Ten years ago, I wrote this post: The Blow Off…
Recently I’ve been through a festival of flaking, and it wasn’t the apologetic, unavoidable, understandable kind. It was the blow-off kind of flaking, the unapologetic, inconsiderate kind, the kind of flaking that ruined all my plans and left me home alone, with nothing to do except think about how mad I was. It was the kind of flaking that, when compounded, ends friendships. In the end we managed to get past it, but I feel like we wrecked the paint job scraping the median.
What happened was that China, the nation, mandated that everybody work on Saturday and Sunday, in order to have a longer block of days off for Dragon Boat Festival. They had done something similar for Spring Festival earlier that year, and I remember being livid for having to go in to work on that Sunday.
So for that Dragon Boat Festival Sunday, I was prepared to work and just grind it out, because I needed to save my personal days for when I left the company. But when my number-one amigo J told me the itinerary for that Sunday, I immediately emailed that I was going to take a personal day. In the morning, there was going to be a swanky brunch for S, who had just earned her PhD. Later, there would be a walking tour of the historic Jewish quarter of Shanghai, organized by my brilliant friend M. Later, I had plans to meet my new friend for dim sum, and then after that I think the plan was to just hang out with J, our last night to hang out. He was leaving China for good later that week. We also agreed that I’d take him to the airport to see him off later that week, which meant a lot to me. So I requested two personal days; one for Dragon Boat Sunday, and one for airport day.
It turns out that J was a no show for the brunch, the walking tour, and the dim sum. People looked to me, to ask what was going on, and I just apologized on his behalf and forced a smile. I was embarrassed, and I wished people would stop asking me. I wished J would at least answer my texts, if not theirs.
After all the events were over, I went home instead of going out with the others. I was too annoyed to go out, and I didn’t want to go out annoyed. So I sat in my apartment annoyed instead, and then went to bed.
The next morning at work, J finally texted me. He said he had drunk too much the night before, woke up at 3pm and then didn’t feel like going out, so he stayed home for a few hours and then later went on a date. He said he was “keeping it real,” and I think he was annoyed that I was so disappointed.
I thought to myself, oh I have very seriously misjudged our friendship. Or maybe it somehow ended without me knowing. Either way, it’s over. I deserve better than that.
I answered his texts, saying, “Look, I just need my backpack back, I left it in your apartment and my camera is in it. I still want to see you off at the airport on Friday, but if you don’t want me there, just tell me now; I should not waste both my personal days if you’re not into it…”
Seconds after I sent that text, the phone rang. I took the call on the stairs of the rooftop patio. It was J, apologizing, saying that he had forgotten that Sunday was a work day, that I had had to take a personal day. It wasn’t a very compelling reason to blow me off, so even though he was apologetic, I stuck to the only thing I really needed from the situation; I wanted my camera back.
J offered to meet me for dinner sometime that week and I said, “Look, I just want my camera back.” He told me to name a night and we’d go out for dinner; I said, “Fine, Tuesday night.” He responded that he had a date Tuesday night. I asked about other nights and he actually had dates every night that week. I told him, “Look, I don’t need dinner, I just want my camera back.”
There was a pause and he said, “I will cancel my date for Tuesday night.”
I took a breath. I realized our friendship actually was important to him; important enough to cancel a date with his lady friend.
Of course it is preposterous. I signed and said, “no, I’m not going to ask you to cancel a date.” But I did see that he was serious, and I give him credit for offering.
“Lunch,” he said, “I’ll meet you for lunch… today.” I think it was already 11:00 in the morning; he would really have have to hustle to meet me for lunch. While I was thinking about it, he reminded me, “Look, you want your camera back.” Son of a bitch!
I met him at a dim sum place. He handed me my backpack, and I checked inside and saw my camera. Mission accomplished.
I don’t remember what we chatted about, but it was pleasant, like nothing had happened, like I hadn’t just got horribly blown off 48 hours earlier. It felt like we was boyz again. My notions about the end of our friendship were fading fast.
So at a lull in our pleasant conversation, I told him, “J, you know I didn’t really want to come today.”
He said, “I know, mate.”
“I don’t allow people to treat me like that… I just needed my camera back…”
He interrupted. “I’m really sorry, mate.” I could tell he meant it.
So that’s it. I am a sucker for sincere apologies. If someone apologizes to me sincerely, I actually feel embarrassed that I got mad. It takes very little to make me feel whole again, and suddenly it’s behind me.
I guess I’m taken aback by sincere apologies, I did not grow up with them. My Filipino parents, aunts and uncles, and older generations, would not apologize to save their own lives. They are so proud, that they would cut their own livers out of their abdomens before taking responsibility for the impact of their words and actions. Filipino American kids of my generation are not equipped to negotiate after a sincere apology. We have known all our lives that we would die mad.
So now I know that I will tolerate horrible, friendship-ending level offenses, and just move on, if there is a sincere apology in it for me. I admit, I’m kind of a sucker.
Anyway, on June 5, 2009, J and I got in a cab for Pudong airport. It’s an hour cab ride, I think we were probably late, and there was a pit stop. There were no grand final monologues, just regular amigo chatter. We got his bags checked in and we walked to security.
At the entrance to the security, J turned to me and warned me about my sunglasses, hooked onto the button of my shirt, and then hugged me, crushing my sunglasses. I think my words were, “oh, there’s hugs?”
My parting words were, “hey, thanks for everything…” and he replied, “No; thank you!” And then we said bye and he disappeared into security.
That was the last time I saw him, ten years ago last Wednesday.
The only person I ever told this story to was Aussie K. J was a mutual friend, and I had accepted his apology, so I didn’t feel like it was something I should blab about.
At the end of the story, K asked me, “Why was it so important to you to see him off at the airport?”
“I wanted to say goodbye properly,” I said, and then I thought for a moment and realized the real answer. “I see my friends off, because when it’s my time to go, I want someone to see me off, too.”
K nodded in a thoughtful Australian acknowledgement, and asked, “Who’s seeing you off when you leave on the 29th?”
I said, “Yah, well… nobody. It’s a Monday so everybody will be working…”
She interrupted, “I’ll see you off.”
A few weeks later, K and I got in a cab to Pudong airport. We were not late, and there was not a pit stop. I was so grateful that she saw me off, it really meant a lot to me.
And that’s why I offer to help people move. Or at least offer to help.
I know that soon, I’ll have to move. And when I do move, I hope someone will help me.