Off the top of my head, I can think of at least half a dozen people who knew – or at least suspected – that I was being abused as a child.
Nate doesn’t understand why I forgive them, why I still even let some of them into my life. “Anger hurts me more than them,” I tell him. “I need to let it go and move on.”
But once in awhile, something triggers me. Sometimes it’s just a glance at my babies as they sleep, a nagging thought about youthfulness. The unfamiliar innocence makes me uneasy and it all rushes back. A silence roaring through my skull. I feel hateful. I used to make excuses for these people who didn’t help me. I’d ponder aloud about them. They had things going on in their own lives, they weren’t sure, they couldn’t believe what they thought they saw.
“Everything happens for a reason,” I’d say. But there’s no reason for this. There’s nothing that will ever make it okay.
I can forgive the man that did this to me, honestly, because I know that he is sick. I know that he lives somewhere out there with himself and I almost feel pity for this weight he has to bear. I imagine him and I see the sadness and despair that he secretly wallows in. Maybe he’s even sorry. Maybe he doesn’t have the capacity to understand his actions. In any case, his life is nothing. Not to me. Not to him. But these people, these witnesses, they go on unfazed. They keep living as if they weren’t part of the worst years of my life. It doesn’t matter to them. They go on with their normal moments that they didn’t earn. I resent their joy.
“Please, please don’t leave me here,” I once begged a relative. Silence.
“I knew all along what was going on,” a friend of my mother said after the fact. “My son asked me to never leave him alone with that man, and I knew.” Her casualness shocks me, and I’m stunned, dumbfounded.
I remember a lawyer inquiring, almost gleefully. “If this abuse did in fact occur, why did nobody report it to Child Protective Services until four years later?” The judge has to prompt me to answer. I have no idea. I wish I knew.
I asked a teacher to help arrange after-school activities so I wouldn’t have to go home. “I’m afraid of my stepdad.” Tears welled and dripped down my 11-year-old cheeks. Nothing but the creaking of her chair responded as she swiveled to phone the school counselor. I was put into a group for children with divorced parents, an easy way of showing us some extra attention to make us feel special. The response clawed at me, tore at my heart and I felt overwhelmingly alone in this room full of children who were nothing like me.
They’re all talking, but nobody says any words that can help me. On that, they’re silent.
And the silence is deafening.