I'm not sure I've ever told the story of my high school swim class here, but I think of it often, so I'm going to tell it.
In high school, we had this PE teacher. Let's call her Ms. Little. She was young and tan and wore short shorts and had long, shiny brown hair. The male students liked her quite a bit, and she focused her positive attention on them, especially the athletes.
So in high school, they make you take a number of unsavory physical education classes, the most detestable being swim class. I could swim, but that didn't mean I didn't still have a healthy fear of drowning. Ms. Little taught us a number of life-saving maneuvers that required the saver-of-lives to dive deep into the pool to simulate pulling a drowning victim from below. I suffered through it.
Until the day we padded out in our swimsuits and Ms. Little pointed to the high dive and announced that we would each be diving off of it that day. I've mentioned my healthy fear of drowning? I also had, and still have, a healthy fear of heights. I told Ms. Little about this, and she said to suck it up and jump off the high dive.
So I refused. This is one of the first times I can recall telling someone in authority "No." I was raised to obey and respect teachers implicitly, but even I could see that not only did jumping off the high dive hold no educational purpose, but there was a good chance I would vomit before, during, or after doing so.
Ms. Little was very unhappy with me. She said some unkind words about me not being brave, and embarrassed me in front of the class. I always hated her for it.
Fast forward about 10 years. I am living in Sonora, reporting for the local newspaper. I am hanging out with some reporter friends at one of the only bars in town. I am poor -- I'm wearing a $7 shirt that I had to sew a seam together on in mismatched thread that evening before heading out -- but I feel good, and I look good.
The local high school played football against an out-of-town team that night, and the out-of-town team's coaches were at the bar, celebrating their victory. One of my nosy reporter friends was chatting them up and then realized the coaches were from my home town, so he pulled me over to meet them, and suddenly I was standing face to face with Ms. Little.
I recognized her instantly, although her face was lined and her long hair had gray in it and her slender hips had widened. With two vodka drinks in my belly, I was feeling generous of spirit and greeted her cheerfully, telling her I was a former student of hers. She was drunk and told me she'd married the coach of the football team and had some kids and named one of them after one of the football players from my high school who went on to play for the Jaguars, the Browns, and the Steelers. He's retired now, at age 33, probably counting his stacks of money.
She said she was embarrassed that she'd gained weight and I lied and told her she looked the same; that she looked great. She smiled. She said she remembered me.
Did I ever make you jump off the high dive? she asked, suddenly.
You tried. I wouldn't do it.
I'm sorry, she said.
And instead of a bad memory, the story of Ms. Little and the high dive became one of humor and kindness. It was so lovely of her to apologize for what she'd obviously realized had been a mistake for some time. It was so lovely of fate to allow that meeting.
I wish for other meetings, with people I'd like to apologize to, or from whom I'd like an apology. I practice for these meetings, just in case.