GUILT GEMS

If only it worked.

If only it worked.

As I get older, I have much more to look back on and feel guilty about. Yes, yes there’s no point in feeling guilty.  I could go into what has made me like this, but who cares? When I can’t sleep, an army of misdeeds invades my consciousness: overtures of friendship I casually rejected, thoughtless criticisms, insensitivities.

A while back it occurred to me that I could right some of these wrongs. I decided to clear the decks of guilt. I began to call people I had offended in order to apologize. After the first three calls, I stopped. None of them remembered what I was so torn up about. They were baffled, incredulous and/or amused. Though that was a relief, I came to understand that I wasn’t so important after all. I might have been the hero (or villain) of my own life, but I sure wasn’t of anyone elses.

Guilt Gems” is a story by John Updike that has stuck with me over the years. It concerns a father named Ferris who thinks back to the many times he has been cruel to his children. He describes a softball game in which he felt forced to tag his ten-year-old daughter and recalled “…she looked at him with a smile, a smile preserved as in amber by a childish wild plea on her face. She was out.”

One of my guilt gems is the time I tried to prevent my four-year-old daughter from calling me into her bedroom in the middle of the night. The routine was that she would wet her bed, then call me and I would get up, change her pajamas and put a dry pad over the wet spot. I was a single working mother, tired all the time, and it seemed reasonable that Sara take care of this herself. As I was tucking her into bed, I put a fresh pair of PJs and a pad at the foot of her bed and stroked her head as I explained that when I was a little girl, my mommy had me change clothes and use a dry pad whenever I wet the bed. First she looked shocked, then frowned and asked in a quavery voice, “But did she just come in one night and tell you she was never going to come into your room again?”

Sara has a small daughter of her own now and she’s collecting her own treasure chest of guilt gems. Unfortunately, and contrary to my other experiences, she remembers the night I came into her room quite vividly.

Sleep well, dear readers.

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About Alexis

Alexis Rankin Popik, author of Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, is an award-winning short story writer whose work has appeared in The Berkshire Review and Potpourri Magazine. She has penned numerous articles about local history that have been published in Connecticut Explored and the University of Connecticut School of Law and The Hartford Seminary publications. A former union organizer, Popik traveled the country educating shipyard workers about health and safety and founded a labor-management health plan before turning to writing fiction full-time. She lives with her husband in New England.
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