[Spoiler alert: If you have a history of sexual abuse, this is not the post for you. Please skip it. I am totally alright if everyone in the world skips it, in fact. But I'm going to write it (and then likely later delete it) because I've been thinking about writing it for weeks and I'm to the point where I can think of writing literally nothing else, so I think my mind has put up a wall for me to hurdle. I'm sorry. Come back tomorrow instead. ]
[It is also the size of a novella and likely riddled with typos because I do not have the energy for a second draft or proofreading, so again, skip it.]
In my list of resolutions, here is the one I fear the most:
14. Try to repair a relationship.
I have one relative who I just don’t get. I won’t tell you who it is, because I think perhaps he reads this site, and even if he doesn’t, people who know him do. What matters is that there is a lot of junk cluttering the relationship, and I don’t even know why. He doesn’t want to talk to me, and my boys don’t even know who he is, and that makes me sad.
This may not be worth the effort, but I feel like I should try to understand why he’s angry with me, and try to apologize for what I know I’ve done, and hope he’ll understand and apologize for what he’s done.
To explain, even though you have probably guessed my entire post, my entire story, I’m going to say that this relationship is with my old next door neighbor, Fritz.
Fritz grew up next to us and was about seven years older than me. He was a great kid and sometimes he even babysat me. We loved his family. He played basketball with me. He read me books.
Later, when I was older and Fritz was away at college, he brought me back presents–expensive perfume that made me feel like a grown-up, a Benetton messenger bag that was literally the only label thing I was allowed to have (I wanted a Guess? tote bag like all the cool girls, but my mom had more sense than the cool girls’ moms and didn’t spend $60 on a cheaply-made canvas tote).
He gave me recommendations of where to apply for college, how he thought I should play the cello, how I should read The Outsiders, and then Catcher in the Rye, and then Heart of Darkness. He gave me copies of books with highlighted sections, dog-eared pages, notes in the corner to help me understand.
Fritz was a very, very good and kind person, a very good friend to me and to my family.
So it was absolutely awful of me that I couldn’t stop thinking about him raping me when I was five years old. I had these brief images that I couldn’t shake. I didn’t remember it when it happened, so I must have had some disorder.
There must have been a mental plague going through me. That’s why I was suddenly so tired. I remember trying to climb the stairs and thinking that the staircase was endless.
Everything was work: being at school, reading a book, talking to people, chewing. I had headaches every day. I was tired no matter how much sleep I got. I reread the same sentence over and over and over again.
I started skipping classes. I didn’t have energy to go out with friends. I got a D, nearly flunked another class, when before I’d never gotten less than a B plus on my report card. It was this mental plague that I couldn’t stop.
Everything took so much time and energy and I just wanted to lay in bed day after day and force myself to not think of when I was five years old. This couldn’t be. It absolutely couldn’t be. I asked to go to a therapist, but when I got there, I couldn’t talk. I clammed up. I talked about how disappointed I was that I had turned down my dream school–Berkeley. I had gotten admission, which I didn’t think I could with my D and Cs, but I didn’t go. Fritz told me it was probably a bad idea when I talked to him on the phone, and I agreed. My dad frowned at me, but he accepted my decision. Besides, I was a mess. I couldn’t fly across the country to attend college (the college of my dreams!) (the college Fritz told me I should apply to because I’d love it!) when I could barely get out of bed in the morning.
I graduated high school and went off to college thinking this. It’s all in my head. This isn’t reality. This plague was ruining my life and I needed it to stop.
And it did stop. My freshman year of college was much better. I went to class; I got decent grades; I made friends. I was back to my old self, before I had these delusions.
Of course they returned. My endless tiredness returned. I started skipping classes. My grades plummeted. I locked myself in my room for days and didn’t eat and didn’t sleep. I just sat there trying to convince myself that it didn’t happen.
The images in my head wouldn’t go away, and it was then that I first thought: this probably isn’t just in my head.
My junior year of college, when I was on the verge of dropping out of college, I went to a therapist. And I told her about my mental plague, except I didn’t call it that. I just told her, “When I was five years old, I was raped by my next door neighbor Fritz.”
And she told me that it wasn’t in my head, that I wasn’t a bad person, that I was completely normal. My mental plague, my tiredness, my slipping grades, all of it was totally normal. I hadn’t been normal in years, and here I was: normal.
She even sent me to group therapy, where there were eight other women who could not have been more different than me except they had the same exact thoughts as me, and Fritz, it turned out, wasn’t unique either.
His expensive gifts and the books he told me to read and the things he told me to like and the way he talked to me and what he did: he wasn’t a person, he was a caricature of a person. All of these women had men in their lives who did the exact same thing. They gave presents and had kind words and were really the best people in the world, except they weren’t.
And there I was, twenty years old, and suddenly I realized I had no idea who I was. I had never had an original thought since I was five years old. Everything had been tainted by Fritz. My whole life was a wreck because of Fritz, and I hated him so much.
It took me many, many years, but I forgave Fritz. I talked to him again. I asked him to go to therapy (he refused, and said that he was sorry for what he’d done, but therapy was for nut-jobs) (like me). Still, I talked to him. I saw him when I went home. I joked with him because I forgave him. I did. He was just a kid, too, when it all happened, and as my therapists had told me: the same thing probably happened to him, too. Oh. Fritz was like me. How could I not forgive him? He hadn’t touch me in over a decade.
Except that I was sometimes still angry. I would make snide jokes. I would yell at him. I hadn’t really forgiven him. When my first son was born and I emailed him a photo of the baby (because we were practically family, you see, and we were in touch constantly, because as I was told by multiple people, It Was The Right Thing To Do (to act like nothing was wrong)). He emailed back and made a joke about how my baby was ugly.
He told me my baby was ugly.
And that was the first time I realized that I actively disagreed with Fritz’s opinion. That was, I think, the first time I had an original thought of my own, not tainted by what I wanted Fritz to think. I was angry for weeks, for months.
I only saw Fritz one time after that at a wedding. I still included him on my mass email list when I’d write to friends and family about my son’s milestones, and sent links to photos online. But I was no longer under his spell.
He wrote to me, “Unsubscribe me from this list.” He treated me like a spam bot. He literally emailed me like I was a spam bot.
But I still sent him Christmas cards, and then one year, the year my second son was born, he wrote me an email telling me to never send him a photo of my children again, to never speak with him again.
Because I was the one in the wrong.
And Fritz’s mother would ask me occassionally, “What did you do to him? Why is he so angry with you?”
I didn’t know. What did I do? I was angry, but I was also remorseful. I should have been kinder. I should have been quicker to forgive. I have been mulling it over for years. Years and years.
What did I do? This was making me a worse person. I needed to turn the other cheek and write him an apology, to say I was sorry.
And I even vaguely publicly declared on my blog a few weeks back that I would do so. And ever since then I have been feeling low and rotten and horrible. I have been sick and headachey and didn’t want to leave the house or read books or do anything that required thought. I didn’t want to take care of my kids or my house or write anything. Everything was much work. I was so tired all the time.
That’s why I’m writing this, to say: oh my God, what was I thinking? Of course I did nothing wrong. Of course I am not going to write him an apology. I did nothing wrong. I don’t know how many times the shame will course through me and I have to tell myself that: I did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong.
He has told me of many of the things I did wrong: I told my in-laws what he did, and it was embarrassing. “I said I was sorry! I’m not that kind of person anymore!” I felt guilty. I shouldn’t have shared that with them. I told a few other friends and family, embarrassing him all over again. Why was I so cruel? I should keep it quiet.
But. I did nothing wrong.
It’s strange to feel shame and feel that the shame is wrong. I know I did nothing wrong, and yet I don’t want anyone to read this, to judge me, to look at me differently, to see me as a Type instead of a person, to blame me. I don’t want that, but I can’t seem to get it out of my head that I need to tell you this. Because I did nothing wrong.
And because of that group of eight women in college who were my group therapy partners, who I don’t speak with anymore (we didn’t even know each other’s last names), who are now doctors and professors and lawyers and writers and artists, I know that you can’t really tell by looking at a person, that unfortunately we are all over and there are probably bunches of you reading this right now (even as I cringe at the thought, but I did nothing wrong) who know too well all of this. Except that I didn’t know who I was until I was twenty years old. I didn’t find out which type of movies I liked or music I liked or books I liked or foods. I didn’t even know I existed underneath it all.
But I feel like every time I tell someone, every time I explain about Fritz, about myself, even though I am thirty-three-years old with a mortgage and two kids and a husband and a dog, I feel like I am letting go of something bad and making room for something good.
I know this is true, because three weeks after I started group therapy, I met Gregg.
I was arguing on the phone with a therapist friend. I was trying to press that everything good in my life was out of sheer luck, including meeting Gregg. How could I possibly prepare for that? How could I prepare for anything good that had happened to me? She was telling me that I did something different to prepare to meet Gregg. I was prepared. It was ME, not luck. I deserved it, somehow.
It wasn’t until two days ago that I even realized the connection that I met Gregg right after I admitted what happened with Fritz. It has taken me THIRTEEN YEARS to see the connection.
After I let Fritz out of my life, a lot of other things good things happened: I finished graduate school; I got every single job I applied to (when before, I was rejected from countless ones); I got pregnant again in the blink of an eye when it had taken me years to get pregnant with my first son. I started writing again.
But I haven’t let go of what he said four years ago, how he didn’t want to know me anymore. I haven’t let go of that guilt that I did something wrong to him, that I’m not forgiving or kind or loving enough. What could I fix about myself? I know Fritz has suffered. I know he’s not that kid who abused me. I know he has changed his life. But I don’t have to apologize. Because I did nothing wrong.
And so, I want to open up something else good. I want to let go of all this muck that’s weighing me down, that’s shutting down the I did nothing wrong in my head and replacing it with excuses and blame.
I did nothing wrong. I refuse to take blame. I refuse to feel guilty any longer. I want to find out who I am, at thirty-three. I still don’t know what kind of music I like. I still have a long list of dreams I want to accomplish, and I’m holding myself back.
It wasn’t until I just reread resolution number fourteen that I realized I wasn’t talking about Fritz at all. I was talking about me.
I am very tentatively opening up comments, but may close them even if nothing negative was said.