Step 8

Step 8

Juan Villoro

 Translated by Tanya Huntington

At the dawn of a new era, one of the things people find hardest to do is apologize. The Judeo-Christian guilt complex has lost its punch. Moreover, psychology has put us in touch with the subconscious and its gut reactions: what was once just plain rude is now a Freudian slip. Moreover, rumor has it that human rights now generously include our neuroses. Episodes that formerly appeared to be displays of savagery have become the comprehensible venting of a mankind all too cognizant of the fact that the millennium is upon us.

While lax responsibility does have its upside, a shameful act is often dismissed as a mere trifle: a gaffe, or a blunder. Finding synonyms for having lost control is one way to minimize the damage. Even worse, the victims–well aware that the souls of men are damaged goods these days–are predisposed to forgive their aggressors. In these trying times, the protagonist of a vile act can justify it as follows: “It’s because I was born in Metepec el Alto” (the geographic strategy: unrestrained rage is an affliction so localized, it doesn’t even reach Metepec el Bajo), “It’s because I suffer from premature ejaculation” (the confessional strategy: the victim is confronted with an intimate, uncomfortable secret he does not wish to share), “It’s because my blood sugar is too high” (the medical strategy: an illegible diagnosis of the glucose curve is unfurled). In all of the above, the behavioral folly is equivalent to an unmanageable energy that has been introduced into our bodies. Like a fuzzy television broadcast, people can’t help but display their poor signal quality.

Civic awards ought to be given out to all those who are brave enough to say: “I was wrong.” We have come to such an impasse that recognizing a fault, not to mention asking for the corresponding forgiveness, has become detrimental.

All of which is relevant because the other day, my friend Chacho arrived at a dinner party and, without further ado, said to the host:

“There’s something I have to tell you: I never returned your Flying Burrito Brothers records. I sold them at the Chopo flea market and spent the money on a trip to Acapulco (although, for the record, I only got as far as The Black Cow Café in Iguala). I hope you can forgive me, really. I’m so ashamed.”

His interlocutor was left looking like he had a canapé stuck in his throat. Finally, he found his voice:

“Chacho, that was twenty-five years ago.”

“Makes no difference, a mistake is a mistake,” was the reply of a man ready and willing to incriminate himself with the broadest of grins. Chacho then proceeded to ask the forgiveness of Yola for “having disrespected” her during a 1972 raffle (unfortunately, he didn’t go into detail); Felipe Gutiérrez, for having voted against him during an academic board meeting; the Yuste twins, for having courted them both without being in love with either one of them; Skinny Méndez, because they went to a party together and Chacho did nothing

to keep him from driving home drunk: Skinny flipped his car on the Beltway and now has a face zigzagged by a scar, like a villain from Batman.

To borrow an expression from a novel written in the 19th century (back when people still apologized), “the dinner guests were unable to conceal their amazement.” Chacho even blamed himself for some bad seafood he had served us with lots of ketchup that time when we all camped out in Mihuatlán to watch the eclipse.

It bears noting that, up until then, our friend had been the champion of evasiveness. If he insulted a fellow human being, he’d say, “We had a difference of opinion”; if he made a mistake in writing: “It was a misprint”; if he stood someone up: “Our wires got crossed.”

What obscure transformation had made him ask for so much forgiveness, so late in the game? The same guy who deflected the slightest reproach by reminding us that his father had enrolled him in military school as a child, or that he was born with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, now accepted his life of prevarication.

“He’s on Step 8,” Jacinto, who is always better informed than anyone else, explained.

I assumed the uncomprehending expression he needed in order to parsimoniously enlighten me:

“He joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Step 8 requires asking forgiveness of everyone you’ve offended.”

Jacinto didn’t know whether the decree applied only to those who had been offended during the ingestion of alcohol. At any rate, the remaining dinner guests couldn’t help but recall numerous misdeeds of Chacho’s that we had tolerated because, in spite of everything, he was a magnificent friend. I remembered the day when he invited me to a “historic costume” party where I was the only one to show up vintage. I emerged from an elevator on the fourth floor of a building in the Narvarte neighborhood as Christopher Columbus only to find myself surrounded by garments of denim and polyester that had been manufactured five hundred years after my landing.

I deemed Step 8 worthy of being implemented as a recurring obligation for everyone, drunk or sober. I waited for Chacho to apologize, but he dodged me with a joviality that seemed calculated to me. So I asked Jacinto if Step 8 allowed requests from those who had been offended.

“He has to take the initiative,” he informed me with annoying expertise.

After two weeks in limbo, I ran into Chacho at Skinny’s house. I couldn’t resist the temptation to remind him of the prank that had caused me to use public transportation disguised as Columbus.

“You haven’t forgotten about that little misunderstanding?” He asked me.

Only then did I realize he was holding a glass of whiskey.

Posted: September 20, 2012 at 9:57 pm

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