An apology -- and forgiveness -- allow a teenager to move on.
The boy needed to clear his conscience. He hung back in the darkened hospital room and waited until other visitors stepped away. It was the toughest thing this lanky teenager had ever faced, and he wasn't at all sure what to say.
He took a deep breath and approached the bed. His heart beat in nervous thumps.
Hey, Jack, the boy remembers stammering. I want to tell you that I'm the kid who happened to hit you.
A player on Wayzata High School's junior varsity hockey team, he was still trying to make sense of it all. He had flown down the ice into the corner of the rink, as he'd done hundreds of times before. He checked Jack, but not particularly hard. He wasn't trying to hurt him. It all happened so fast.
Jack hit the boards awkwardly and went down. The boy was headed toward the penalty box when he turned around and saw Jack still crumpled on the ice.
Grim bits of news trickled out over the next days, as the boy watched from afar. He didn't sleep much, reading Internet postings about Jack into the night. After three days of worrying, he decided to see Jack himself.
His parents cautioned against it -- too soon, they said -- but he needed to make sure Jack knew it was an accident.
I'm really, really sorry about what happened. He remembers the words rushing from his mouth at Jack's bedside. I didn't try to, and I just hope you can forgive me.
Jack's response was immediate: Yeah, dude, don't worry. It's hockey and I know it was a fluke and I know you weren't doing it intentionally. This is hard for you, too.
The boy felt lighter: Oh, my God. Thank goodness, he remembers thinking.
Days later, when doctors formally said that Jack wouldn't walk or skate again, the boy had to leave his math class. He went to a teacher's office and sobbed.
Over the next months, school counselors, a sports psychologist and others told the boy to keep reminding himself that he didn't mean to hurt anyone. Jack's mother gave him hugs and a chain to wear around his neck. Benilde students sent him a giant foam card scrawled with well wishes, which now sits near his bed. Under his mattress, he tucked copies of supportive e-mails sent to his coach from strangers. It's comforting to know people understood and prayed for him.
When he sees news about Jack or someone wearing Jack's name or symbol, he is thankful Jack is still getting support.
He texts Jack every once in a while.
The boy, who didn't want his name used, had never spoken out about the incident, he said, because he didn't want to draw attention to himself: "This is about Jack. We want to make sure he's getting all the support he can."
As long as Jack understands that he didn't mean it, he said, that's all he cares about.
This season the boy quit hockey. He said he wants to concentrate on other sports.
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