My Dear Friend,
At work, after the unexpected morning events, I make a mental note to myself: make time to cry. That is the only remaining thing for me to do, and I will. The rest of the work is done.
Forgiveness is an act of self-love. I come across this quote later that night. Earlier, in the morning, I found forgiveness I didn’t search for. I shed the longest scar tissue of my childhood.
That wound had lasting effects. Most were, and still are, unknown to me. I can only guess at them; perhaps that is why crying never comes easily to me. Perhaps that is why emotions, those strange confusing beings, visit me less often than they do others.
The day began with a smattering of nearly imperceptible needle pricks down my spine. A practice I’ve recently adopted. Initially, in an attempt to solve a lingering running injury. The fascia, that connective tissue, had healed since my first visit to Shannon.
Today, I came with no pains or concerns. I haven’t seen Shannon in a while, and we are now friends. A connection built through her practice, through wisdom we know to be real, a knowing we accept and share. I like Shannon with her fiery hair, her tall strong lean body, her sensitive, joyous, open soul. I relish the deep sense of relaxation her needles bring. The surprising heat of the black stones she lays on my back, when the pricking is done.
As our chatter is transmuted into silence, and the needles go in rapidly, I let myself sink. I let my mind relax. Meander where it wishes to go during a time set aside for the body.
It goes to this terrible memory. That is a surprise. I am well practiced at deliberately not going there, even more practiced at getting out of there if I ever stumble across that memory, accidentally.
As a child I spent many nights trying to not think of it and yet was thinking of it. I used to scratch my vagina, harshly. There was no pleasure in it. It was about scratching an itch all the way to a raw painful state. I knew it wasn’t a good thing to do. It didn’t feel good, it didn’t fix the itch, that was not an itch of the body. I knew it was not normal. But I couldn’t help it either. I suspected it was related to what had happened to me, which I didn’t want to think about. Night after night. No one knew. Even I forgot about this night ritual until now.
But now, as I write this, I remember vividly, and this memory feels like a yesterday, like it has always just waited there under the immediate protective, connective tissue. A discarded piece of me laying vigilantly by my side, ready to be picked up, given attention, and when the time finally comes, tucked back, with love, and awareness.
In that space between wakefulness and sleep, in my childhood room, the white formica desk, the white glossy lacquer book-shelf, the white closet, the small single bed, under the aggressive red bedcover with its red fringes, sporting poorly color-matched patterns of diagonal green and blue lines, my pink barbie house, an appalling color contrast to that red, my plush animal friends, all with their names, in that place that is neither awake or asleep, I could do things and not think about them too much. And so night after night, I did. I can’t recall when it stopped. For years after I feared that I had permanently damaged my sensitive clitoris. For all I know, maybe I have.
That was not what I was thinking of, in the morning, lying face down on Shannon’s soft, white, comfortable treatment bed. Clean scents. Flowing music. No. I was thinking of the actual trauma and the secondary one that followed a few days later. That is where I went. Deliberately, to explore without judgment. I didn’t shy. I didn’t cringe. I wasn’t afraid. I was a gentle presence in the space holding the memory. I was accepting, open, curious. I wanted to revisit the places and events, and carefully examine them, with compassion, in a way I never allowed myself before.
I returned with a gift, a wonderful thing that I did not expect. Forgiveness. With that forgiveness, came the gift of letting go. A piece that is now journeying back into the infinite space of what we call energy, where we all come from, the place that is home. Go peacefully, piece of me. From the momentum of our separation I will continue on my journey, cleaner, lighter.
And here is my story.
My friend and I are walking together. We’re fourth graders. 10 years old. We are the two least popular girls in the class. Despite our differences, we bond over this unhappy fact, making this a disharmonious connection, a child knows that. A child also knows there is little choice.
We are exploring nature, at the outskirts of our small settlement. There are unploughed fields, sparse oak trees scattered on hills. Thistles. Occasionally, a roaming cow. Or a Bedouin goat herder and herd. It’s a familiar vista, a loved place. The entire small settlement, some 150 families atop a hill, is surrounded by the same landscape, part rural, part mostly unperturbed nature. I have come with my family here multiple times before. I explore and visit similar places, closer to my own house, by myself.
Today, I lead my friend to this particular place. It’s boasting some nice trees that my father has taken us to climb on in the past. A few closely rooted oak trees, covered by a unusual thick and overgrown stringy vine, which makes for a wonderful construct to climb on, hands grabbing onto the thicket, finding footing through it, until we come to sit up high on the wide vine-covered treetop, looking for all the world like some strange monkeys. My family calls this the camel. We say on a weekend – let’s go climb the camel. And every so often, we do.
My friend has developed early, she has large breast buds. Everyone notices that. She’s a small girl, too developed for her age, and her stature. She’s still a child. What can she do about it. Only feel embarrassment, as young girls are prone to feel. It doesn’t matter what it is about, embarrassment and shame find their way in. I am almost completely undeveloped. Or maybe completely undeveloped. I don’t remember.
We walk into the sparse forest of oak trees, the earth is grey-brown and smells wonderfully. There are many rocks of small and medium size strewn along the unpaved path, generously scattered across the fields. I think it is a winter’s day but in this part of Earth that only means it’s not scorching hot. I do not remember if the thistles are still dry from the passing summer, awaiting the rain, or whether they are new, deep in green, adorned with speckled white dots, decorated with surprisingly beautiful purple blossoms. I don’t remember if we were climbing some trees that day. We probably were. Children love to climb. I loved to climb. Why do we stop climbing? And when?
I do not remember if that day there were snails to play with, move a finger gently towards the shy antennas and see them retract, and then, given time, slowly, cautiously watch the antennas spread out again. I do not remember if we found any turtles, slowly stumbling along. Eventually, It was time to walk back home.
On the way back we pass by the old mobile home of the Bedouin groundskeeper. He looks like a figure from a folk tale. Old, brown hands, hands that do work, a white mustache. The traditional keffiyeh wrapped around his head, I think it was black patterned. Kept in place with the circular thick black rope. He sometimes even rides a white mare, not a bright white, some grey along her inner legs and belly. He is well known among the Jewish population of the small settlement. He is friendly, always smiling, chatty, he looks like a wise man. When I visit this place with my dad, they always engage in conversation while I get bored. But I know he is good people. He lives in a strange home, a contrast to the various modern villas of the settlement. Sometimes, if he really likes you, he’ll invite you inside for real Arabic coffee, brewed over an indoor open fire pit, an unlikely appliance, glowing red black coals, always fascinating to look at. The coffee is served in small handle-free mugs. He smells of coffee – strong black brewed coffee, and earth and wood and smoke. I have been inside with my dad at least once.
Shannon has lit some incense sticks, I can smell it. Smoke. It seems appropriate for conjuring this memory in more and more detail.
Ahmed is his name. We all know it. We all know him. Today, he is sitting outside his little mobile home. He says hello. So do we. He invites us to come inside. I do not know if we should. There is an instinct there. But we are little girls. We do as told. He tells us to sit on the little stools. He sits on a couch, or maybe a made bed. He makes some small talk. Maybe asks some questions. I do not remember. Then he tells me to come, sit on his lap. I do as told. He slides his hand from above, under my shirt and rubs my chest in a circular motion. This doesn’t feel right. I know it isn’t right. But I am frozen. What can I do. He says this feels nice. I don’t know how much time I am there. Too long. He lets me go. He calls my friend. He does the same. He says, oh, she has more there. He rubs her chest. I think she was wearing a light pink t-shirt with a faded print. Maybe Care Bears. Maybe ruffled edges along the short sleeves. Eventually, he lets her go.
As I write this, I feel this memory detaching, becoming fog, mist, morphing into nothingness from a hard articulated poisenous monstrosity that has attached its sharp dark invertebrate legs onto me for so long, unyielding. Writing this somehow lifts a curse, and I am left wondering – did that really happen? Of course it did but the shape of this memory is changing in me. And I can look this memory in the eye now. Fearless. Curious. Sad. Accepting. Letting go. It will not be the same from now on.
We leave. We start walking. He stands outside his home, looking at us. I don’t want to walk, I want to run, run, run to the paved asphalt road, denoting the circumference of the settlement, denoting safety, denoting protection. I ache to be back from the wild parts. I am afraid to run. I am afraid to let him know I know something wrong happened. So we walk.
When we’ve walked enough, we start running. I tell my friend do not look back. Why, she asks, I tell her – maybe it’s a Bedouin custom we will be violating if we look back, I do not know where I come with that fancy. We get back to safety. We can no longer see Ahmed. And I do not know why, but I swear her to secrecy. I do not know why. She doesn’t want to. I force my will on her. Or so I think. She is a weak, submissive girl. She likes me, or maybe she also knows we’re just stuck with each other for the time being. She promises not to talk.
Ahmed wanted to be a good person. I am sure of it. I do not know if he was a widow, if he was ever married, if he had children of his own, if he was a pedophile or simply a man filled with enough lust and loneliness. Or maybe anger, exacting a sort of revenge towards Jews who were on his ancestral grounds and had money and large homes. I do not know if there was anything political, or socio-economic at play. I do not think so, but it does not matter. I do not know if other girls, maybe boys, suffered from a similar, or worse, violation. In the grand scheme of things, of how bad molestation can get, this was not much. But it was enough to breathe into existence a black hole.
Here is what I know, as I lie down, thinking of this with full willing attention for the first time, more than three decades later. I know it takes a broken person to do something like that to a child. I know this is not the kind of person anyone wants to be. I know it is heartbreaking to be that person. I know it is much worse to be the person who has come to a place so dark, so vile, he is able to do something like that, than to be the person violated. And so, I feel great sorrow for him. And I forgive him. My body that he violated, and subsequently my soul, and the years of restlessness to come, the nights awake, scratching, we forgive him. And I am so sad for him that he wasn’t able to be a beautiful soul. And I let it go.
I do not know for sure, but I think my friend did talk. A few days later, the episode, far from my mind, is brought back to me. If it wasn’t for that reminder, perhaps it would have been forgotten, perhaps repressed. I am glad it wasn’t forgotten. That would have been worse, I suspect.
My mother calls me to her room. She begins what to me feels like an interrogation. Were you with the girl, your friend, a few days ago, out in the fields? Yes. Did anything happen? No. Are you sure? Yes. Because your friend said something happened. Did anything happen with Ahmed? No. She keeps asking. I keep evading. I do not like lying to my parents. I seldom do. But here I keep the truth inside. It feels bad, this conversation. I feel, without knowing the words or the narrative, like I have been summoned to her place of power and have been interrogated and made to feel, without words or a direct accusation, that I did something bad, that there is a wrong doing here that is on me. For years, I resented my mother for that conversation. I still can feel the nervousness, the fear, the cringing, the sense that I must not talk, not quite knowing why, the sense I must not give detail, the knowledge my friend very likely did talk, which even then I did not resent, and that in my refusal to confess, because I was being asked for a confession, I was creating a problem. Who is telling the truth. I was betraying her, injecting a questioning of the trust of the adults in her. I can still smell the scent of my parents bedroom linen, the delicate light pink filigree print of it. The crouched bed cover. The carved dark brownish-red headpiece of the bed, I might have been moving my small fingers along as I was sitting there, trapped, tracing the flower carving. All of these came to make a second, lasting wound.
From the distance of the years, I look back. I wonder. If she had come to my room. If she had held my hand, hugged me, said I think something bad happened to you and it’s ok, you did nothing wrong, it’s ok, can you please tell me. I love you. Maybe I would have talked. It’s hard to say. I was stubborn. But it’s all hypothetical because that wasn’t what happened. In my memory, there was none of the needed finesse, tenderness, gentleness. I think my mother, my young mother, who would have been 35, had no preparation for how to handle this. For me, she fumbled, stumbled, messed up. She is just a human being, she was trying her best, quite possibly terrified by answers she did not want to hear, and making that fear perceptible to a child’s intuition. Possibly. I do not know. My mother wanted the best for me, I am sure. Yet more than once she did not do what was best. As all parents, everywhere.
I know she wanted to be the best parent she could, and was not able to. I am filled with sorrow for her, and I forgive her. For that, and other memories, I feel sad for her, for us, for our souls. For her own untold stories, of how she became who she became. There is a beautiful soul there. There is. There always is. And I let it go.
Weeks or months later, the whole class will go on a short field trip, out to nature. We will come across Ahmed. I will shy away, look down, try to take up as little space as possible. I will wonder if he recognizes me, or my friend. In the months to come, when my dad suggests going to the camel, I don’t know that I always join. When I do, I am terrified we will see him.
There was another girl in class who arrived later in the year. She was very tall, and to me, she was beautiful. She was incredibly developed, immediately taking the role of the one with the largest breast from my friend. A newcomer, with American clothes, in pastel colors. An unusual character, girly, yet powerful. She had a mannerism about her of quiet and complete confidence. Unyielding. A hint of an accent, different habits. Everyone hated her. I didn’t, but I had no power myself, just emerging from the state of being the one actively hated by all, replaced by a more peaceful state of simply being ignored.
I knew she and her little brother had gone to the unploughed fields, near the mobile home, near Ahmed. I suspected she might have been subjected to the same type of molestation, or worse. I felt bad for her. I felt guilty for remaining mum. I somehow knew something must have happened to her even though I tried to convince myself otherwise. I never asked. She once told me do not show them anything when they go after you, the kids, being nasty and violent. Go lock yourself in the bathroom, she suggested, and cry there. She said that’s what she does. I never forgot that.
I forgive myself for not being able to do anything to save her, and other girls from perhaps similar violations. I let that go. Perhaps that one is the hardest. Perhaps.
Later on, Ahmed will disappear. I do not ask what happened.
It would be at least five more years before I tell this to anyone. With guilt. With shame. With embarrassment. Some of the embarrassment had to do with knowing that in the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t such a bad thing to have happened, it could have been much worse. There was therefore an additional guilt about it — it was huge for me, but it seemed miniature compared to what some of my other friends went through. Five years are an eternity to live through when you are 15. It felt like I had been carrying this darkness for a lifetime. It was a lifetime. It felt good to share but it was not something I shared easily. It took many more years to share it more easily. I remember sitting with my girlfriends at 17, each one had a horror story to share, of some sexual abuse or molestation. One by one they went around the circle. And I simply couldn’t bring myself to share mine. I just couldn’t.
I knew this messed me up. But I didn’t know how. I don’t know that I will ever know how. I have trouble with emotions. That much is known to me. I am strong, too strong. I am missing on a wide spectrum of the human condition. I am logical to a fault. I did not know how to be vulnerable for most of my life. I have been learning some of these skills as of late. And new worlds, beautiful worlds, are opening up to me. But there is still much to learn.
And now, when all this writing is done, I find calm and lightness that are wonderful, I find how much self-love, indeed, there is in forgiveness. And so I think of you.
You told me how you do not want to forgive the person who hurt your body, violated your soul, suffocated your ability to fully trust. And I think — does this mean that somewhere deep inside, perhaps not with awareness, you do not wish to give yourself a gift of self-love. And I think — if so, what does that mean? Does it mean you have a part of yourself that you hate? I can go on and on about what a beautiful soul you are. But that is not the point. It is not for me to lecture you on this resounding fact, it is for you to know from deep within.
And so, I hope you can find a way to let that pain and anger go. And for forgiveness to settle in. Yes, you are punishing your abuser. No, they are not the one who are being punished the most. And when you let go, the burden will lighten, your heart will soar higher. Your joy will be deeper. Live life.
I am so happy knowing you exist in this world. A person that is you. Such beauty.
I am so glad to share this with you. I hope it is of essence to you. Yes, there are difficult emotions to be had, but I trust in the journey.
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