A letter to… a young man, forgiven

I am waiting for you to die. 

Unfortunately, you are neither visibly sick nor terribly old, so I realize the wait will continue for some time. But I’m fine waiting as long as it takes. Your death will free me. Your dying will please me. Any suffering you may endure would not sweeten the event for me, but I would take note of it. And still, this is more about forgiveness than the waiting. 

It was a sunny afternoon. I was seventeen and wearing a white dress with puffy sleeves. You were invited to my house with your family and there was much celebration for my high school graduation. My dad took pictures. My mom was in the kitchen. 

I was opening presents when the phone rang. My friend had a gift for me but her dad took the car and she wasn’t going to make my party, could I please come by to pick up the gift? I asked you if you’d take me to her house. Of course, you said yes. 

We stopped at my friend’s house for a few minutes and then got back in your car. 
When you pulled off the road, into an open field, I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. I’d known you all my life and I didn’t expect a thing. You started kissing me. You caught me off guard. In a second, you threw your full body weight on top of me and I couldn’t breathe. I made you angry. You shouting at me; me, hoping you’d roll off me so I could grab some air, and you stopped. I can guess why now, but I don’t really know why. I remember thinking I was going to suffocate. There in that field.

Driving back to my party, you made me promise not to tell anyone what you’d done. And I didn’t. You said, “I better not hear that you told.” So I kept your secret for twelve years. I told my mother first, but she didn’t believe me. She said I’d made it all up. Then she called her sister. She said you’d done the same thing to my cousin around the same time.

I write to you now because you should know that you altered the course of my life that day. I wanted to work in the foreign service, or translate at the U.N. But when I got to school that fall, all I wanted to do was submit, not make waves, or do anything unexpected. The girl who’d been carefree and bold suddenly became cautious. I made few friends. I wanted to act out, but I was just a frightened seventeen-year-old girl who kept your secret.

I’ve never blamed myself for what you did. I blame you. But it’s nearly fifty years later and you are still just living your life. I’ve told my children about you so they might be able to recognize a sexual predator when they see one. At family parties, you spend too much time with the little kids and practically no time talking with adults. I make sure my children see that too.

I read something years ago that said you should forgive people as a way to lessen the frequency of the flashbacks and the memories, and that helped me. I’ve been thinking about the value of forgiveness a lot now, while walking here. I gave you a formal forgiveness a few years ago on an earlier Camino, and I meant every bit of it. I forgive you now for what you did to me when you were 19. I’m grateful for what you didn’t – or couldn’t – do to me. I’m grateful you didn’t have a knife. And that’s something.

But it has not stopped me from waiting for you to die.


a pilgrim

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