Over the past months I felt pretty good and was proud of how I’d been able to weather some pretty rough storms. Overall my trajectory has been upward. I have been feeling more confident. The abuse felt as resolved as it could be for the time being, even though I knew I would experience additional setbacks. I think most victims can relate to anticipating setbacks. We know they will come but are never sure when they will strike or how we will handle them.
A few weeks ago a setback came (I have written a blog post about it and will share it later). It was pretty major, so I immediately made an appointment with my therapist. Our session went well and I made an additional appointment for 8 AM on a work day of the following week. This isn’t a typical time for me. I hadn’t been to therapy much in months, but when I go, I usually go on Saturdays. That way if it’s an emotionally draining session, I can recover before returning to work on Monday.
I arrived at my appointment and sat down. A lot of times I won’t bring my phone in with me, and if I do, I will only use it for a time check. My phone vibrated not long after I sat down. I wondered, “Who was texting me so early in the morning?” I never get text messages that early. I felt like I should check my phone and asked my therapist to excuse my rudeness as I looked at it.
It was a text from my mom saying, “Just saw [our abuser’s] obituary in the paper.” This news shocked me. I told my therapist who has helped me heal from the effects of the abuse. This was a big deal. This was a huge moment. I think we were both in a state of disbelief. It was bizarre to learn this at the beginning of my therapy appointment. My setback suddenly felt timely. I was now glad that it had happened and landed me back in therapy before receiving this news. It seemed to have softened the blow a bit.
My therapist asked me if I wanted to talk about it. I responded, “Not right now. I will. But I don’t even know what to think or say yet. I’m not sure how I feel.” At the end of the session, I told her if the funeral hasn’t happened yet, I was going to go. We scheduled another appointment for the following Saturday, so I would have time to process how I felt.
I called my mom and my sister immediately after. I asked Annaka if she had heard the news yet. She hadn’t. The news made her sick. She began expressing some of her feelings that she shared in her last blog post. At this point, my reaction wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel much initially.
I spoke with my mom. She seemed shocked and upset. Any chance we had to get answers from our abuser in this life may be gone, we had to mourn this loss of hope. When asked how I was doing, I told my mom that I was doing fine but always react logically at first. I tend to have delayed emotional reactions to traumatic events. I knew I would break down later but wasn’t sure when it would happen or even what it would look like.
I drove to Annaka’s to be with her, so we could talk and comfort one another. Our common experience with our abuser allows us to understand each other on a level that other people cannot. She had written her initial reaction down and was ready to post it. She felt it was important to capture what that moment felt like knowing many other victims would be able to relate. I was proud of her for being willing to do it because we rarely get a glimpse into what experiences feel like in the moment. Most are shared in retrospect as I am doing now.
We talked for several hours. I could feel my body responding to the news, but my emotions still hadn’t caught up yet. I told her I was going to the funeral no matter what and that mom was going to come with me. I wanted Annaka to come too but wasn’t going to pressure her. When I left her house, she wasn’t sure whether or not she would come. She didn’t want to.
As I drove home, I wondered why I even wanted to go and why this was one of my initial desires. I thought that I may just be sadistic.
I don’t know if many people would choose to go to their abuser’s funeral. Members of my family asked why I wanted to, and I wasn’t exactly sure. It just felt like something I should do. Most people don’t get a chance to face their abuser, but I finally did. I had been wishing for this moment for a long time and was going to take it, even if he had to be in a casket for me to do so. (One thing about victims is every single one will choose to handle healing differently. This is just what felt right for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for others.)
Some thoughts kept entering my mind. Up to this point, no single person has impacted and controlled my life more than my abuser. Even though I wasn’t going to mourn his death in the way I would a loved one, I still had to grieve the loss. He has been a part of me since I was five. His actions greatly influenced how I have developed, behaved and how I have perceived and interacted with the world. I honestly can’t tell which pieces of my life are due to the abuse and which ones would have existed regardless of his actions. I hate that he is a part of my life, but he is and now he’s gone.
Over the past three years, there are so many times when I had contemplated driving over to his house and knocking on his door. Hoping that looking into his eyes would finally confirm what he did to me. His reaction to me would say it all. He may verbally be able to deny it, but I was convinced that his eyes wouldn’t be able to. I would just look at him and know the truth. No words would have been needed. As far as I know, he is the only person who could remember exactly what had happened.
I had sometimes wondered what it would feel like to ring the door, punch him in the face and walk away. I had wanted to write him a letter at some point with no return address expressing how his actions had impacted my life, just in case, somewhere deep down inside, he was capable of caring. I had wondered what I would do if I ran into him in public as I don’t work far from where he was living. These thoughts I entertained from time to time would never become a reality. It was both relieving and frustrating, a blessing and a curse.
I did feel comfort knowing that he no longer lived within one mile of an elementary school and a preschool. Still he left so much unanswered.
Even though our case was never likely to go to trial, the hope that it might was gone too. I had wondered over and over again why, when the DA assigned to our case had asked me if I could say what my abuser did to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt in a courtroom, I had said I couldn’t. It’s normal for victims to not be 100% confident, but then I wondered, “Had this been a selfish response and did I blow a chance at justice for any of his other victims? Or had my response been an honest one?” I believe it was honest and that the problem wasn’t with me but with what our justice system expects from victims in a trial.
Children often dissociate from the abuse while it is happening, making it hard to remember the detail needed to convict a perpetrator. It seems even less likely for a child to remember enough if the abuser used some type of substance to subdue the victim. When the abuse occurs it’s often the victim alone with the abuser. I have a hard time believing most children could provide solid evidence without another witness being present.
Regardless of what had happened with the DA, I had been feeling confident enough to face him in the courtroom if the case built up momentum again. I had also secretly hoped that our case could help draw attention to how ill-equipped our legal system is to serve and protect victims of sexual assault crimes. I had wished it could have also served as another vehicle to inspire change.
I had wanted to know what our abuser would have said to the police had he not asked for an attorney before they got a chance to question him. This halted our case from going forward for the time-being, but his death had killed it for good.
I have often wondered what my life would have looked like had our abuser not been a part of it.
- feel as much shame?
- be more confident?
- be more aggressive and less passive?
- embrace my positive attributes more than my negative ones?
- have been as afraid of life and people?
- care less about what others think?
- feel less terrified being in public situations where I have to remove clothing like while swimming or when showering in PE in junior high and high school?
- have struggled so much in school?
- have suffered from so many years of nightmares and insomnia?
- have as much anxiety?
- experience depression?
- have been diagnosed with OCD or PTSD?
- have been as drawn to use substances?
- have been promiscuous?
- be attracted to my own gender more than the opposite?
- have participated in so many behaviors that my religion teaches are sinful?
- grapple with my feelings about religion and God as much?
- struggle as much in my relationships with my family, friends and romantic partners?
- have tried to kill myself?
Who would I be if I had never been abused? I will never know. I can’t change what happened but don’t blame myself for wanting to understand how I was impacted and how to get better.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting by choosing to go to the funeral but was hoping for some answers. I wanted to have some closure. I wanted to confirm he was really dead. I wanted to know if his family would explain how tragic his childhood was or give me a reason to better understand his actions towards me. I wished that he had left a note for someone to read at the funeral apologizing to all of his victims for the immeasurable pain he had caused and beg for forgiveness. I wanted to bid adieu to my perpetrator and hopefully all of the pain he had caused me, my family, his other victims, and families in my community.
My choosing to go wasn’t just going to be for me. Symbolically it felt like a way I could represent other victims by standing up to my abuser and showing him how strong I have become. I wouldn’t have to sit on a witness stand or utter a word to do it. I could just quietly face him.
My struggle isn’t over, but I still believe I can become the person I was always meant to be. I am still here and enjoying my life more and more. Other victims are still here. As long as any of us are, we have the chance to help each other find our inner strength to overcome adversity. We have a chance to reach out to each other, unite and make things even better for the next generation.
Part of me wants to believe that my abuser’s death is part of a silver-lining, a beautiful opportunity to reach out even more. I already feel part of my heavy load lifting.