It was my fault.
Her son is so grown now, almost eleven, like mine. Hard be believe he could fit in the crook of her arm so snugly, he's big and strong now. Tall like his Dad, smart and generous. So much has changed in that time, but her words have haunted me. We don't talk about it, not about her stories or mine. We're older now, mature or something? We've obviously gotten beyond those stories, it's the pain we don't share - we just know, just understand. It's a familiarity, an expectation, that in vulnerable hearts scattered around us, disguised as beauty, strength, overconfidence, anxiety, fear and anger in the women we encounter. It's an awareness, that perhaps something like this, is one of their stories.
I was nineteen when I said those words too. Because, it was my fault, wasn't it? I had certainly been the one to encourage him by emailing back and forth with him on a regular basis. It had probably been my idea to meet up with him to go for a walk. Of course I had noticed that it was getting late, and that we were walking into a more and more isolated area, but I hadn't had a boy like me before. Not one that had admitted it so openly, or who had been so sweet and complimentary. Maybe I had the idea from watching a romantic movie or two, that when a boy asked to kiss you - that was what he meant. Just a kiss, awkward, blushing, not frantic or groping, or pushing or panicked, not desperately trying to think of an excuse to leave, finally saying - it's getting late, if I miss curfew I'll be in trouble. Then relief, and thinking, it's done - I'm free.
The freedom was fleeting, as it turned out, he'd left marks on me. Big, glaring, obvious. I probably would have preferred the A on my chest. It would have been less noticeable. I knew, at that point, staring in the mirror before getting ready for bed, I couldn't hide it from anyone. In light of having the world's eyes on me, I did what a good girl does. I assessed the level of my sin (somewhere between shoplifting and sex) and I took responsibility. It was my fault became my mantra - my safe space. Because if I owned the guilt, maybe I could weather the shame. I repeated it at breakfast the next morning, my transgressions obvious to my family, and I was ashamed. When I went out that afternoon, and ran into a pastor friend, and he confronted me about what happened, I repeated it, and I was ashamed. When my friends asked, I said the same thing, and I was ashamed. It felt like God had put out an APB on me, and I had to confess to everyone, anyone I came across I owed an answer to. When I later confronted the boy himself, he confirmed it was my fault - wasn't that exactly what I had asked for? After all, I had let him do that to me.
It was a good lie, it turns out. Because no one ever asked me, is that what you thought would happen? Is that really what you wanted to happen? Are you OK? I don't believe that this was your fault...
It has taken years for me to listen to what I most needed to hear - What an asshole. This isn't your fault. You didn't leave any mark on him, he didn't have to confess to his parents, his family, his church, his friends. It's fine with him that you carry the mark, the brand, the shame - he doesn't want any part of it. You're strong, you got out of there, before things got worse. It's no one else's business. I love you. (God)
Ok, so maybe God didn't say asshole, but you get the drift. When the words finally sunk in, it was like a shock to the system. It wasn't my fault. He took advantage of the situation, he assaulted me. It opened a door. Instead of it being painful for me to say this boy's name, I could forgive him, I could be free of him, and most importantly, I could forgive myself - and heal up an old, A shaped wound.
My point. Of course. This experience has taught me about who I am, and how I am defined. But more importantly, it has made me soft to the sins we see. Touted usually by vulnerable people who don't fit in to a Christian box, or society's box, or some other box that we're so eager to fit inside. People feeling pain and shame, who think the eyes of the world are turned on them - and that God's judgement is on them like a branded letter A. It's time to love them, to hear their stories, to share their pain, their laughter, their healing. To no longer be afraid that shame is greater than love. That blame is greater than love.
It's not your fault. It's no one else's business. I love you.