The Choice to Forgive
Did you know
when you picked me
that you would win,
that I'd be your trophy,
that I'd be your next sin?
Sassy, flirty, sweetly naïve, and confidently insecure,
I didn't yet know I was harboring 'daddy issues,'
and I certainly had no idea what being 'groomed' meant.
But you did.
I didn’t know you would manipulate me into…
secretly hating myself,
or how good I'd become at hiding
what you heaped on my 15-16 year old shoulders.
Did you know,
when you picked me?
Of course you did.
I didn't ask for it,
I know I didn't,
but I couldn't stop it either.
I knew I couldn't.
I didn't even know how to process what was happening in my still developing brain.
I only knew it all felt scary and wrong, yet, somehow I also felt specially chosen, which only added to the insidious manipulation -
the one you were masterful at wheedling.
You held insurmountable power,
over a sports team,
over a school,
and I was the food that somehow made you invincible.
Did you know you would win?
Did you know you wouldn't be caught?
Did you know others would know and not do a thing?
Did you care?
Administration didn't seem to care, so why should you?
You kept getting away with it.
It was a winning basketball team with a star player
and a school that was unwilling to allow its newfound fame to be blown up.
I was dispensable,
A child was nothing when it came to saving a school's reputation,
maintaining an image,
building a legacy.
Of course you knew.
You pursued me,
and molded me,
and perfected me,
and built me to your specifications,
and then broke me,
and toyed with me,
and played me,
and pushed for more,
and then broke me some more,
until I knew the tune by heart,
but not the words.
The words would take decades.
Then you threw me away
for another in the wings,
and left me with the jagged pieces
of shame and guilt,
at first masked as confusing relief,
but later mixed with more guilt,
and the best part?
Ahhh, sweet freedom,
But little did I know, then, the price of that freedom -
the price of burying what never should have happened,
what you convinced me I invited,
what you wanted me to believe I wanted.
"It's okay," I told myself.
"It's over - you can forget."
How many times did I tell myself this?
But, I didn't understand how brokenness worked.
How my secret would go on to spiral into more brokenness and more secrets.
How I would embark on a long journey of searching for the love that would erase what happened...that would fix me.
How everything after that would be a struggle to prove my worth.
How I would try desperately to be someone better than that girl who was so skillfully coerced into becoming someone she didn't know and wasn't supposed to be,
after you molded her into someone who deep down feared she was no longer deserving of love and therefore needed to be noticed and seen to try to prove otherwise.
My buried demons,
masked by sass, flirtation, subtle sensuality, naivety, and attempted confidence,
masked by bubbliness, smiles, people skills, and a flair for the dramatic.
Memories lost; others blocked or forced into a dark closet with fuzzy focus,
masterful at pretending to cover the pain I didn't understand,
and the memories I didn't want to remember,
until decades later when I no longer could.
Until, finally, the burden of brokenness mixed with the weight of grief in just the right proportions,
and the reality of EVERYTHING revealed itself to me like dominoes falling one after the other with ever increasing speed and clarity.
I finally saw it all laid out before me.
How one moment in time led to everything after,
How, after spending years of trying to convince myself it wasn't my fault, a pivotal moment showed me IT TRULY WASN'T!
This time, something was different.
This time I processed that truth viscerally.
This time I knew it deep in my soul.
This time I was ready to forgive…
Did you know
when you picked me
exactly what you were going to do?
Of course you did.
Did you know it would change the course of my life?
That it would leave me with crushing shame and guilt?
That it would fracture and confuse a still developing sexual identity and an already struggling sense of self worth?
That it would live in the background of my life trying to drown me over and over and over again, even though I wouldn't fully understand why?
Of course you didn't.
You were incapable of thinking beyond what you needed.
How many came before me?
How many more came after me?
That thought haunted me more times than I can count.
How many girls did you break
in order to stroke your ego?
In order to make yourself feel powerful?
In order to reframe the worthlessness and insecurity and brokenness that lived deep within you?
In order to feed the frenzy that was your insatiable thirst for winning,
for dominance and control?
I wonder now that you're in your later 70's and staring down the barrel of your own mortality if you ever struggle with the magnitude of what you did,
or if you're simply breathing a sigh of relief for never having been caught,
or whether you even think about it at all?
How many people covered for you along the way?
Did your family know?
Did they cover for you?
Do they still cover for you?
Are there other skeletons in your family's closet?
Have you tried to make amends?
I know you haven't with me.
I seriously doubt you have with others.
But why would you?
I’m sure the concepts of predator and narcissist have never entered the realm of your conscious thought.
Besides, it wasn’t you with memories that were forced into the underground of existence,
to fragment so the smaller pieces could safely hide in the shadows,
in the survival that could try to pretend they never happened.
So who’s to say any of it happened, right?
The burden of proof, right?
Of course you haven't made amends.
You believe you have nothing to make amends for.
Crazy how that idealist still lives inside me.
I looked for you recently after all these years,
and though I had to dig,
I finally unearthed you in the background of your extended family's social media life.
It made me physically sick to see your face again,
to see that same look in your eyes.
I thought about blowing up your life.
I fantasized about it.
But my heart...
My heart would not allow me to hurt those who might not know.
I could not make victims of the innocent.
I could not become the bad guy after fighting so hard to be better.
I could not have the veracity of my character and my memory of real events called into question.
I could not allow revenge to be yet another spiral into the darkness of your control.
You know who you are.
Your victims know.
Perhaps you are different now.
Perhaps there are other sides to you that make you worthy of love.
Perhaps you had an epiphany after having grandchildren and learned how to love.
I want so desperately to believe this.
The beautiful naivety and undying hope that still resides in me needs to believe this.
Everyone can grow,
can do better.
No one is the sum total of only their mistakes,
I hope you did better after you knew more.
I pray you did.
Many times in the last two decades, I honestly thought I had forgiven you,
only to have you revisit,
only to have anger come again to call,
only to feel that same crushing guilt and remorse try to consume me,
only to worry about the same thing happening to my three girls.
Desperation to erase you would taunt me.
I would try to imagine what my life might have looked like
had you not taken from me what I could never seem to get back,
if my voice had remained in tact,
if what happened with you hadn't changed the course of everything after.
But, I wasn't ready then to let you go.
I wanted to. I tried.
SO. MANY. TIMES. I. TRIED.
Now, though, something inside me is different. I finally understand what before I could not, and I’m rebirthing. I'm choosing to rewrite my story without you as the lead protagonist because I’ve come to realize that allowing you to remain there has perpetuated a power I've given you. You no longer have any power. In some sick, twisted way, I gave you the power you held for so long. It is a sobering revelation, but a light-bulb moment.
So, I’m releasing you from the bondage of my thoughts,
from decades of continued control that I now understand has always been within my power to stop, simply by making a choice...
starting with the choice to forgive you,
not because what you did will ever be ok,
but because I need the forgiveness for me -
because I’m ready to let go of the weight of why it had to be me,
and give up the wish that things could have been any different.
I’m ready to lovingly embrace that young teenager inside me who didn’t know what to do, who couldn’t stop what was happening, who didn’t tell anyone so it wouldn’t happen to anyone else, and tell her it’s okay…that she is so very worthy.
It happened, and I am who I am -to a degree that can't possibly be known - because of it.
Who I might otherwise be is of no consequence because the past cannot be changed.
Besides, I love the me I am now.
The me I am now is made up of so much more than any one circumstance or situation or time in my life,
so much more than you and what you did.
I am worthy and lovable because God made me so.
Nothing can change that.
But I am beautiful because of every life situation that has contributed to forming who I now am.
I have always had within me the answers to my life's most challenging dilemmas.
I have always had the power to decide how to navigate this in another way – to choose to see divinity working its miracles.
Sometimes, it just takes a while to access what we already know because there is more to learn in the process.
This has taken me a LONG time, but now I understand sooooo much more.
I’m moving on with gratitude –
gratitude for the strength, empathy, and ability to forgive that I developed as a result,
gratitude for the beauty of self-discovery,
gratitude for where the journey has brought me,
gratitude for the words,
so many words...
But, especially these words, right now, that go with the blaring tune you taught me so long ago-
the words that have taken me four decades to write -
the words I'm now able to share with other survivors,
and the voice that may help others connect the dots and begin to heal from their own heartache and grief.
I am no longer a victim, because I choose not to be. I choose to no longer allow this experience to dictate my future. I choose to stop seeing what happened to me as a bad thing, and to start viewing it for the blessings it led to. I choose to change the dance. I choose to break free from the self-hate and the demeaning dialogue and embrace my worth and value with love, with compassion, and with forgiveness. I am a survivor speaking my truth with fierce confidence, a compelling voice, deep empathy, and a passionate determination to help others heal.
Once upon a time you picked me from the crowd,
did you know then that I would speak this loud?
That it would someday lead to all of this?
That in the end I'd be the one reminding you, my name is Chris.
Of course you didn't.
But, that’s okay.
The survivor deep inside me always did.
And that survivor now wishes you well.
April 4, 2021