In the past week two more women I love disclosed histories of abuse to me. One found God and the other gumption and both the guts to up and walk away.
The words are like ash on my tongue: I am so sorry that happened to you. You did not deserve that. You deserved so much better. They are the lyrics of a song overplayed and become meaningless, a fabric frayed to threadbare. How can I live in a world where I am compelled to repeat this mantra to the best and most beautiful women I know, over and over again? How is it that my coming to know and love individual women leads so surely to this almost universal disclosure of harm done them?
I love my friends for their humor and intelligence, their snark and pluck, their faith and irreverence. I love to sweat with them and drink coffee with them and grow our trust and mutual respect through conversations snatched among the children or savored on a wild free morning ramble on the mountain. I love how Facebook makes us privy to one another’s every day and collapses the years, bringing those I knew long ago into my present and mingling me with my new friends’ forever friends.
I hate that intimacy among women so often comes to this: how I was hurt, what was taken from me, what I gave up to get free.
Maybe it’s not an accident these stories are finding me now as with shaking hands and a resistant heart, I unpack my own past, the injuries done me at the hands of someone I only ever wanted to love.
I don’t want to tell that story. I don’t want to claim the name survivor or let that history see the light of day, even as I know that sunlight sanitizes and telling—and telling, and telling, and telling if need be—is the final finger of the self-defense fist. Sometimes the not-wanting to tell takes the tack of boot-stomping, temper-tantrum resistance. Sometimes it takes the tack of minimizing, the big brush off. It’s not really all that bad, so many women have faced so much worse.
It’s here I hear the infinitely kind and infinitely wise voice of Katy Mattingly, breaking with emotion. The worst thing that ever happened to you, she says, is the worst thing that ever happened to you.
Keeping this story close to my chest is the last gasp of deniability, the last best hope at rolling my history up behind me like a road no longer open for passage.
So why is it that the words of the great American bard Utah Phillips rise in my mind unbidden?
The past didn’t go anywhere, did it? It’s right here it’s right now.
I always thought that anybody who told me that I couldn’t live in the past was trying to get me to forget something that would get them in serious trouble.
Time is an enormous long river. And I’m standing in it and you’re standing in it.
The past didn’t go anywhere.
Self defense finger #5: Tell someone you trust.