With all the therapy I’ve done, I know better than to allow myself to go down the rabbit hole of “what ifs,” and I have tools to try to get myself not to ruminate on the past for too long. But it is hard. And while most days I do not succumb to these thoughts, there are days where I do, and when that happens I feel overpowered.
I carry an intense amount of guilt for not knowing better sooner. I feel this despite the fact that the day after I understood the reality of my rape, I reported my rapist. With this guilt also comes anger — anger at those who also didn’t know better or didn’t care enough. Writing it down, I can see how psychologically unsophisticated this all is: I’m looking for something or someone to blame. I blame myself. But the deeper I spiral the more culpability I find.
I think about my friends from back then. I have a lot of pain buried there. I know we were young. I know it is unreasonable to expect children, like we were, to know better. But I wish someone did.
I think about the friend who I told I had a secret I wasn’t allowed to share, and I wish they had seen how weird that was. I wish it struck my friend as alarming that I could not say what I desperately wanted to. And I wish that once they knew what the secret was they would have put two and two together to see that Avery forcing me to keep this secret was controlling, abusive behavior. And then I wish my friend could have pointed that out, asked if there was more to the story, and helped me see there was.
I think about my ex. He had seen the worst of me. I’m sure he was angry with me. And the timing of everything was such that he may have assumed my coldness towards him was just because we had broken up. But I wish he had seen that something was wrong. I wish he had had the wisdom to realize that despite the fact that we were broken up and things were probably going to be a little awkward, that I never wanted to lose his friendship, and I wasn’t pushing only him away. I wish he had been able to see that I was not behaving how I used to. I wish he had seen that I was falling apart and losing weight and known it had nothing to do with anything he knew about. And I wish he had pointed this out instead of reassuring others it was normal just because he had seen me angry.
I think about the friends who knew about my eating issues, and I wish that any of them had been educated enough to realize it was about more than food. I wish they had lovingly told me that something was wrong and they knew it, that they were worried about me, and that they think it’s more than what is going on at the surface. I wish they could have found a way to get through to me.
I think about the friends who saw my outbursts of anger. The ones I pushed away, who I do not blame for leaving. I wish that before they left, they would have talked to an adult and told them something was wrong with me and that I needed help. As much as it was the absolute last thing in the world I wanted then, as much as I would have believed it was ruining my life back then, I wish someone had tried to get me help. I wish that I would have been sent away to an inpatient program for eating disorders. I would have been so mad; I was already so mad. I would have probably pushed those people away; I lost them anyway. I may have believed my future was over and maybe I wouldn’t have gotten into college; I didn’t go to college anyway. When I look back I see how much I needed help. I know what I would have feared about getting help. Much of what I feared would have happened anyway. And true, I would not have known that, had it happened that way instead. I’m sure I never would have believed my life would have played out how it did or that now eight years later I am still suffering from what happened. But I do know. And I guess I want to say that to whoever you are right now, afraid of what will happen if you put your life on hold to get the help you need, I am guessing I’m not the only one who suffered longer for not getting professional help. I wish someone had forced me into treatment.
I think about my guidance counselor who confronted me about my weight. And I wish she hadn’t let it go. I trusted her. I might have talked to her if she did more, if she said the right things in the right way. I am grateful for what she did do. I just wish she did even more, and better.
I think about my teachers who could have seen. My principal and vice principal and superintendent who didn’t know me well as far as I know, although I know they spoke about me enough that my superintendent knew who I was at all. I wonder what they said. Was it limited to rules I broke, or did anyone ever once mention, there’s something up with this girl? These were the adults. These were the ones who should have known better. I deteriorated in that building, and I am angry that no one did a thing about it, that instead they sent me away with my red flags to myself. Forgive me for believing that for someone presenting with obvious enough physical symptoms, who randomly started failing tests the second half of junior year after being a consistent honor roll student, who compulsively wore To Write Love on Her Arms bracelets, that a single adult at that school might have thought, that’s a girl in pain, and checked in. As far as I know, none of them looked hard enough at me to find out I as living on a friend’s couch for six months, but hey, at least they made sure everyone knew that I drove myself to Senior Beach Day and missed a graduation rehearsal.
I think about the nurse practitioner I saw. I don’t think I’m comfortable talking publicly about this at the moment. But I think about her. And I wish it had been different.
All this to say, I wish so very deeply, that someone or something might have intervened to get me to understand in 2011 or even 2012, sooner than 2016, that I had been raped, that Avery was a rapist, that he was not my friend, that I was not okay, that he was the reason things were the way they were. I wish it, I think it to try to make it true. I wish it because above all else, I blame myself. I wish I knew. I wish I had spoken up. I wish I hadn’t listened to him. I wish I had known better. I wish I had shared and shared and overshared until the right person or thing said, wait a minute, that’s not right. I feel guilty for every thing that Avery ever did after what he did to me. I feel guilty for anyone he hurt in any way. I feel guilty I didn’t warn them. I feel guilty I didn’t report him sooner, then maybe the prosecutors would have tried to stop him.
I know, I know, I know that he is the one who chooses to do what he does. I know I am not responsible for his actions, and I know that I do not condone them. I know that what he does is not my fault. I know that even if everything I wish would have happened had indeed happened, that doesn’t mean things would have turned out differently. I know. I know. I know.
And yet I feel guilty. I am carrying this weight, and believe me, I want to put it down. I don’t know how, but I do know that reminding me it’s not my fault isn’t how.
Maybe instead of another person reminding me of what I already know, I need you to hear me and to understand what it is I feel, what it is I’m living with. I’m living with this guilt whether you like it or not.
So maybe instead of telling me it’s not my fault, tell me you forgive me.
Forgive me for not knowing better.
And let me forgive you for not knowing better.
Forgive me for not getting help.
And let me forgive you for not helping me get help.
Above all, forgive me for not being able to stop him.
And I don’t know, I’m out of ideas, pray for me I forgive myself for not being able to stop him
I’m sorry I couldn’t stop him