Content notes for child sexual abuse/predation and suicide. And as always, for foul language.
I’m a survivor of sexual assault and rape four times over. The one that broke the seal was a certain student we’ll call Wyatt when I was in 7th grade. Wyatt would goose me in the halls and with a black heart, he’d tauntingly laugh at my reaction. I would change my route to my classes daily to avoid his unwelcome touching. He couldn’t bother me if he didn’t know where I was, after all. I couldn’t escape him on the bus though, and every day he would kick whomever I was sitting with out of my seat and spend the next 15 minutes trying to touch me, sometimes even prying my legs apart to get at me. It was always a great source of amusement for him, and he would laugh while his hands would invade me. Kids around us never intervened, and I never spoke up. Why? I don’t know. I was embarrassed. I didn’t know my own voice. I didn’t have the tools to manage the abuse. Who knows. God, I hadn’t even started my period.
I recently came out as a survivor to my husband, and in doing that I’ve allowed myself to really explore my past with the eyes of a woman who has the knowledge and experience to rationalize all of these events. I can see now that my thoughts about myself started changing the year that I endured Wyatt’s harassment. That was the year that I allowed myself to become an object. He set the tone of what I would expect from men for decades.
This morning I found out that Wyatt is dead, by his own hand. Of course, I found out about it on facebook. I refrained from commenting, but I read everyone else’s comments. There are at least 10 people chiming in on Wyatt’s strengths, and going on about how much he’ll be missed. What a great friend. What a nice guy. The world will miss him apparently.
After my initial glee, I settled down on the reality that my tormentor had actually killed himself, and it allowed me to see him as a victim too. 13 year old kids don’t just start sexually harassing pre-teen girls in a vacuum. I have no idea what Wyatt’s home life was, or what he had seen in those years before middle school. My god, I’m starting to feel sorry for him!
I’m looking at this now, not only as a 12 year old girl, but also as the mother of a 13 year old boy, and I’m not really sure how to process it. I don’t want to forgive him, but I’m not sure what to think, or what’s healthy to think.
~ Touched at Twelve
Oh, pal. I am so very sorry that Wyatt did those things to you when you were
twelve. I am also sorry that you carried this burden for so long.
You are not alone. I’ve known lots of women whose first experiences of boys’ sexual attention mirror your own. It fucking sucks, and it’s unfair and it taints many of our future interactions with men, and if we are straight, it really complicates partnerships. I am so glad that you told your husband, and I hope that he is supporting you in the ways that are helpful.
Before I talk about forgiving Wyatt, I also want to encourage you to let go of blaming yourself. And not just about the things that Wyatt did, and not saying anything about it. But about the ways what he did impacted your future relationships. Childhood trauma changes the brain
, so try to give yourself a break. Those “mistakes” were normal human responses to having been hurt before.
Seeing that Wyatt took his own life, you are probably right that he had some struggles of his own. And that’s sad, maybe even tragic. We’ll never know what took him to that place, other than we know that mental illness, particularly depression, can be a terminal illness.
But it has nothing to do with you. He still made the choice to hurt you, to invade your space and body, and to negatively impact all of your future relationships. He still hurt you, even if he was being hurt, even if he was only 13.
So, forgiveness. It takes a lot of strength to forgive people. You have to be ready to do it. And just as Wyatt’s suicide had nothing to do with you, forgiving him has nothing to do with Wyatt. He’ll never know whether you did or didn’t, right? Even if he was still alive, he probably wouldn’t have known. Forgiveness is for you, to set things right in your own heart. Sometimes, folks can get caught up, thinking that by forgiving someone who harmed them, they are saying that what happened is okay. In reality, when we forgive someone who has hurt us, we are saying that we are okay, now. If you don’t feel okay, then it isn’t time to forgive Wyatt.
When you are ready, you might even feel relieved. Hating someone takes as much emotional energy as loving someone does. Forgiving Wyatt means that you’ll move from hate to indifference, which actually takes no energy at all. You deserve to not spend anymore energy on this guy.
Cardinal Rule: There’s an adage from the Buddha, about forgiveness and anger, that I come back to a lot: carrying anger around for someone else is like carrying a hot coal in your hand waiting to throw it at them–you’re the one who gets burned. When you forgive Wyatt, you’ll let the coal go. It’s pretty hard for the coal to burn you if you aren’t holding it anymore.