You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.‘ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)
In primary school, I was sexually “interfered with” (as a counsellor once put it) by a man who remains a friend of my family’s. These lines from Service Fee by The Waifs often come to me: “Don't ever ask me, don't you dare begin | I'm not going to talk about it, but God knows I'm gonna sing.”
When I have a horrible dream, I force myself on waking to rewrite it so that the story ends in peace rather than terror, control rather than passivity on my part. It calms me down so that I can fall asleep again and dream of sweeter things. When my mind wanders back to that moment (and how I try to keep my mind away from the memory, for it sickens me), and I’m once again that little girl, frozen in confusion, fear and betrayal, with that man’s fingers searching for a way further into my underpants, the noise of his racing heart and raspy breath in my ear, I order my mind to STOP. And then I start rewriting.
In my ending, I am suddenly filled with an overwhelming rage, and, Hulk-style, I am no longer vulnerable or powerless; I rise up strong, gripping a knife (which I always find lying conveniently next to my left hand), and I turn on that man and I plunge the blade into his heart, over and over and over and over, screaming,
And I look at him bleeding, dying, and I feel no remorse.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)
He asked for my forgiveness. It was night time, and I’m not sure if I felt dazed because I’d been sleeping or because I’d been lying for so long in the dark that my eyes were simply adjusting to the light or because I wasn’t expecting or prepared to see him in my bedroom; whatever it was, I remember nothing of what was said except that he asked, “Will you forgive me?”
I said yes, I had to; it was the only answer we’d been taught to give to that question. (Your brother hits you, apologises and asks for your forgiveness; you say yes. Your sister steals your chocolate, apologises and asks for your forgiveness. You say yes. A trusted man puts his hand in your pants until you find the courage to say “Don’t” enough times and he finally stops. He apologises and asks for your forgiveness. You say yes). It wasn’t a choice.
Even now I have no idea if I’ve managed to forgive him; what does forgiveness look like? Is it supposed to leave me feeling like the slate has been wiped completely clean, or am I allowed to still despise the thought of him touching me again on the rare occasions I see him and he reaches for a hug? Is the fact that I’m acutely aware of the placement of his hands on my body and the passing of every millisecond a sign that I’m no closer to forgiveness now than I was all those years ago? How do I stop feeling nauseous when I see him, or when I hear or say his name? Am I allowed to break down and sob at the possibility of one day having to let my daughter sit on his knee?
Or what if I think in terms of love rather than forgiveness: what is love in this case, what should love look like? Is allowing myself to be hugged “loving my enemies”? Is it enough simply to act as if all’s well so that his family doesn’t suspect anything, protecting his name with my silence (except when very drunk, it must be admitted) and forced smiles as I’ve done for the better part of my life? Or will it only be counted as love when I start to feel any kind of sorry emotion attached to news of illnesses or injuries that befall him? Does love come first, or forgiveness? I don’t know.
I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.
But God knows I’m gonna write about it.