Because you wrote me your own letter over a decade ago as part of Step 9, and the one I drafted so quickly in reply was in gentle terms disingenuous, in bolder terms, a lie. I forgave you, or at least voiced my forgiveness to you, then because I wanted you better, needed you better. I longed for you to forgive yourself for what you’d done to me. Yes, it’s true that you betrayed me, destroyed what little optimism I’d managed to garner over the years, at the time seemingly for your own amusement.
But you were also someone I loved. The first someone I loved with that intensity, with that sense of abandon, of surrender. And many times following what happened, I thought you’d surely be my last.
You were once someone who made me feel beautiful, young, alive.
I’d learned as a child, long before I met you, that all some people seem to want to do is hurt you. There’s no getting around it. So I’d learned to take it. I don’t know that I’d ever been happy, so I wanted you to be happy. I’d never been able to please my parents, live up to their impossibly high standards, so I set out to please you.
I had so few physical boundaries. All I asked was to not risk pregnancy, the image of a teen mother burned into my brain, the daughter of one of my mother’s friends, her eyes dead, chasing after her rambunctious 3-year-old son, her expression clearly one of misery. Not for me, I said.
But like Bluebeard’s wife, the one thing I forbade you became your obsession.
After, I changed. I pushed my few boundaries out further, lowered my already low expectations in a perverse limbo, aspiring to be someone impossible to hurt or disappoint. I did this because of you. It was a sound strategy, served me quite well. Sure, people treated me like shit, but it was never surprising, never forced on me. I volunteered.
And then last summer, I found myself frozen in fear, dissociation, hopelessness, in bed with another man, things progressing in a rather unfortunate and undesired direction, and I traveled back to you, to the person I was when we were together, and I realized my sense of triumph was a lie I’d been telling to myself for years.
I realized that despite my best efforts, I had not become un-rape-able.
Talking to a counselor, it quickly became evident that even my (failing) marriage was based on pseudo-consent, at best – that an aversion to saying no coupled with the action of agreeing was not the same thing as wanting something or someone.
From time to time, I ponder contacting you but don’t. I know that you won’t be able to give me the one thing I really want. It’s not an apology; you gave me that already.
I want to know who else was there that night.
I can’t tell you the freedom of being away from that legacy, from not having to wonder when I’m at the grocery store if I’m not sharing space with another one of my rapists or someone who blames me for what happened to me. I can’t express the joy of being in neutral territory, surrounded by strangers. I should have moved out of state far sooner.
Still, I need to know who else laughed about me in locker rooms, whispered that I was nasty, unworthy.
Until then, virtually every friendship in those years is suspect, tainted by the potential traitor status of so many.