Time Served

He died without ever paying his debt. Others in our family speak fondly of him even naming their children after him. I have a totally different memory of the man.

I was always afraid of him. He was a big, gruff, crude, loud bully who shoved his weight around in every environment he was ever in. He made a habit of being big in your face, of laughing at the underdog, and of ridiculing children who feared him.

It took forty years to forgive him. I haven’t forgotten, but I have forgiven so I can move on. The magnitude of the crime was so large that when I tried to tell my mother and she didn’t believe me it became even larger. To have the man I loved and was engaged to marry not believe me when I tried to explain my history to him further assured me, I was the guilty one. If only I had……., it wouldn’t have happened. I was the only soldier standing in the battleground; everyone else had deserted me.

For years I never told anyone else, not even the man I eventually married. If he noticed anything about our wedding night, he never asked. He loved me from the inside out, and, thank goodness, because I was not an easy person with whom to live. I carried a lot of baggage from guilt, shame, and anger.

When we had children, I was determined to always be an available advocate. I would never let anything harm them that I could prevent. My determination was so strong I would have fought any form of raging bull to prevent hurt from coming to my children.

Despite my plan and best efforts, my daughter was raped at a birthday party before she was old enough to date. A party crasher (uninvited boy) showed up at the party with a friend and a bottle of alcohol. With hormones raging, the teens decided to play spin-the-bottle. He won the spin with my daughter and carried her behind the house where he took more than a kiss.

The next five years were the most heartbreaking and difficult years of our lives. My daughter was sick physically, mentally, and spiritually. Finally, with much care and love, we were able to see her restored. She chose to become a counselor and says she did so because of what happened to her. She is an advocate for victims.

I felt I had failed my daughter, failed my task as a mother, and failed myself. I so wanted to protect her from what I had experienced, and I did not. It was heartbreaking for me. Over time since those horrendous years, my daughter has helped me come to terms with her illness and recovery by assuring me she would not have chosen to be a counselor and help others without herself having been a victim first. Today, she is truly thriving.

During a girls’ weekend, a friend helped me pray a prayer of forgiveness over myself. It was the most powerful prayer I have ever experienced.

I felt a warmth flow through my body and a burden lift from my heart.

I had forgiven my “little” self and my “mother” self. I also forgave both perpetrators and have been able to move on from these two atrocities. I can honestly say I feel no kinship with my perpetrator. My daughter is living a fulfilling, happy life with a man whom she dearly loves. She is flourishing. Her perpetrator remains absent from my mind.

I am under grace, covered by mercy, and loved unconditionally by the God who controls the universe and knows the whole plan. Blessed is He whose God is the Lord. ~Psalm 144:15

Bess Terrell, a native of Alabama, writes poetry and prose, paints in oil and watercolor, and is a hand seamstress. She published Finding Your Second Wind, a book of grief recovery poetry, and individual poems and short stories. She won a new poets award for her poem, “Stones Ripple on Water,” from poetry.com. Sharon’s greatest claim to fame is her three grandjoys and lives with her Yorkie companion, Andy.