Drowning in the Dark – Finding Your Way to Forgiveness

It has been a long time since I last wrote, but as my son approaches his very first birthday, I’m feeling a little uptick in energy that means my fingers are itching for something new, and Facebook is just not cutting it.

But, the thing I want to write about today isn’t my son or daughter and their adorable antics – it’s about forgiveness, and a point when I thought things were at their darkest. My sister recently wrote a post about forgiveness and asked me about a dream I had after a tragedy in our lives. You can find her post here: Until I was Free.

As background, well over a decade ago, my husband and I were married. It was one of the happiest days of my life. It wasn’t perfect, because my mother showed up that morning and told my husband she wouldn’t be at the wedding. I was in my room getting dressed, but I heard her, I could hear the panic in her voice, but before I could come out to plead with her, Nick had used his compassionate powers of persuasion to convince her she had to be there. After the wedding, my mom’s illness became worse. She would show up at our house and rant and yell. She left voicemails for me telling me I was the devil incarnate, demonspawn (her most used adjective for me) and she wished I had never been born. Nick began screening and deleting these voicemails, because it had become just too much for me. It was bad enough watching my mom slip away mentally, but to be the object of such hate was more than I could bear.

Our honeymoon was the first chance for me to escape. For three weeks, I didn’t have to worry that I would be woken up in the middle of the night by the woman I called mother yelling under my window, the rattling of her trying to break into my house at 3:00 a.m., to do who knows what. It took a while for me to unwind, but I think it was about 1.5 weeks into the honeymoon before I felt I could breathe and let go of all that hurt, fear and anxiety I had been clutching close to my chest. For the first time, I felt like the world was actually going to be okay. And I reveled in the beauty of Greece, the food, the relaxation, the different culture, and did I mention the food?

When I returned, my world was turned upside down. While I was off re-learning to enjoy myself on my honeymoon, a friend from high school, Lucas, had killed himself, and murdered Skye, someone else from my high school. I wanted to say he had “taken someone else’s life”, to dance around the sheer brutality of it, but that’s what it was. It was murder.  It was suicide.  

I was simultaneously racked with guilt and angry at Lucas. I had known Skye in high school and from ballroom dancing – he was a rare soul who just radiated kindness and compassion. I never saw him without a smile on his face, and I never saw or heard him speak an unkind word about anyone, no matter how deserving.  The reason I was racked with guilt is pretty simple – I had grown up with mental illness in my life. I knew the signs. I knew when someone was drowning in a darkness of their own creation.  I saw Lucas lashing out at people, I saw the spark in his eyes slowly disappear until it was entirely consumed by an emptiness. It was the same aching emptiness I saw in mom’s eyes when she sank into a depression, and would hurt herself. I once found my mom sitting on the stairwell to the basement with a kitchen knife in her hands, crying. I was maybe 12 or 13 – that’s when she confessed that the scars that run up and down her arm that she had always told me were from her attempt to take a knife away from my autistic uncle when they were children – she had lied. She said that sometimes she would “hurt herself so she could feel something – anything.” As a kid, I didn’t know what to do when someone I loved was hurting, so I took the knife away and held her and told her I loved her. I made her promise me to never hurt herself again. We never talked about the knife again.


Lucas‘s emptiness was also deep, but he would hurt others so he could feel. I started to see the pattern, as he became less charming and more focused on mounting verbal attacks, in tearing me (and others) down so he could feel better about himself. 


I recognized this on some level, but, I think 20 year old me couldn’t cope. So, after he had verbally abused our brother, and I found him licking the ear of a sleeping under-aged friend, I blew up. I just couldn’t take it. For the first time, the mousey-Raven blew up and, more surprisingly, held her ground. I confronted him, told him his behavior was inappropriate. When he tried to tell me I was over-reacting and being hysterical, I stuck to my guns, I remembered my self-defense class and identified exactly what he was doing that was inappropriate, and when he still wouldn’t believe me, I swore. If you know me, you know I *hate* being angry, I hate confrontation of all kinds, but I yelled at him: “Get the FUCK out of my house.” He said his friend lived there, too, and I said “I don’t give a fuck, so long as I live here, you are not welcome. Do not talk to me, do not speak to me, get the FUCK out, and don’t come back. If you don’t get out now, I’ll call the police.” I literally walked forward, yelling at him to get the fuck out of my house until I had backed him out of the door and slammed the door on him. Then I ran to my room, shaking and crying. This all took place in front of our friends, whom I think were totally surprised, and possibly horrified, because his behavior was so commonplace. It was just Lucas being an asshole.

 
I remember that scene vividly, and when I found out about the murder-suicide, it all came back to me. I had cut him out. My other friends hadn’t – they still saw him, but I had not done it in a constructive way.  Some time after I returned, a mutual friend called me and conveyed that Lucas had a parting message. He had taken this friend out before the tragic events and asked him to convey to me how sorry he was for the way he treated me. That he’d recognized I had been a victim, and he’d taken advantage of it. He wanted me to know how sorry he was if he’d ever hurt me, but that he could see I was doing much better now. 
 
I’ll admit, that didn’t help my guilt. I knew Lucas was mentally ill. I’d seen it in Mom, I’d seen it in others, I knew the signs. So, I was mad at Lucas for Skye, I was mad at him for all the hurt he’d caused everyone around him, but I was mad at myself for not recognizing the signs, for kicking him out/shutting him out, because I didn’t know enough to take him aside and say, “Lucas, this isn’t right. What you’re doing, isn’t right. You need help. I can’t give you that help, but I can be here for you while you get it. Please, start seeing someone, and I will support you. If you don’t, THEN, I’m afraid you are no longer welcome here.” But, in all fairness, I was young and silly, and hurting myself. 
 
So, when I learned about what happened, I felt terrible. My friends told me there wasn’t anything I could have done – that if I had continued to be in his life, I, too, might have been hurt. What I did then – it was self-protection and I needed to do it. But, at the time their words fell on ears that weren’t listening. 
 
After a few weeks of intense guilt and crying myself to sleep every night thinking about the hurt and pain that would drive someone into that kind of darkness, I drifted into a fitful sleep. I was suddenly in Monroe Park, where my siblings and I used to play as children. I was my 11-year-old self, and holding the Express (my favorite kitten who had died in an accident when I was a kid), surrounded by  other kittens playing in the sun-filled grass. It was magical. A warm breeze teased the grass and I felt an intense wave of peace roll over me. As I pet and cuddled my sweet kitten, whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade, I saw feet in front of me, and I looked up in surprise. It was Lucas, standing above me. His head was surrounded by a halo of sunlight such that I could barely make out his features, but I knew it was him. As he stepped closer, he gave me a huge smile, the likes of which I hadn’t really seen since high school, and held his arms out. I stood up, and he embraced me and said “It’s okay, Rachael. I’m okay.” I felt those words to my very core and I woke up with them ringing in my ears. Somehow, the heaviness was lifted from my heart.  I realized that he was gone, but all his pain was gone, too. He had taken a light out of this world that we couldn’t bring back, but I needed to stop dwelling on his pain and his hurt. I needed to stop drowning in the darkness his world had become at the end.  
 
In that moment, I understood. In that moment, I forgave him and I forgave myself. 

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