Me in grade school Photographer unknown.
I never wanted to confront the person who abused me as a child. Confrontation was not what I sought. But I did want to talk. I wanted to speak my truth. Not everyone who has been abused can or should do that. For me, I felt it was necessary and the time was right.
Today I spoke my truth, and it was heard.
On the way there, as I drove around curves and hilly roads the sky was grey, dark, dreary, and the conversation I was determined to have was weighing heavily on my mind. I knew I was ready, I knew I was in a place of strength that would allow me to say what I needed to say, but my body was tense. My mind was filled with fear. I had thought of what I believed to be all the possible ways it could go–denial, taking responsibility, violence, anger, apologies, and although I had played out so many different scenarios in my mind the truth was I could not know until I was in the moment what would actually happen.
As I was thinking through these things a song from youth came on the radio–“I Can See Clearly Now”, by Johnny Nash. “I think I can make it now, the pain is gone. All of the bad feelings have disappeared.” I sang along, “Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for; it’s gonna be a bright, bright, bright, sun-shiny day.” I knew at that moment that I was ready and that it would go as well it could.
Because there was someone else in the house when I got there I said to him, “Can we go downstairs for a bit? I need to talk with you about something.” I saw in his eyes in that moment that he knew what was coming, but didn’t know how to get out of it. For the first time in our lives, maybe, he was not the one in control.
I had thoughts of positioning myself to be able to make a quick escape if necessary, but I decided that I wasn’t going to go there, that I would have no fear. I sat in the corner and stumbled a bit as I started. He didn’t sit. He stood looking down upon me, a position of power. Even so, I knew I had the power and the strength at that moment because I was there to speak my truth. Because the words were so intense and the time felt so compressed I know I can’t quote exactly what either of us said, and it might not be in the exact order, but it was pretty close to what I am remembering now.
I started it with saying again that I needed to speak to him and that it was important, but that it wasn’t going to be an easy thing to say. I then said something along the lines of, “I have to say some things, and I need to say them without interruption. I’m not looking for responses or anything right now. I just need to say what I have to say. When I’m done you can ask questions, make comments, or whatever and I’ll be happy to chat.”
At that point there was no turning back. He did not object to my terms and the look in his eyes verified for me that he knew what was coming. “You did horrible things to me when we were younger,” I said, “and it hurt me very, very much. It damaged me for many, many years. I turned into an alcoholic and drug user, I was suicidal, I hated myself. I really hated myself. Pretty much all the typical behaviors that people who were abused as children have as adults–I fit them all. What happened hurt me very deeply, and if you didn’t know that I need you to know it now.”
That was the hard beginning. I continued. “I don’t know if you know this or not but five years ago I wrote a play about the things that happened to me . . .”
It was the only time he interrupted me before I finished the few things I knew I had to say. “I heard about that.” I honestly didn’t know before that moment whether it was something he had been aware of or not.
“In the play,” I said, “the character that was based on you was not named, the relationship was not named. The character wore a mask because it was important to me that the character be more universal and the audience members could project whomever they needed to onto that mask.”
The next part was going to be tough because I knew it would cause a reaction and I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction. “But now I’ve written a book about it, to share the story with other people and to educate people about this kind of thing. Most people think of abusers as strangers with candy or creepy guys who hang around school grounds, but the reality of it is that most abusers are family or close trusted people. They’re people who are loved. Because of that, because I needed the book to be honest it is named in this book.”
I paused for a second and he almost immediately interjected, “So now you’re going to hurt me because I hurt you. Revenge.”
The words took me by surprise. There was no thought of revenge in my mind at all, only the thought of honestly telling my story. “No, it’s not revenge. It’s not about you. It’s not even really about me. It’s about helping others by telling my story as honestly as I can. But I also thought that ethically I couldn’t release the book without letting you know in advance because it could have an impact on you.”
“It will hurt me.”
“It will. I understand you have to do what you have to do but it will.”
Our hometown is small and we are both known there so his fear was understandable. It is likely that if anyone there reads it they’ll talk and word will travel. He was speaking what was a truth for him in that moment.
He said, “I knew this day was coming.” My thought was that if he knew it was coming maybe he should have come to me first, but I didn’t have a chance to say anything before he added, “Dan told me years ago that you told him that I did that to you.”
“I told a lot of people,” I answered.
He then said something about having apologized to me about it years ago and I immediately and firmly said, “No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did,” he said, and we went back and forth like a couple of children several times with the “no, you didn’t”, “yes, I did” routine.
“What I remember,” I finally said, “was you and me in a bar and I brought it up and I told you that I hated you. Not hate, but hated. I forgave you years ago. A large part of the play was about forgiveness. I’ve forgiven you and let it go. That night you acknowledged it in some way–I don’t remember how, but then you turned it back on me by saying ‘You enjoyed it. You wanted it.’ I have to tell you that no, I didn’t want it and I didn’t enjoy it. Yes, physically, when someone touches you it can feel good, but emotionally and psychically it didn’t feel good at all. It hurt me.”
Without really acknowledging what I had just said he added, “It was right here and I apologized to you after we talked about it.”
I told him, “Honestly, I’m sorry, but I don’t remember that at all.”
“I told you it would never happen again.”
I said something about it not mattering if he said that because I wasn’t going to let it happen again and then added, “And that doesn’t sound like an apology.”
What he didn’t say was telling to me at that moment. He didn’t say, “I told you I’m sorry” at that time. He didn’t say that he was sorry now. He repeated that he had told me “that it would never happen again.” He mentioned that he’s grown a lot since doing those things with people, but that he’s never done it with anyone else since then. (Yes, people; I knew beforehand that I wasn’t the only one). There was a sincerity in the way he said that he’s never done it with anyone else and I believed him in that moment.
I told him, “I am really happy to hear that because I have always wondered. I believe what you’re saying now and I’m really glad.” And then I added, “I know you were abused, too, and I think you have a lot of healing that you need to do.”
He told me that he had dealt with all of his issues and that it was in the past, until now, when it was all brought up again.
There was a moment that felt like the most honest moment of the short conversation when he said something along the lines of, “I didn’t know that what I was doing was hurting anyone. I didn’t know.” I believed him in that moment, though with some of the history of what he did with me it is difficult to believe that he couldn’t have known it was hurting me. Still, I think in his worldview, in his memory and in his truth, it’s what he believes. So I said, “I know that you are a generous, loving, and caring person and that you wouldn’t want to hurt someone.”
At that point it didn’t seem like there was a lot more to say. We looked deeply into each other’s eyes. I think he saw the hurt in mine and I saw hurt in his, too. I think he thinks I am writing the book to somehow get even with him and it didn’t matter how many times I told him that the book was to help other people and the only way to do that was to be completely honest. I didn’t mention there’s a lot in the book that is not a good reflection of me either. I also understand the fear of what will happen once it’s published. As we were about to wrap it up he said something along the lines of, “I guess I can change my name and move.” He may be seriously thinking of that or it may have been a manipulation to try to get me to change my mind about publishing the book. It doesn’t matter. I’ve made my choice to do what I need to do. He will have to make his choices about how to deal with it and I more or less said that to him.
He then took control and his power back by turning and walking toward the steps. I followed him up the stairs. He stopped at the sink and started messing around with dishes as I stood there awkwardly. Finally, I said, “Well, I’m going to go. Talk to you again.” There was no response. I headed out the door, got into the car and took off. On the way home the grey clouds were parting and showing a brilliant blue sky and the sun was gracing the treetops.
The Johnny Nash song came into my head again. “Look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies; look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue skies.”