Don’t you think you should apologize?

view from my father's dock on a cold day--my favorite place to go and think

“Your friend C. isn’t allowed to come over anymore,” my mom said.

I was in the 7th grade and living with my mom for the first time. And we were living with a couple–a drummer and a graphic designer. I looked up at my mom.

“C. said something inappropriate to S.,” mom said.

I looked around the room as if the explanation of inappropriate would be there.

“She followed him into the kitchen. Remember?” mom asked.

I thought about the afternoon. S. and I were usually here alone together in the apartment before my mom and his girlfriend got home from work. That afternoon I’d brought a friend home with me. C. had gone to the kitchen. “She wanted something to drink,” I said.

“She made a pass at S.”

I understood what she meant and I didn’t. C. hadn’t said anything to me. I thought harder. She had said S. was cute. “Oh,” I said.

“That’s it?” my mom asked.

“I’m sorry,” I said. What had C. said? I wanted so much to know. S. was 32. C. was 12.

“S. is very embarrassed. You should apologize to him.”

Later, when S. was home and I mumbled that I was sorry about my friend, S. didn’t look at me. He said not to worry about it. To forget it.

I never learned what C. said in the kitchen when she followed him into the kitchen and I stayed in the living room going over my homework, but I couldn’t stop feeling as if I’d said it.

The next day I ended my friendship with C. I didn’t tell her why.

Much of the time I feel that my fiction is saying something and I don’t know what that is. I brought the story into the world–seems like I ought to understand it better, but I don’t. What does my novel mean? No idea. But it is my fault it is here, so shouldn’t I have so clue?

How well do you understand what you write? Is it all clear to you? Do you leave it to others to figure out? But how then can you explain it to an agent? How do you make it sell?

And I don’t understand why I write something and then feel bad about it.

16 thoughts on “Don’t you think you should apologize?

  1. Miriam

    The people in my writing group often see things in my fiction that I hadn’t thought of. Perhaps you need to tell the agent what readers say.

    1. Well, now that people have paid money for my art, my feelings have changed somewhat. The money–for better or worse–gives validation of sorts. I still feel weird and neurotic, but money is tangible proof that somebody likes what I do. Maybe it shouldn’t work that way… It is easier for people to look at art and know if they like i or not, respond immediately. Looking at art takes seconds. A book takes hours. And my art has been accepted by “professionals”–an art festival jury. My book has been accepted by friends–and few of those. So… I feel differently about the art.

      1. I see how that would work, especially when you keep making progress. Maybe now that you’ve had the experience of being successful and validated, you can apply that somehow to your writing.

  2. I wondered the same thing as Sherri.

    My fiction apparently resists interpretation for some people. (Not a good sign, eh?) They’ll ask me Why did you [fill-in-the-blank] at this point in the story? I’ll think, like, come on: you really can’t see why?

    Then when somebody DOES get it, I want to hug them (after first falling over in gratitude).

    1. Read the comment above for the wondering.

      Doesn’t it depend on who the reader is? I know some people need a story spelled out for them. If they can’t interpret your writing, well, that might be a good thing. Think about the person who gets it–find more people like him or her.

  3. Sarah

    I always get why I wrote what I did and what it meant, but I don’t know if that’s always a good thing. Maybe a little more irrationality and mystery would be more interesting, more open to the unknown…

  4. Jay Stober

    My guess is that S. made an unsuccessful pass at C. Either the mother is in denial or her banning C. is her way of stopping something worse from happening. Not being permitted to see the obvious is a burden people in the daughter’s situation are often taxed with.

    Alternatively, C. did make some kind of puppy love “pass” and both “S” and the mother were too immature to know how to set her right.

    Why the mother would want to cover for S. is another question. We are missing information about the history of the living arrangements.

    In any case, C. seems well clear of the whole family.

    The story could be used in sex education at the Junior High level.

    I got a little confused about who was who. I’d prefer full names (eg. Sam and Andrea, Mother, Caroline), except for the narrator, who is appropriately left unnamed.

    1. I’ve always had a problem with the names. The stories here are true, and I don’t want to use real names, and I also don’t want to use fake names. The initial doesn’t always work though, so I’ve got to figure that out.

      Since it is true, I can say that S. seemed genuinely bothered. C was a boy crazy girl, but I don’t think she was that boy crazy. But there were so many things I didn’t know about back then!

      (I’ve got fiction on a different blog.)

      1. Jay Stober

        Yes, I was reading the piece as fiction. In real life, if I introduced a man to a woman friend and he proceeded to act abusively, it would be natural for me to apologize for my mistake–and reconsider my own relationship to the guy. I suppose the adults may also have been afraid of C.’s influence on your behaviour. We feel bad rejecting any twelve-year-old though.

  5. Goodness, you were such a good girl! I’m so proud of you for being obedient to your mom and giving up the friendship – isn’t that weird? Probably because I’m a mom and I know respectful behavior when I see it. I know that must have hurt you, not understanding what was happening. I’d have thrown 9 kinds of a hissy fit and kept being friends with the girl anyway.

    Why does your novel have to have a meaning? Can’t it simply be, just because you wanted it to?

    1. I was obedient 99% of the time. Not being obedient just didn’t seem possible and I couldn’t understand girls who rebelled. Silly me!

      The novel doesn’t have to have a meaning–except to approach an agent. Agents–silly creatures–want meaning! ugh.

  6. Maybe it’s me, but that’s weird and creepy. That a 12 year-old girl COULD say something slimy enough to warrant this is hard to believe, but that your mom felt YOU should apologize seems … more odd, frankly.

    I always feel my fiction wears a dunce cap and sits in the corner giggling at itself. It’s simple, and if it’s that simple, I guess it’s dumb. And if it’s dumb, so must I be, because I can’t add “complexity” and “depth” and “intrigue” or whatever.


    1. In my memory (and in fairness my mom is no longer around to give her side of things) she was upset that I didn’t keep an eye on my friend and that I should’ve known C. was “that way.” At the time I didn’t think this entirely fair, but I wasn’t sure. And in fact I didn’t bring home any more friends for the time we lived with that couple. Also, my mom was under a lot of financial stress–she couldn’t afford to move us out. And she was filing for custody of me from my dad. It was all a mess. I’ve just wondered all this time what C. could’ve possibly said.

      Give your writing more credit. I’ve only read bits here and there, but I’ve never thought dumb. Not even close. And you’re going to have to muster up some belief in your writing if you want an agent to. So there.

      Besides, people who set out to add depth and all that often end up sounding pretentious. Who wants to read pretentious? Write the story you want! You know that!

      And thank you by the way for stopping by.

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