing school in the spring), cash strapped, and intentionally looking for communities of friends in which to thrive.
How would I describe my life right now? Still immersed in transition, cash strapped, and creating an intentional community.
As I’ve said a million times in the last year: I am no longer surprised by synergy but I am still grateful each time.
Suddenly, I really ‘got’ his perspective back in 2002-2003… and that helped me to finally forgive truly, completely, and honestly. Truly understanding where someone is coming from and why they do the things they do as well as accepting that they are ‘doing the best they can’ (not the best possible but the best that they are capable of at the present moment… think about it) form, for me, the basis of forgiveness.
Which leads me to ask: What are the most toxic relationships in your life that you’ve yet to heal? Not “filed away” or “done with”, but actually healed? What’s holding you back? Is the comfort of the hate/isolation/’moving on’ a fair price to pay for the emotional baggage?