An open letter to my childhood molester

They say if we don't forgive, the weight of the transgression stays with us. What does that mean exactly? Because sometimes we say things that sound good and make us feel good, that make us think we are wise, but really they are nothing but hollow words, sometimes intended to deflect from the unpalatable truth. Some people say that when we forgive, we will feel the weight lifted. They say we’ll feel light, as if forgiveness is a cheap drug that makes us high, that immobilizes us and allows us to rest, so that we are free from the trauma inflicted upon us.

I don't, for a moment, believe it.

I think it is a Hallmark card slogan, put together by a team of underpaid wanna-be serious writers who are doing the job to tide them over until the next big real writing project. I think it is uttered by people, often men, who have not felt sexually violated, who have probably whistled at a woman walking alone in the street, boldly and with impunity caressed a female underling's arm or thigh, or suggested repercussions for unrequited, unwanted attention.

Should there be room for forgiveness for the kinds of transgressions that damage the spirit, destroy the innocence of child, and forever take away her agency? Even the religious say, "An eye for an eye." Perhaps what it really means is: An I for an I. And I will not forgive you. At least not today. Not because my mother has died and her body has been committed to ash. I will not do it because your sick brother, my mother's half-brother, son of the woman who brought my mother's family so much pain and abuse, asks for it for you. Even if you yourself ask for it, I will not forgive you. Not even on your death bed.

I do not think my forgiving you will make me whole again. I have lived with my broken self all my life, at first believing it was my fault for staying silent, for pretending it didn't happen, locking it deep inside where the child still resides, angry and distrustful; for thinking back then that it was enough to shut my eyes closed and brace my tiny rebelling body, fold it unto itself and make it hard like a rock, clench every muscle, every sinew, and resist your probing hands with sheer will.

Indeed, I will not do it even if my mother rises from the dead and orders me to forgive you. Or if her siblings threaten to disown me the way my mother was disowned by her uncles when she went to her father's funeral, big with child and with no husband by her side.

Forgiving you will not make me feel lighter or wiser. It will not help me move on; in fact, I have moved on carrying your transgression like a tumor in my body. The weight no longer bothers me. In truth, it is not forgiveness that made it light or benign. It is how I have spread it by sharing it. Thinner and lighter it got until it was no longer malignant. Let me add, too, that in the process of unburdening, I've received and helped other survivors carry their burden. I carry mine and the weight of others' trauma like a badge of honor.

To be honest, if called upon the stand as a witness to your molestation, I can no longer recall the exact times, the exact details, and I would probably lose the case, further traumatized by the unreliable justice system. Institutions are often cold and dehumanizing places. It makes me think of the nights and days spent at the hospital by the side of my mother, intubated against her will, fed and drugged according to protocols and notes of doctors who came and went but never for more than a few minutes. They are like the lawyers and judges who probe and question the victim without much regard for their comfort.

It would not be enough that I remember refusing to leave my mother's side every time there was a house party, out of fear of waking up in the middle of the night to your clammy hands touching me in all my innocent parts. I would likely be asked, "How old were you then?" "Which bedroom was it?"

True, I can no longer dig from the recesses of memory the exact details of your transgression. "Was there ever penetration?" "Did he make you do things against your will?"

But what I do not remember, and perhaps by choice, my body refuses to forget. The way it tenses up and recoils, and at times is unable to discern intent in someone's touch. The way it has taken a long long time to shake off guilt and shame in pleasurable moments.

My only regret is that I did not have the courage to confront you and to make sure that you do not inflict pain and damage upon another child.

How ironic that in English, your name means little angel. But then again it makes sense that you could deceive everyone with your angelic countenance that made girls swoon and your brothers believe you were blameless. It makes me wonder if you yourself were molested, although that doesn't necessarily excuse you or your actions.

And to many people who still think that forgiveness is the only way I can move on and retrieve the part of myself that my molester took from me, I say be quiet and listen. Because sometimes when someone tells you a story of childhood trauma, there is really nothing else you are expected to do but to listen and to bear witness.

This letter has been written in lieu of forgiveness. It has lightened my load.

Your estranged niece,

Mel Manay*

* Editor's Note: The author has used a pseudonym due to the sensitive nature of her story. She says the #MeToo movement has given her the courage to write this piece.