“So how do I do it? How can I forgive him?”
He looks up but not towards me. His gaze focuses on the window and his eyes narrow as if he is sitting a test and trying to recall the answer.
“Firstly, you need to evaluate the benefit of forgiveness in your life. Secondly, reflect on the situation and what happened and how it made you feel. Thirdly, when you feel ready, you actively choose to forgive. Finally, start to see yourself as no longer a victim and let go of the power that the situation has had on your life.” He looks at me.
Are you ready?” He gives me a penetrating stare as he asks this. His eyes are dark brown. Small and close together, under a thin, defined arch. He has olive skin and dark short hair, thinning on top.
“Yes.” I say. He briefly raises his eyebrows, then smiles unconvincingly. We are moving on before I can fully ponder his confusing responses.
“Do you feel ready to explain how your father died? Perhaps it would be helpful in the light of where our discussion has led us.”
“I’m not sure I’ll do the forgiving part if I go there. I’ve spent the best part of two years reflecting on it. This is what I came to do. I have to move past it.” My stomach starts to churn and my heart is pounding.
“I understand. Well, you need to speak this out. Close your eyes, if it helps. Visualise your father. When you’re ready, tell him you forgive him.”
I close my eyes and there he is with his sad eyes and pot belly. As I take in the familiar features I feel the same-old emotions stirring and a vicious war between anger and pity, rage and grief, takes place within me. I try to suppress it and in my mind’s eye, I look into his face.
“Dad.” I take a deep breath. Dad looks at me, waiting.
“I… Forgive… You.” My imagination races ahead of me and I see Dad smile. It’s as if he heard it and it starts to lift. The anger thuds slower, slower, then stops. Pity rushes in to fill the vacuum and turns into a deep sorrow. I weep. I weep over his loss of life, over my loss of him, over his pain and struggle.
Three simple words. When the tears dry out I take a deep breath. I still can’t believe I am here. I’d never known how to talk about emotions and what was going through my head. It hadn’t been modelled to me. Instead of turning to a bottle, I’d immersed myself in a career.
“Well done, Michael. I realise that won’t have been easy.” He says, softly. “How do you feel?”
“Surprisingly, better.” My voice croaks as I reach for another tissue.
He doesn’t smile and looks down to his notes.
“It’s just the start Michael, this is a daily choice. No doubt the pain and disappointment will resurface and you have to make the choice to forgive until you can think about it without that sting of pain. It may be helpful now to explain the full story. To talk it through and how you feel in the light of having forgiven him. If the anger returns we can walk through the forgiveness again.”
“OK.” I consent, and begin.
“My dad ran his own business for years, as long as I knew him. He always seemed to dread going into work, though I didn’t really think much of that at the time, I was just a kid. Eventually it seemed to get too much for him. When I was at university I got a call from my mum. She was in tears. He had walked out on his business, taking a poor offer from a buyer and he got a job as a coach driver.
“For a short time he did seem happier, but then mum left. I went back to see him a couple of weeks after she’d gone and I could tell he’d been drinking. It was 4pm. I warned him he’d lose his job and he insisted that he didn’t drink the day before he drove. He lied.”
I look into his face for the first time since I started the story and his features are rigid. He is frowning and staring intently at his notes.
“Erm, Dr Mason, are you ok?” His head snaps up and he reapplies his calm expression but his eyes seem to burn into mine.
“Yes, sorry, I was reflecting on how difficult it must be to grieve for someone who has… caused an accident? The loss of other lives?” His eyes continue to stare directly into mine, unblinking. I feel nervous.
“Yes, a year ago my father drove a coach full of people travelling from Bristol to London off the motorway and down a bank. The coach overturned. He had been drinking. He and several passengers died.”
Suddenly Dr Mason stands up and briskly walks to his desk.
“Michael Langford, is that your real name?” His voice low and tone harsh. I am being interrogated now and I stand up instinctively.
“Yes, I changed it after the accident.”
“From?” He spits out.
He drops his head into his hands. I am stunned into silence. It feels like several minutes before he moves. Slowly, he lifts his head and fixes his eyes on mine. I gasp as I see the visceral anger and hatred.
“My daughter was on that coach. She didn’t survive.” He says through gritted teeth.
“You want me to help you “deal” with this? With what your father did? I can’t because I was wrong. I will never forgive him. And neither should you.”
I take in a sharp breath but do not move or drop my gaze. He wasn’t wrong before. I knew it as I had felt the indescribable relief of letting it go, the fist of anger unclenching within me.
“I understand that, Dr. I’m deeply sorry for your loss. But… It’s done. I’m done.”
He marches to his door and swings it open with such force it collides with the large potted plant behind it.
“F**k off, then.” He orders, as he holds the door open. I pick up my coat.
I take one last look at the stage for his life’s work and walk out, staring straight ahead.