This piece is not about parenting. It is personal. The topic is painful, the result is hope. So please be mindful of any extra sets of eyes looking over your shoulder as you read. Yet if those eyes are old enough for these conversations, I absolutely invite you to share it with them as well. Maybe it about parenting after all.
I don’t regret holding his hand.
It’s taken a long time to reach this place. But my heart is sure. I do not regret it. Not a bit, not even a little.
I was 13. He was the older brother of a friend. I recall the feelings of a carefree afternoon. I don’t remember which movie we saw. By the time it was over, the summer sun had set. As a gaggle, our group of teens and tweens emerged from the theater and meandered slowly home. In twos and threes we splintered, but with my hand tucked in his, I stayed. Stayed by the pool, in the plastic lounge chair.
I was naïve and full of innocent wonder. The movies-in–my-mind were Disney-esque: you fell in love, you kissed, you lived happily ever after. That was how I imagined life to be. After that night my world was different. The characters that played the roles of good and evil were no longer so clearly defined. The Prince turned out to be not so charming.
I had no name for what had happened to me. I had no words, no ideas, no understanding.
Rape is a heart-shattering event that sprays shrapnel across your life. In my late teens I would check each room I entered for multiple exists, no matter that my assault took place outside. In my early twenties I wore two-dozen extra pounds as misguided body armor in an attempt to protect myself. In my thirties I wrestled with wondering how and when to tell new friends. Because my survivorhood doesn’t define me, but it is a part of the fabric of my soul.
I was late for my curfew that night, and I was never late again. Being on time, well let’s be honest, being early, is a personality quirk my friends love to sweetly tease me about. It is funny. I can’t seem to help myself. I don’t wear a watch, yet you can set a clock by my ability to arrive five minutes ahead of promptly. But it is rooted in the mistaken belief that if I am on time I will keep everyone safe. The boogieman can’t reach you when you aren’t there.
I have a fabulous husband, a wonderful marriage, a lovely family. I have a son I adore and a daughter who delights me. I have picked up the pieces of my heart and constructed a beautiful life. And yet. And yet I wish it weren’t so hard some days.
For many years my head and my body were separate entities, in spatial proximity only because they were physically attached. I lived like the magician’s lovely assistant- her body trapped in the impossibly small box, her head floating free. I am slowly still returning. It is an awkward dance between intimate and disgruntled partners.
Where have you been? My body asks. Why couldn’t you stay? I am the house for your soul. Why didn’t you trust me?
Because hindsight can be haunting. For so long I thought it was my fault. That I was to blame for what happened that night, the night I was only 13. I believed that by wanting to hold his hand I was responsible for all that followed. And so I fled. As far away as I could. Into my head.
And in my head I have finally realized I would not change the moment our palms touched. Survivorhood is about acknowledging the string of events and knowing knowing in my bones it wasn’t my fault. What do I hope? That his memories of the night were as painful as mine, and his remorse led to another life forever changed. His.
I weep each time I read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to my children. My voice cracks, my tear ducts open, and small rivulets of salt water snake down my cheeks. My kids roll their eyes, reach for the box and hand me a tissue. I cry in recognition, for this is the story of me. We are the characters– my body the tree and my mind the boy. My body is incredibly forgiving and kind. She does so much without asking in return. Now it is time. Time to nurture my roots, stabilize my trunk, re-grow my branches so that I may blossom once again.
Blossom and be. And not regret holding his hand. Not a bit, not even a little. No, not at all.
This essay is part of My Messy Beautiful at Momastery.