Oops I said it again!
It felt soooo great in the moment but sometimes I would eventually regret it. Ugh! This is what happens to me when I decide to go with my emotions! Although sometimes even when I don’t. Honestly I think this word means different things to everyone. It is probably the most misunderstood and entirely overused word known to mankind.
I don’t judge if you’re a person who blurts it out in the moment or if it’s thrown out there a hundred times a day. It’s a personal choice. I’ve realized what happens AFTER the word has been uttered is what truly counts.
It was Saturday morning and everyone was still sleeping. It was a brand new day and the sun was about to show its face. I was lying in bed – wide awake – and my mind working overtime. I turned my head and looked over at Robbie who was completely knocked out. I wished I was in the same physical and mental state, but I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. So I made my way to the family room and curled up on the sofa. My mind and heart were racing and fluttering and I was a bundle of nerves. Today was THE day. Would I actually go through with it? Did I have the strength and courage? Could I figure out a legitimate reason to back out ? Oh my god why did I ever agree to do this?
A few weeks prior Robbie and I were on a weekend get-a-way when my phone rang. It was early Sunday morning and I was asleep in bed. My children are adults but that doesn’t change anything. I jumped for my phone in case it was an emergency and they needed me. I looked and saw my mom’s name on the screen and answered the phone.
“Good morning Bita”
Groggily I replied “Good morning”
“What are you doing?” She asked.
“It’s 6:30am – I’m sleeping”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Should I call you back?”
I was annoyed now because I realized it wasn’t an emergency. “No, what’s up?”
“Well your dad and I were wondering if you were open to meeting with your uncle?”
I sat straight up in bed. She didn’t have to say which uncle – I knew.
“What?” Now I was completely confused and wide awake.
“Well your dad and I were thinking it might help you if you met with him face-to-face.”
It was the last thing I ever expected her to say to me. “Um I don’t know”
My parents rarely (if ever) spoke of my abuse or my uncle. The times we did it never EVER went well. When I say never went well – I mean N-E-V-E-R! So their idea to now meet with my sexual abuser completely flabbergasted me. They also offered for this meeting to take place in their home. I literally froze and truly didn’t know how to respond. When my voice returned I said I would talk to Robbie and call her back.
“No way.” Robbie said when I shared their reason for the call.
“What do you mean no way?”
“Exactly what it sounds like – there is no way you are going to meet with that scum bag.” He said in a firm tone.
“Okay listen to me. I’m not saying I want to do it but I want to talk about it.” I understood his response but I was honestly a little surprised too.
“What do you think he is going to say to you?” He asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Here’s the thing. It has nothing to do with what he has to say. It is more about what I need to say to HIM.” I looked into his eyes trying to implore him to grasp my intention.
“What are you going to say to him?” He was curious now.
“To tell you the truth – I’m not sure.” Throughout the years there was so much I wanted to say. In fact I had asked for my uncle’s address several times so I could write him a letter. At that time he was in prison and I needed to let him know how he destroyed my life. I also needed him to know that I had survived – more than survived. In spite of the way he used and abused my body and mind – he didn’t win. My father flat-out refused to give it to me. I wasn’t close enough with any of my relatives to ask them. So at the time I had no choice but to let it go. Now after all this time the opportunity suddenly presented itself and I didn’t know what I would do.
In the end Robbie supported my decision to meet with my abuser. He made it clear that he would be with me and I told him I didn’t want it any other way. I needed him. So waking up that Saturday morning I was a complete mess. Could I actually muster the courage to face this monster? After all these years of desperately trying to forget the horror – could I now face it? Would those haunting evil memories become too much to bear? I was terrified.
We walked in my parents home and he sat waiting on the couch. To my surprise my dad’s sister and her husband were there too. I walked in with my heart beating out of my chest and said hello to everyone except him. Robbie and I sat on the love seat across the room. I looked up at him and he was looking at me. Just seeing his face made my skin crawl. The tension was thick in the room and the silence was deafening.
My mom finally spoke and said “Bita do you want to start?”
“No” was all I said.
So for the next few minutes I heard a litany of excuses of why he did those things to me. He failed at his sad and futile attempt at taking accountability and showing remorse. I don’t know what I expected but this missed the mark by several hundred miles.
He ended it by saying two words I waited my entire life to hear “I’m sorry”.
I sat there quietly taking it all in. I had imagined this scene countless times in my head and now here it was in front of me. It didn’t feel real. I finally heard him admit to my parents, my husband and to my relatives his crimes. It was now finally out in the open. The endless arguments between my parents and I over it. The lifetime of hurt and pain. The ongoing intimacy and trust struggles due to the abuse. I had inherited a lifetime of insecurities and self-loathing because of him. It had now come full circle – the years of abuse took place in my parent’s home and now was exposed there too.
He looked old and haggard and pathetic sitting in front of me. All the things I wanted to say to him in the past just didn’t feel right in this moment. For years I deeply desired him to burn in hell – now that no longer existed. Please don’t get me wrong – I was still angry and wounded and desired justice. I was just in a different place now. All my life he represented a huge, powerful , evil figure that instilled so much fear in me. Staring at him now he looked pitiful and small. So I shared what his abuse did to me – how it never went away. It was something I carried all my life and affected every relationship I ever had. How he marred my relationship with my husband and how I hated him for it.
But I also told him that wasn’t the end of my story. As horrible as my life began I was damn sure it would end differently for me. I described how I’ve clawed, scratched and fought to climb out of the deep well of my abuse. How it has always been a challenge but through the help of God, husband and children I was going to make it. I told him I didn’t know if he was honest when he told his story of finding Jesus and wanting to change. If it were true he still had a long road ahead of him. Then I said:
“I could never forget what you did to me, and to tell you the truth I don’t want to forget. Not because I still want you to burn in hell. It really has nothing to do with you or me. I’ve now reached a place where I’m okay with what happened to me. I’ve made peace with it. The commitment and effort it’s taken to get to this place in my life made me a stronger person.” I explained how many others I have met who have also been sexually abused. Here in the United States and in Africa. How I’ve shared my story and let them know their past does not define them. There is healing and freedom for them too. I looked him in the eyes and spoke the word (in my opinion) that is widely misunderstood in situations like this:
“I choose to forgive you.”
Although he never responded and honestly there really wasn’t anything I wanted to needed him say to me. I had done it. I finally had the opportunity to look my monster in the eyes and take my power back. It wasn’t the exquisitely written scene that takes place in the movies, but it was a moment that was long overdue.
Forgiveness isn’t easy. I must also confess it is something I struggle with to this very day. Believe me I know the definition of forgiveness and what the bible says about it. I know bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I know it isn’t a feeling but rather a decision. I’ve exhausted the topic, and knowing it can be much different from living it.
I remember walking away from that meeting feeling several tons lighter. I was proud of myself for facing him and speaking my truth. I didn’t regret using the F word that day – it was true – I chose forgiveness. You see I was ready to move forward. But just because the decision is made and you walk through the door of forgiveness – it doesn’t mean it’s over.
Three years later (while in a different step of healing) I walked into the Tempe Police Department and pressed formal charges against this uncle. It took over a year to finally be notified if the DA would take the case to trial. It was a very long year. Part of the hold up was due to my uncle dodging detective visits and attempted phone calls to be interviewed. In the end I received a letter informing me the DA chose to not pursue the case. My heart dropped. As much as I tried to prepare myself for this outcome it was like a slap in my face. It took me a couple of weeks to recover from the disappointment but I did.
I also called the DA to find out what more they needed to make the decision pursue the case. It was a very interesting conversation. I was told that in fact, the detective did speak to my uncle about my claims. He stated that he did not remember anything. When asked about meeting with me in my parents home he said “I just said whatever they wanted to hear.” He denied everything. I wasn’t surprised but I gotta tell you it did hurt. Believe me when I tell you the other F word popped right into my head. Just because I had chosen to forgive once didn’t mean it was easy to choose it again. I didn’t know if I had it in me.
I’m not perfect. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life and probably will continue to do so. I’ve been forgiven many many times. The real honest raw answer is that forgiveness wasn’t easy the second time around. It took me a bit to process everything but I did get there. Although this time he didn’t ask me I did forgive him once again. This doesn’t make me special in any way – I just want to be free.
Forgive and forget is a very common saying we like to throw around. I think a better saying is forgive and remember. Here’s why: forgiveness isn’t always an easy choice. At times it seems impossible to release the enormous wrongdoings against you. Choosing forgiveness is a courageous act. It’s great to be reminded of the times that you offered grace and mercy to another person. Especially when they’re insincere or unapologetic. In doing what doesn’t feel right or makes sense can bring you lasting peace, freedom and pure joy.