|My son and I when he was four|
In the Spring of 1997 I was raped.
It took me until about three years ago in a very emotional therapy session to be able to even say those words. I've written the story; doing so was an important part of healing, but I've shared that account with only a few people close to me. That's not what this blog post is.
This blog post is about something that happened yesterday, while I ran on the treadmill, that changes the story of how I was raped in a way that I can only sort of embarassedly call "redemptive." Embarassedly, since that sounds sort of pat, trite, religious and ... I don't know ... sermon-y. But I'm not sure of another word. I'll change it if I think of a better one. The point is that everything in the story shifted, including me. Including the man who raped me. But you'll understand better as you read more ...
Yesterday afternoon in my nearly-uninhabitable studio (that's a whole other post about how the fact that my art studio is a place I can't even sit down in anymore, let alone create art in, is symptomatic of what's going on inside of me these days!) I hopped on the treadmill to run my almost-daily 4-mile run, the cheapest of my several anti-depressants.
I clicked on an old playlist and listened to it as I ran and read a book. A song came on that is one of only several left on my itunes that are sort of "Christian-ey" and that I usually skip over and occasionally consider just deleting altogether. It was "Forgiven," by Sanctus Real, and for some reason I let it play.
As I listened to the song, I began picturing, rather than the singer singing about God, someone singing about another human being. Here's the song and the lyrics are super-imposed over the video so follow along with the words and "hear" them as yourself talking to another human being or another human being talking to you.... So when the line comes, "I'm a treasure in the arms of Christ," substitute in your mind the voice of someone else in your life saying, "I'm a treasure in arms of [substitute YOUR name here]."
I played it again after I did what you just did, but this time the person who was "forgiven" was someone who I didn't expect to see in my mind's eye. I stopped the treadmill and crouched down as the song played through. Tears ran down my cheeks. My chest was threatening to explode.
The person singing the song to me was Gabriel, the man who raped me all those years ago, the man who continued fucking me even as my head hit the headboard and I cried, "Stop! Stop please stop!"
But this was a different Gabriel who was singing the song. This Gabriel wasn't hurting me, but instead looking at me with a face transformed by MY forgiveness and acceptance. He was tearfully sorry for hurting me, grateful for my forgiveness and clearly someone very different than the man I knew that long-ago Spring.
But then at some point in the song something even more unexpected happened. Gabriel the man, so sure of my forgiveness, turned into a curly-black-haired-boy of about four who was sitting up on my lap while I held and rocked him. This was Gabriel, as well, I realized, a little boy Gabriel he had once been, long before he preyed upon my naivete. A Gabriel who was, himself, naive and innocent.
I looked at the little Gabriel on my lap with compassion, and then a memory came back that I had not thought of for years: in college Gabriel had told me one afternoon (before the rape) after our women's studies class, while we sat and drank sodas and he smoked, that he had been abused in basically every way possible when he was a small boy in Romania. I don't remember details, but I do remember that even as his jaw hardened as he spoke those words, tears filled his eyes. I remember crying a bit that afternoon for that lost, broken little boy.
And then another memory hit me as I crouched there on the treadmill yesterday, my body shaking with sobs. It was a conversation from the evening of the night he raped me. We were "just friends" and I'd told him some of my story, but I remember him telling me a story from his past, as well, that was especially poignant.
He'd been married just a couple years before to a young woman who he'd loved very much and who he felt loved him very much, as well. She came from a strict Christian home and left her family and her faith to marry him. They were very young. He said I was like her in a lot of ways. Dark-haired, petite, sweet.
But then, he said, one day he came home to his wife and her father packing all her things. She wanted a divorce, she announced. Gabriel was shocked. Her father had helped her see the error of her ways, she explained, and she believed she could no longer live in a relationship that was "unequally yoked." God couldn't bless their marriage, she explained, parroting her father. Gabriel begged her to stay. To reconsider. She didn't. He never saw her again. His heart was, yet again, broken.
The young woman that I was that evening, listening compassionately to the story of Gabriel's pain, was probably a young woman very like his ex-wife. I was 19, a virgin, and had very recently left a high-school sweetheart and the faith of my childhood. I didn't know what I believed yet, had no clue if I believed the Bible was true, didn't even know if I thought God was real, but I DID know that I still wanted to "wait" to have sex for the first time with someone with whom I was completely in love and in a committed relationship with. My parents, had they known I was sitting in the bedroom of a "frat boy" who I hardly knew, telling him trustingly just exactly how innocent I was, would be horrified (as would I if it were my daughter sitting there). Now, looking back, I can see myself as he likely saw me: innocent, naive, cute, hopeful, inexperienced, kind and open.
And then it happened. As I crouched there on the treadmill yesterday, the music and the memories pouring over me, I recognized that something very suddenly and in a very deep place had shifted. All at once.
I KNEW, though I can't explain it logically, that when Gabriel was raping me, he was acting out the pain he had endured as a child and then as a husband. I know that's not logical, nor something I can prove. I can't ever know exactly what he was thinking or feeling, and I probably don't want to, but I know in that instant, from the perspective I was in in that moment, little curly-haired toddler Gabriel on my lap leaning trustingly into my chest, that there was a bigger picture than the one I'd carried around of Gabriel, hot and hurtful in the pit of my stomach, all these years. He was no longer the monster I'd made him into in my memory.
Indeed, Gabriel had a choice. He could have seen me as a whole human being who didn't understand what she was getting herself into and, when she realized it, wanted him to stop. He could have stopped.
AND the parents and uncles who raised their hands to him as a little tiny boy and then molested him in the dark had a choice.
The woman who left Gabriel without even having a conversation about it, labeling him "bad," and rejecting him completely, had a choice, as well.
And of course I had a choice. I could have listened to the quiet voice inside that told me to be careful. I could have physically fought him off, rather than laying under him, crying. I could have gotten up and drove away to get help, rather than lying immobilized against the wall all night and then allowing him to do it again the next morning so that I could prove to myself that I was a big girl who could handle "having sex." I could have called it what it was, starting then, rather than telling a story of "when I had premarital sex for the first time" for the next twelve years and carrying the accompanying guilt and shame for doing so.
So many people had so many choices. Sure, some of us were more innocent than others. But we were all afraid. All hurt. All victimized. I wasn't the only one who was hurt that day. Gabriel acted out hurt that had been done to him, on me. And as he did that, I know the wound in his heart and mind was once again scraped open.
To know what it feels like to be hurt in a specific way and then to do that to someone else, especially someone innocent, might have felt to his ego like a form of relief in a way I can't understand. But instead it hurt him all over again. I don't know how I know this, but I do.
I let the song play again, tears streaming down my cheeks and onto my treadmill, but this time it was a different Gabriel singing the song. He was somehow all of those forms of himself (toddler, abandoned husband and unfeeling opportunist) all at once. And it was that him, the "The Whole Story Gabriel" who was transformed even further into a man with bright eyes, lit-up face, apology on his face (because he, too, could see the "The Whole Story Gabriel," as well as the "The Whole Story Cheryl"), gratefulness and even love radiating from him when he looked at me.
I don't know what comes after life. I don't know where (or if!) I will wake up after this life is over. In a kind of heaven? A new earth? But however that works, I'm just sure that there will be a reality in which I can ONLY see everyone - those who hurt me and who I hurt - as they really, truly are. Under their pain, the abuse they endured, the cruelty they suffered, the psychoses and wounds that they lived with. And they will see that way, too. We will see THE WHOLE STORY.
In the meantime, I think we get glimpses of this "Whole Story." Usually they visit themselves upon us the way it happened for me on the treadmill. Usually we aren't knowingly "looking for" the whole story. But once we see it, even a corner of it, we get to take action. We can choose to keep going back to that "Whole Story Window" into our reality and looking through it, rather than returning to a foggy window we used to see this person or this situation through that only allowed us to see in a "Part of the Story" way.
The tough part about persistently choosing to look at someone who we have been hurt by through "The Whole Story Window" is that that person may not be looking at US through that window. They may still see themselves as the victim and me as the "Bad One." And that's painful. But we can not force them to look through a different window at us. We can only look at THEM through "The Whole Story Window," and then treat and love them accordingly. I believe that sort of love is transformational. And I think this is the only true kind of forgiveness. That will likely be another blog post... :)