It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. -William Blake
Three weeks before my high school graduation, I was raped at a party by a boy I barely knew. We had all gathered in a field near a friend’s house to drink beer from kegs and celebrate our pending freedom from parents, and teachers, and our small suburban town. We drank in the dark, surrounded by woods, on blankets with friends, lit only by the passing headlights of another party guest’s arrival. We were young; we were beautiful; and we all thought nothing bad could ever happen to us.
Somehow, as the party wore on, I ended up alone talking to this near-stranger of a boy off by ourselves. He was attentive and we had both had more than our fair share of the cheap beer. We ended up kissing. Then, he pinned me down, ignored my repeated “no,” and when I finally got off the blanket and ran off to lock myself in my car, I wasn’t a virgin anymore. The next morning, I was scheduled to speak at our senior breakfast at church, where we would all tell our big plans for the future, where we were going to college. I didn’t go. In fact, I never went back to church.
Writing about something you need to forgive stalled me out for a few days. Thinking about those last three weeks of high school is not something I choose to do very often. I grew up with my classmates. I attended school with many of them from kindergarten on. We knew each others’ parents, who had been victim or victor in first grade dodgeball, and even in a graduating class of 500 students, we looked out for one another. Other than on Facebook, despite thirteen years with those classmates, I am only still actual friends with one.
I did not report what happened to the police. I did not tell my family. I was ashamed, and blamed myself for being drunk and physically weaker than him, and I was seventeen. But, I went to my friends. At that point, I was secretary of our high school’s Bible club. I was a devout Southern Baptist. I was “saving myself” for marriage. My friends were the boys from our church youth group, our Bible club. I counted on them. I told three of them what happened, my closest friends, expecting sympathy and understanding. Instead, in the way only intense high school boys blinded by faith and confused by ignorance can, they turned their backs on me. One of them, who I had seriously considered marrying one day, informed me that God wouldn’t want him to marry a girl who was not a virgin, “whether it was her choice or not.”
I took their word as gospel, and left church altogether. I made new friends from a nearby high school for the summer and left in the fall for college to start over. If no one could love me again because this thing had happened to me, I decided, why bother with faith or love? I packed up my Bibles. I flirted and hooked up but rarely dated. I started my life over again from scratch.
This is not about needing to forgive the boy who raped me. The people I need to forgive are those faithful boys, now men, who couldn’t have known in their youthful stupidity what they were doing to me, my life, my faith. I need to forgive them because they were not equipped to handle something that intense and because we all lived a sheltered life and thought we knew all the answers. I need to forgive them because we were 17 and 18 and not allowed to drive into the city and because their intentions were not cruel. I need to forgive them because I avoid thinking about that period of my life or all that I turned my back on. I need to forgive them because we have all said or done things when confronted by a situation over our heads that we wish we could take back later.
I need to forgive them because some of them are now fathers to daughters and live in towns like the one we grew up in. I need to forgive them because they have wives and have lived long enough to know what they couldn’t understand at the time. I need to forgive them because I don’t need to live my life fueled by the rage at them that helped me survive my early twenties. I forgive them because that rage did give me something to run on. But now, I’m older too. We’re all adults now. I don’t need that rage anymore.