Been a while again, but I had to get this out of my brain. I wrote this for Domestic Violence Awareness month (which is October for those who don’t know.) A friend of mine got me involved in raising awareness on this subject and it had me thinking a lot about the people I’ve known who were victims of abuse, either as children or adults or both. So I wrote this about a person who was, is and always will be dear to me, even though we parted ways in life, and I hope that one day she finds the peace and happiness she so desperately deserves.
I was inspired by the Leonard Cohen quote: “Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh.”
The first night we spent together, you apologized to me for having so many marks on your body, still having no idea how much I loved you and how real affection rendered another’s imperfections meaningless; and that no force of reality could shift such a perception.
One by one, I learned of each event in your life by the lines and craters on your body and your spirit. The two most recent left by the surgeries that brought us together. The first a reminder of our friendship: Peppermint patties surreptitiously stolen past the nurses to your room; a lone set of flowers and a single get-well-card next to your bed; a name not spoken and always in our thoughts from a betrayal too great and too raw to expose to the light. The second a reminder of something more: Brave confessions and fearful waiting, kind words and fleeting embraces.
Ink hearts and roses covering up the name Chris. Another man with my name from long ago, before you knew that your life could hold meaning to other people; re-tracing the course that your mother took, drugs and pain, abuse and neglect. Two smaller lines on the edges of the tattoo that marked the days after you brought your youngest and your last into this world, and nearly lost your own life in exchange. Enough pain for anyone, but not nearly the sum total you received.
A pale band on your finger, standing out on your sun-kissed skin, where a promise used to be. A promise made by a monster who wore his humanity as a mask and discarded it just as easily. He didn’t hurt your body, not like the man whose name you covered up. He hurt you deeper than anyone else ever had and I could see the scars behind your eyes at the horror he inflicted on your babies, to the living pieces of your heart that the two of you had brought into this world together, and that alone he had tried to shatter.
The worst of your scars were the ones that no one else saw but me. The ones that covered your heart, ones that put an uncrossable gulf between you and everyone who cared about you. It left you alone with memories too terrible to share. The people who were supposed to protect you, to safeguard you, to love you, were the first to betray you. They tormented, terrorized and used you, but even worse, they didn’t even acknowledge you. Your tears went unnoticed, left to dry on your cheeks; your dreams never nurtured, no guidance or wisdom ever shared; your pain never soothed by a consoling touch or a kind word; and your existence never even regarded, much less understood.
You apologized for your scars that night. You confessed your fears that I would never be able to love you because of your pain or that I wouldn’t be able to find beauty in you. It was you who were owed an apology by the people who would never feel guilt for what they had taken from you. Your fears were unjustified; I loved you all the more because of your strength and your courage to survive all that you had. Your insecurities were false; your beauty and your grace mesmerized me.
But our love couldn’t survive those scars. Not because, as you had feared that first night, that I couldn’t love you, but that they kept you from loving me. You said the words you were supposed to say and copied the things you had seen in movies and read in books. You tried your best to return my feelings, and cried in my arms when you didn’t know how. You warned me I should leave you because caring about you would hurt me. When I refused to go, you hurt me as you predicted, and one day I couldn’t take anymore.
Do you have a new scar? One, like so many others, that no one can see, that you can’t share, where we broke apart? A counterpoint to the one you left on me? Or was there no more room for another? Time has hardened and numbed the void where I held another’s heart to mine, but a scar remains to share with others. Proof of the woman I knew back then, who taught me about love with no knowledge of it for herself; proof of the woman I loved with everything I had.
She told me once that I had saved her and I don’t know if that was true, but I know that she saved me and I have the scar as proof.
There were times when the things she said and did made me angry at her. When someone breaks your heart, it’s hard not to hate them, even when it wasn’t intentional. Then I think about the day she had a reaction to some antibiotics and I was holding her hair back as she threw up in the toilet. I was rubbing her back as she leaned over the toilet and she looked back at me. She looked so miserable, but she also looked so angry. She asked me how I could touch her when she was so disgusting (she also knew I had emetophobia, so for me being next to someone vomiting is like being buried in tarantulas). I told her that she wasn’t disgusting, she was just sick and that I was there for her. Then I said without thinking “Didn’t your mom ever rub your back and hold you when you were sick?” Her mom was hooked on crystal meth when she was a kid, so as soon as I said it, I knew it was a stupid thing to ask. From then on, whenever I was tempted to hate her for how she broke my heart, I would think about that little 8-year-old girl who came out to her mom with vomit on the sleeve of her pajamas and asked for nothing more than the most basic compassion she was entitled to, and her mom telling her that she was disgusting and to go back to her room until she was better.
Like most living things, love can’t grow in the dark.