Unforgivable

I am a person who believes in forgiveness.

That belief defines me.  It gives me hope and faith and strength.  It tells me how to look at the world and what to do with my anger.  It brings me peace when nothing else can.

I am a person who believes in forgiveness.

Last summer, when I man I respected died, I vowed to honor him by extending forgiveness to people who had hurt me in the past.

I said…

“Today, I forgive the stepfather who abandoned my brothers, abused my mother, and robbed me of pieces of my childhood with his violence and addiction.  I don’t have the strength to shower him with love, but I can find the power to let go of the anger.”

And I meant it.  I believed it.  And I really, really thought I had forgiven a man I once hated.

And then, today, I had to listen to someone praise that same man.  I listened as someone suggested he was capable, now, of being a decent human being.  Worse, I heard someone call him a good father.  Worse still, I listened to someone imply that he was somehow better than my mother – the woman I watched cower in a corner with her hands above her head, trying to deflect his blows, the woman who stood in his place when he was “absent”.

Forgiveness vanished from my heart as quickly as the breath escaped my lungs.

And in its place came a hot, fiery rage that I have not known in years.

I remembered the hand shaped welt on the thigh of a five year old.

I remembered standing in a puddle of my own urine, stinking and ashamed that I hadn’t been able to control myself better during a spanking.

I remembered screaming at my mother “Shut up!  Shut up!  Mom!  Just shut up!”, desperate to protect her from the inevitable punishment for “her mouth”.

I remembered the look of disgrace on the faces of two young boys who had done nothing wrong except bear the same last name as someone in the local paper.  “Is that your dad?” their friends would ask, and the two boys would come home and cry when they thought no one could see.

I remembered the rolled up newspaper wrapped in black electric tape that my dog, my mother and I would all come to fear equally.

The last time I saw him, he called me “Britter”.  “Heyyyy, Britter,” he said, in the sickly sweet drawl of a con man whose brain has been permanently damaged from drugs.  I told my husband that day that the only thing left in my heart for him was pity.  I was so sure the hate had long since passed away with years and distance and the love and support of good people.

But I was wrong.

That hate, I learned today, still lives deep inside me.  It has been buried underneath my most shameful memories, in my most vulnerable places.  It lies beside the place where I first learned I wasn’t good enough.  It sits with the realization that only a truly broken person would be unworthy of a parent’s love.

I hate him.

I hate everything in me that he broke.  I hate that, decades later, the memory of the sound of his voice makes me weep.  I hate the way he ripped apart my mother.  Do you know what it is to watch your mother cower in a corner? It’s horrible.  It’s beyond horrible.  It’s inhuman.

You do not get to defile one child and call yourself a father to another.

You do not get to make one child feel guilty because they, for some reason, are spared your wrath, while you make them sit and watch you torture the women that child loves – all the while claiming that you know what it is to love.

I hate him.

It scares me how much I hate him.  The rage that washed over me today was unlike anything I have ever known.  “I’m scared for you,” Jared said when he heard me on the phone – and I have to admit, I’m scared for me, too.

Because I believe in forgiveness.

And yet, as someone pointed out to me today, I am “slow to forgiveness”.  Twenty years, I suppose, would be considered slow by any standard.

I try to see the other side.  I try to imagine that it makes sense for someone to say that now he’s making up for the pain he caused in the past.  I try to hold on to the belief that all of us have a human side, a side worth loving and forgiving.  I try.

But I can’t.  I just… can’t.  As much as I believe in the power of forgiveness, that man remains, for me, unforgivable.

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