I stood on the edge of my adolescence, alone. This is generally the way we all walk out of childhood; alone, though there are other kids taking the same walk on either side of us. Of course people guide us, and we have examples, for good and for bad. And good and loving parents help talk us through. But the journey is uniquely ours. It gives me a mother-ache to know that my grand-treasures will soon begin this journey.
It was there, on the edge, that the visitor came to our house in the spring of my thirteenth year, just after birthday number 12. He was on military leave, and had come to Pennsylvania for some odd reason, and stayed with us. I don't know how long he stayed. I don't remember anything at all except the wound. He left me with a secret, silent, piercing wound. I have carried it all my life. Hefted it onto my back the very night he gave it to me. It still makes my shoulders hurt. Makes me hold my arms, crossed around my waist, my head bowed, my knees and ankles pressed together. I am an old woman, with love abounding, and children I have born of my own flesh. But down in the center, in the deepest, darkest, smallest place, I am twelve years old.
In a tender mercy, the spirit inside me compelled me to write to him that very night, after he had slithered back to his room.
You have done a very bad thing to a young girl and you should be ashamed, I had written. I slid the note under his door.To this day I am profoundly grateful that the holy inside me inspired me to put pencil to paper and give this evil back to him.
I held my secret from everyone, except my closest confidant, Libby. She promised to keep it safe. Faithful sister. I kept it from my mother, from my husband, and tried unsuccessfully to keep it from myself. But it just kept rising up and slapping me. Finally, when the holy spirit inside me shook one last time, I lifted the bandage over my history and revealed the scar, to my mother and my husband. They tenderly whispered words of love and sorrow, giving me the right to own my own wound. The shared sorrow was so important. Sorrow shared should always precede encouragement. Their encouragement gently walked into the room and with it a number of years of therapy, which helped a lot, though it took three different therapists to find the right one.
Thirty years after the incident I received a letter in the mail. The name on the return address label scraped the thick black scab off the wound. I stood at the kitchen counter, opened the drawer, drew out a knife, and slid it under the corner of the envelope. Written on the paper was verification. Maybe the better word is validation. I was stunned at how important that felt for me. For years I had questioned my own role in the incident. Even wondered if I had made it up, that it had not really happened, that I had pretended it happened. I do, after all, have a powerful ability to pretend. Had I not written to him that night when I was twelve, I might have convinced myself that I had made it up, or that it was my fault that I had let this happen to me. But here it was, confessional evidence. I had no idea that this would be so important to me.
"I have been working a twelve step program," he said, "and through it I have been able to find the strength to face my addictions." He went on to say that he was currently on step nine.
As the child of an alcoholic, whose non-alcoholic parent had the wisdom to take us to Ala-Teen, a program for children of addicts, I knew well what step nine was.
He continued, writing something like this:
I acknowledge my actions against you. I admit I have harmed you. I cannot take back what was done, though I wish I could. I want you to know how sorry I am for what I have done, and ask your forgiveness. I know I do not deserve it, and I understand if you are not able to give it. I just want you to know how very sorry I am, and that I am wiling to do whatever needs to be done to make your burden lighter.
He signed his name.
Alone in my kitchen I stood, my heart pumping, my lips curled up. I did not cry. I find it interesting that I did not cry. Instead I felt a profound warmth. No fear. No hatred. I think it was love. It still astounds me that the honest emotion of that climax was love.
I wrote back. I sent a book and a letter, and it was not hard for me. In fact, it was surprisingly easy for me. I was able to celebrate with him his love for the Lord, his trust in His ability to heal him, to commend him as he surrendered his will to His will. I respect this man for the courage and wisdom he used to find his own peace, and in the process of finding his own peace, he helped me find mine. I can hardly believe, with my logical mind, that I could let go so comfortably, that I could share his sorrow for his mistakes, and in the process find healing for both of us.
We all stand on the edge of something or other. One step to the left or right alters the course. The safety lies in the motion. Standing gets us nowhere. Upward motion, with some sort of resistance to help us maintain balance…that's where the safe passage happens. True passage, toward the light, upward to the Higher Power. From step one, to step nine, and onward until, in the end, we find ourselves, finally, Home.