Yes, my god, please, please fuck off.
I can’t think of a better way to put it. Just fucking fuck off. Leave me alone, don’t ever talk to my family again, and please keep me out of your thoughts. That really is all I want.
It’s been almost three years now since I last faced my abuser. We were in a courtroom, and I was testifying about how he had broken into my house and threatened to kill me, about how he had raped me when we were together and how I wanted him to go to prison. He was sitting not four feet away from me, but wouldn’t look at me. His parents, on the other hand, couldn’t keep their scowling, accusatory eyes off of me. As if the fact that their son was a misogynistic, abusive, psychotic asshole was somehow my fault. They stared me down like I was a piece of garbage that needed to be thrown out. But he wouldn’t look at me, because he knew I was right.
And I was right. He was a misogynistic, abusive, psychotic asshole who did break into my house and did rape me many, many times. And all I wanted was to see him put away, behind bars. All I wanted was for him to fuck off!
But now, three years later, I am forced to reevaluate.
Now, I have moved away to go to college. Now, I have found dance as my outlet and form of communication. Now, I have healed, for the most part, and am ready to heal others. I founded an organization called The Sunflower Project my sophomore year of college as an attempt to use dance to turn the ugly truth of abuse into something beautiful. I even made a documentary with my father about my experience with my abuser, and plan on showing it to as many people as I possibly can. I am public with my survivorship. In some weird ways, I’m even proud.
So now that I am on the other side, preaching to the world about the dangers of abuse and how to avoid it, get help, get out, blah blah blah… now that I am more than three years removed from the darkest moments of my life and can look back on it with appreciation for who it made me today, should I still be so angry? Is it at all healthy to hold on to anger when all you long for is to let go of it all? No, that’s pretty obviously not healthy. Even I know that. It’s just not that easy. We all know that.
Okay, so we’ve established that I shouldn’t be angry anymore. I mean, he did serve his time and all that. I don’t really even care if he’s sorry, because he’s gone, and it doesn’t matter. Shouldn’t matter. Won’t let it matter…
But even if I do manage to stop being angry, should I also just forget? “Forgive and forget,” right?
On occasion, it’s good to forget. It’s freeing, really, to forget the entirety of your past and become open and willing to be present. It feels as if you’re a new person—finally, that person you’ve been telling yourself you would be with every New Year’s resolution, every shooting star, every life evaluation in the middle of the night. Suddenly, things are fresh. Things are beautiful once again. Every minute detail is persistently staring you in the face and demanding to be noticed. And you notice all of them, with awe and a feeling of inspiration. The smiles people share on the sidewalk as you drive by creep onto your face unconsciously. Sand in between your toes is no longer a nuisance but a revelation of sensation. Upon a still moment, you don’t find restlessness, but serenity.
Forgetting is part of life’s cycle. We must breathe out old air to make room for new, or we won’t survive. We must release old memories, especially those we aren’t particularly fond of, and inhale new experiences and new things to remember. Forgetting is purely taking a deep breath. Necessary for survival. To forget is to expand upon the entrance of new into life.
Some memories are easier to forget than others. Memories can be sticky. They grab hold of a part of you and won’t detach themselves. They fix on a piece of you like a parasite, drinking the very blood of your soul until they have had their fill, only to return once the nutrient supply has been replenished. They fuse to your thoughts, welded on with a gumminess that is all but impossible to scrape off. If you do happen to unfasten these leeches of memory, the residue from their previous bond is so persistent, so unrelenting, that it seems impossible to ever be rid of it all.
This is when forgetting is a victory. When you have defeated the internal enemy of a thought, an inkling, and have survived the conquest with other pieces of you still intact. It’s a fight to forget these specific memories. It’s an uphill battle and the odds are stacked against you but you keep on keeping on and ultimately, you win. The sticky memory has been unstuck and you are free.
But freedom is relative.
“Forgive and forget.” Well, first I have to forgive, in order to get to the forgetting. And how the hell am I supposed to do that?
I think forgiveness is not for the offender, but for the offended. Forgiving somebody doesn’t really do much for the person who is getting forgiven, but it can work wonders for the person doing the actual forgiving. So I hear, anyway, because I haven’t forgiven him yet.
It’s a thought that will bounce around in my head from time to time. I entertain the thought for a hot second and then become disgusted that I would ever find forgiving him the least bit attractive. It’s not right I think. He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.
One day, not too long ago, I saw him.
I was in the driver’s seat of my car, and I looked briefly to my left as I pulled up to a red light. He was driving in the opposite direction, listening to music and nodding his head up and down. He didn’t see me. He was acting like a normal person—something that completely took me aback because for the last three years of my life he has been this evil monster bad guy that has become a sort of character. Something you might see in a Disney movie until of course, the princess conquers him. I thought I had done that—conquered the evil monster bad guy. In my fairytale imagination, he had melted or gotten eaten by an alligator or something along those lines and he had been conquered. He was a fictional character who goes away when you turn off the TV.
But there he was, being a person. A three-dimensional, moving, breathing person who has relationships with people in this world—talks to them, interacts with them, maybe even is loved by them. No longer could I pretend that my heroic bucket of water had gotten rid of him. No longer could I pretend that he was fictional. He is real. Very, very real. I had to face that.
But still, that doesn’t mean he deserves to be forgiven. He doesn’t deserve anything. Not from me at least.
But here’s the thing… I deserve it. I deserve to have forgiven him, because I deserve to live my life free of any and all ties to him. I deserve to not have to hold on to any of him. That includes any feelings of hate or spite or anger or disgust he has brought into me. I deserve to not be hateful. I deserve to let go. I deserve freedom.
So yeah, he can fuck off. And no, I won’t forget. But yes, yes yes yes do I deserve to forgive. We all do—every survivor on this planet deserves to not have to have their evil monster bad guys hold onto any part of them. Survivors deserve to be happy and not hateful. Survivors deserve to forgive. It’s an immense power we are given, and it’s an immense sensation of relief, gratitude, and freedom when we finally decide to use it.
Leah Zeiger is the founder of the Sunflower Project. Read more about her work and her film at towardsthesun.org