Some can forgive and move on and never bother with the thought or memory again. But for someone like me, someone with anxiety, the thought kind of sticks around. It hangs out in the recesses of my mind, a pebble in my mental shoe. And when I am somehow reminded of this person or event, I feel it all the way in my stomach. I relive the moment. I relive the humiliation or pain or anxiety. I begin to blame myself again. I get angry with the memory. I piss myself the fuck off because I feel the anxiety begin to creep up to my throat and then I have to go through the process of grounding myself.
I trigger myself with memories. It sucks.
But then, I sit back and breathe. I remind myself that I have forgiven those moments and those that have crossed lines with me. I have to remind myself because I can get consumed by those memories and those emotions.
I remind myself every day that I have forgiven those that have hurt me.
And it ain’t fucking easy, let me tell you.
He smiles at me as if nothing ever happened.
“Oh my God, Angie? Is that you?”
His smile is wide and pretty like I remember it. His skin still reminds me of when bananas first turn brown, that soft brown, that sweet brown. I hear his voice and I keep looking at my book, because I had already seen his ass and was sitting there praying to everything holy that he wouldn’t notice me. But he does and now I am sitting there, looking up at him, my book opened on my lap, not smiling back.
“Wow. You look great!”
I nod again. His smile is beginning to piss me off. All I want is to reach up and smack him with my book but I know that I would just fuck up my book which will only make me more pissed off. So, I nod. I am silent.
I am on the A train. It is April 2015. I am 31 years old. I have not seen this man since I was 19 years old, when he and his buddy showed up one day in front of my building. He told me that day that he was a changed man and when I rejected him he called me a stupid bitch and told me I was making a mistake. He and his buddy stayed parked in front of my building for an hour while he called me over and over.They only left when they got bored.
I have never told anyone that story before.
He had been a boyfriend in high school. The one I hid from everyone because I didn’t want them to know I was scared of him. The older boyfriend who threw a can of habichuelas rosada at me when I failed to make dinner for him at his apartment one day after I left school. The same man who pinched me in the side until I bruised when I said hello to a guy I knew through my brothers, who burned my leg with the ace of his Newport because some guy had called me “sweetheart” in front of him. The same man who made me want to drink until I laughed away the embarrassment, and for the most part, if you ask anyone in high school, I did just that. The same dude who made me feel that he was the only man that would want me because I wasn’t pretty enough for the guys at school or smart enough and I was just a “poor little dumb ass.” The same man who was 22 to my then 16 when we met. The same man who mushed me so hard one day when we were eating at a diner that the woman who worked as the cashier there followed me into the bathroom and told me to go home to my mother and leave “el hombre demonio” right there at the table by himself.
But here we are, 12 years later and he’s smiling at me as if nothing ever fucking happened and I am sitting here nodding and silent, scared and pissed off, gripping my book with pale knuckles because I can feel myself trembling. Did I mention he’s a cop now?
“You’re still a reader, huh?”
I nod again. I realize one of his front teeth looks discolored and I don’t remember that. I tell myself his smile isn’t that pretty.
He turns to his partner and hits him in the chest with the back of his hand.
“This girl drove me crazy back in the day, man. Long story.”
Sure fucking is, shitbag.
My stop comes and I stand, brushing past him, and gagging at his cologne. He always did bathe in the shit.
“Take care of yourself, Angie.”
I nod again. I step off the train and pray to all that is holy he doesn’t get off with me.
“Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
– Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison (page 179)
I’m going to keep it all the way real with you and say that forgiveness is extremely hard for me. It requires a lot of spiritual fortitude, a lot of patience with yourself, a lot of ego-checking. Sometimes I just downright don’t want to forgive, especially when it comes to shitbags like that man. Fuck all that turn the other cheek mess, miss me with the warm gooey Christian ideas of forgiveness.
I’m of the grain that I may forgive you, I may no longer harbor any resentment towards you, but I ain’t fucking with you and I don’t plan on inviting you back into my life just because I have chosen to forgive your horrendous ass. Forgiveness is not about reconciliation, y’all. It’s about freeing yourself from the anger you feel for them.
And I was angry. For a long time. But I know my spirit just can’t handle all of that weight. It’s much too heavy for me. And I’ve been carrying it for far too long.
“Bag lady… you gone hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold onto
Is you, is you, is you…”
-Erykah Badu, “Bag Lady” from the 2000 album Mama’s Gun
I think what frustrates me about the shitbags I have dealt with, the people that hurt me like that man is this: I want an apology that I will never get.
Not that an apology would make me feel better. In fact, it wouldn’t but I want it. I want to believe in their humanity because I don’t want to live my life thinking that people can be so fucked up, can be that dangerous, that cruel, that mean, that careless with other people.
But I ask myself if he had said sorry that day after all that time, what would my reaction have been?
I probably would have nodded again, knowing I didn’t believe him. I probably would have been just as silent. I probably still wouldn’t believed he had humanity in him.
Sometimes, you won’t get the apology you think you deserve and you have to be willing to forgive them despite that. That’s what the fuck they say. That forgiving them is strength and I suppose it is to a certain degree, but what frees you is not forgiving them and giving them your grace, your mercy. Fuck that. That still makes it about them and what they did and forgiveness is about freeing yourself.
I didn’t realize until I started writing this that it was never about them. I had left the anger behind but just because my heart was no longer full of resentment for them, I still carried the hurt, the shame, the pain. I never asked myself why. I blamed them. I made what they did count for more than it should have. I just kept blaming them for the hurt the memories triggered, never realizing that I still wasn’t in the forgiving space.
It hit me when I had to step away from this essay for the fifth time this week.
I blamed myself. For a long time. I probably still do.
I shamed myself into thinking I had somehow whittled out this life and created the trauma myself. Not just what I experienced with that man but every fucking time I have been hurt, betrayed, abused, lied to by someone. I told myself that I could’ve done something differently, that if I hadn’t done A, then B would have never happened.
The anger was for them and I’ve let that go a long time ago. I ain’t fucking with them and I certainly don’t wish harm on even those who have put me through hell. The Universe is so big and wide and loves me so much that I can’t put hatred into it because it will only come back to me, dig?
But it’s that hurt, that all-consuming hurt, the kind that swallows you up when its triggered, the kind that darkens everything. The shame of still feeling like that young girl, that young woman. That is what remains. Not the anger. That’s what I have to forgive. And that has nothing to do with them.
I have to forgive myself before I can forgive them. I realize that now. That young girl I was, so hungry for attention, yearning for the sweet high school first love she’d never get, yearning for the fairy tale who fell for the same kind of shit bag for years after she walked away from Shit bag Numero Uno. It wasn’t her fault. And she certainly wasn’t a “poor little dumb ass” for wanting those things or trusting that people wouldn’t do those things to her.
I have to forgive her for not knowing she never needed those things. I have to forgive her for not knowing yet that she was enough and she was more than what she had with him or any other shit bag after that.
I trigger myself a lot. These essays have been bringing up a lot of emotional things that have been ignored and avoided for long enough. I have to step back a lot and measure my steps in this process gingerly because I don’t want to trigger an anxiety attack, don’t want to dig a hole for myself that will be too hard to come out of.
I am only now figuring out how to get out of a hole I have always been in, realizing that I don’t need an apology from them or anything else from them. I need to address this shame, this guilt that has spread itself around my life. And babies, that’s ALL my shit.
Like I said, forgiveness ain’t fucking easy.