Just One

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are days when I cannot get out of bed without wanting to curl into a ball and weep. Days when my entire body feels as if someone has poured kerosene over me and lit a match as they gleefully danced over my burning body, kicking the ashes simply to add insult to injury. There are days I spend the entire day wanting to slap my left side, it feels as if Fire Ants are crawling just under my skin biting me from the inside out. Some days I spend walking, sitting and standing as if I am still in a neck brace, you know those hard flesh toned ones that push your head up and create furrows in your shoulders, I still remember what they feel like and still hold my head exactly so. Some days, when I feel as if my very best option is to curl into a corner and weep in pain and frustration, I can’t do that even because my body will not follow my desire without screaming in protest.

This was one of those weeks, when my body hurt and thus my mind, my spirit followed the path of pain protesting, ‘it isn’t fair’. The funny thing about weeks like this? No one knows, I never tell and no one seems to notice, no one ever asks if I am okay, for more than a decade now it seems no one asks. Maybe they have simply decided I am not allowed my pain or my weakness. There are times this infuriates me. This week was one of those times.

This week I was the sole speaker for two very different Victim Impact groups, the first an adult Parolee the other a juvenile START. In each case, I found myself judged harshly by those who were there to listen, learn and with some luck consider a different direction. Oddly, the judgment was for similar reason, the discussion though took very different directions. I will say this, after the first I was emotionally wrung out, wondering why I subjected myself to these, after the second I remembered why.

Plagal or Amen cadence

Plagal or Amen cadence

The content of Victim Impact is always the same the cadence though each time is different and depends on how I feel, physically, spiritually and  sometimes the vibe of the audience sets a tone. This audience was odd, mixed in their willingness to hear me their hostility at being there. There curiosity to hear the story wars with their feigned boredom, their world weary slump in the seat. I know how to hold them though, as I tell the story of the night I became a ‘Victim’ and then a ‘Survivor’ and ultimately ‘Victorious’, obviously this didn’t happen in a single night but over time and not without work.

I don’t hide some of my history, I tell truths about being a runaway, being a delinquent and ultimately making different life choices. I also talk about my offenders, their choices, their youth and the struggle I have even now with the sentences they received, despite the terrible damage they caused to me, my family and their other victims. I do not shy away from the issue of race, it played a key role in why they chose me and their other victims, thus it has to be part of the conversation.

I have been doing Victim Impact for nearly ten years now. When I first started, I was afraid and still very angry. When I first started, I had no peace in my soul so every single time I spoke there was a small ball of fury caught in my throat. Slowly that ball dissipated, I learned from those I was supposed to be teaching and from others who spoke.

Right ShoulderI was asked recently by someone I love, if I could go back in time and change that one day would I do so and my answer was no. I know in my heart what happened was simply a part of the trajectory of my life, part of what made me who and what I am. I could wish for a different lesson book, a different manner in which I got to this precise moment in time but I cannot wish to be a different person.

On Wednesday the same question was asked, would I change it and the answer was still no. The problem was what came before that question was a discussion of forgiveness and a demand that I forgive my offenders because, wait for it:

“It is the Christian thing to do”

“You will never be free until you do”

“It isn’t right to hold a grudge”

“They deserve to be forgiven”

Forgiveness is always part of the discussion, I suspect because everyone wants to know they can be forgiven. Here is what I said, not once but twice within a 24-hour time span.

I do not owe it. I do not offer it freely. I also do not withhold it. Were any of my offenders to come to me with open heart and hands, offering true and honest remorse for their actions I would likely forgive them, but only for the harm they did directly to me. I cannot offer forgiveness for the harm they did, the pain they caused to others, including my parents, sons, spouse, siblings and friends; that forgiveness isn’t mine to give.

Forgiveness without remorse is a cheap imitation and only makes others feel good. It is a good storyline in books and made for TV movies.

I am not Christian thus am not held captive by any man’s version of religious compromise or its accompanying guilt.

I do not owe forgiveness for my own freedom I am already free.

This was a very difficult philosophical stance for those in the audience to ‘get’. After a 5-minute discussion, I called a stop. It was stunning, usually I have a sense of humor about most things, that night and after that discussion, my humor fled.tears_of_sadness

One person had the audacity to say to me, “Well, would you rather be dead. You have told us all about how hard it was, you haven’t said how grateful you are to be alive.”

I told him I was. Then I told him about living in pain, every single day for the past twenty-two years, I explained the pain meter and how I was never below a four on that meter, never. I told him I was grateful I outlived both my parents that I was glad I could be beside them when they passed. Then I explained this wasn’t what we were there for, that my survival was only testament to my strength and they were all sitting in those hard seats to learn what it meant to be a victim of violence from the point of view of the victim. They didn’t need to know we could survive, they didn’t need hearts and flowers about how grateful we were for our lives after brutality, but that under that survival was pain. To learn empathy and compassion they had to see our pain and our humanity.

Another person wanted to go down the path of victim blaming, that perhaps, somehow and in some way I shared blame in my carjacking and shooting. Well yes, of course that must be true. My aliveness, my drawing breath, my being there in a perfectly safe place, at 7pm on a February evening, yes that makes me share the blame. It truly is a great thing I am the person I am, my temptation was to nail him in the forehead with my high-heel.

As I said, I did two of these this week. One with Adult Parolee’s and the other with Juveniles, the first was with the adults and you have seen a glimpse of that one here. It shredded me, wrung me out. There were a few bright spots but not many. The second though, with the young people though we had similar discussions about forgiveness, empathy and compassion; well, at the end of it my spirit was once again lifted. I was once again reminded why even when it is hard I will continue to do this.

48347979001_67684328001_wake19-173-1266760650819I always say, give me just one heart, just one mind each time I speak; I am pleased and I have done good work.

 

Comments

  1. I am so pleased you didn’t ‘Nail your communicator to the floor with your high heels’.. LOL You conjured up an amazing picture of you holding back your fury as you let rip with your reply.. Glad you called a halt to the question and answer session Val..

    Now something for you to consider.. Have you noted how your body reacts within these flare ups? Do your symptoms get worse when you start feeling stressed? Do they appear when you know you are heading up for one of these Victim Impact Groups.. I was interested as our bodies are like barometers.. And our muscles especially react with tension… ( I know your pain relates from your past injuries… ) but just wondered on a level of one to ten if you have noticed pain more when stressed?

    And did you ever try Qi Gong?

    • Actually Sue, my symptoms and my body no longer react to the Impact Panels. They use to though, oh they use to. I have learned to meditate before the panels and though sometimes the questions bug me, they no longer affect me.

  2. ***No one knows, I never tell and no one seems to notice, no one ever asks if I am okay***

    I understand.

    And I love you for exactly who you are: your honesty, kindness, compassion, inspiration, words, experience, & deep undying love.

    xxxx

  3. Such a hard week… the word ‘victim’ is one I have difficulty swallowing sometimes.

  4. Val, I applaud you for doing this, as hard as it seems to be. Don’t know how you do it, particularly with the adults. I might stick with talking to the youth, which seems more rewarding. You have tremendous courage to share your story in this way.

    • It is strange Monica, the adult groups inside are also rewarding usually. There is a cadence to those that makes sense to me, I think because the people in them (men or women) they want to be there, have to apply and be recommended. It is hard work for them.

      The parolee groups are ordered into the program, they don’t have a choice. I think that is why it is always hard. Most of them don’t want to be there. They fight the program and thus, they are about 80% asshats about their participation. Not all of them but a huge number of them. I also suspect this is why the coordinators want me speaking, I can handle them.

  5. “you haven’t said how grateful you are to be alive.” Oh for f*cK sake….. you are there aren’t you? Sharing your experience aren’t you? Trying to help people, aren’t you? Grateful to be alive, what an ahole. Sorry, but people are pathetic. What do they want from you? And is it about forgiveness? Shit happens, people get hurt. Let them deal with it however they feel fit. You EMPOWERED yourself, you dont need to forgive, you need to , flick your hair back and slip into your steel cap boots and kick some more ass. Sheez!!!

  6. Whew! Valentine, you took my breath away. I wonder at how you “handle” your experiences. And to give back AND forgive. It blows my mind. You are something special, for sure.

    • Ah but I do not forgive. I simply do not allow my past to own me. I think that might be the trick my friend. I do not hate, I do not hold grudges. I do not turn over my heart to those who have done me harm. Forgiveness though, no that is something entirely different.

      Giving back, it is what we are here for.

  7. I am only brave and say the things you do to my computer or my therapist. It is amazing to me that here you are, trying to reach out to people, to make a difference, to promote understanding, and you get the same old crap about forgiveness and it must have been your fault somehow. I would absolutely crumple into a ball of pain and fury afterwards. People are largely disappointing to me, until I try to realize that nothing can make them understand. no amount of words can show them our inner world. And yet we still reach out and try. Be gentle with yourself as you recover from the speeches. And I’m certain you have made a difference, not to all, not to many, but to someone. Your words give me strength. I understand.

    • Thank you my friend. I am good, today I am good. I remind myself, especially with the youth groups but also with the adults, it is just one, every person after that is a gift. People are odd, strange; we cannot force them to be other than what they are, we cannot insist they be other than what their surroundings have taught them. We can ask they step outside of themselves, hear our stories and walk in our shoes. Then we can hope just one, expands their spirit enough to find empathy.

      I think it works. I believe it is enough. I will keep fighting, always for it. Each of us in our own way must do so. You through your writing and your wonderful recovery, you reach so many. Do not think for a moment you don’t.

  8. Taking that kind of verbal abuse would crack my teeth. I don’t understand why so much is expected of the victim. This is good work you do and I’m pleased you do get satisfaction and understanding at times but I would prefer to bury those memories. You can’t though, because the physical pain is always present. Still, you’re a bigger person than I.

    • I open the door my friend. When I open the floor I open the door. It is nearly a strange relationship with the audience, that I am willing to answer questions and have discussions I think is different than they are use to. So sometimes this opens the door more than would otherwise be true. Add to this, I don’t look, talk or act as expected. I am not crying, gnashing my teeth or otherwise playing the ‘victim’ role. Finally, despite our relative positions, I am clear about forgiveness and my position on religion.

      With the adults that night I had said to one man, ‘funny how so many find Religion when they are locked up but can’t seem to keep it when they are free’.

      To say it offended many in the audience would be an understatement. Yet, it is true. It was part of the overall discussion of forgiveness and why I do not subscribe to the same standard as they do.

      I don’t think what I do as anything but giving back. It is simply community service Tess.

  9. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    These are the things we never know about …. thank you for sharing. I’m re-sharing!!!

  10. Too bad the person thought you had some part in what happened. Though, I don’t understand how if you’re free that you’re living in so much pain. I do get the experience will always be a part of you but the angst of suffering is quite heavy in your words. Does the speaking bring this on and keep you in a place of pain?

    • Physical pain is simply part of the injuries. There is little that can be done to change this, the damage was extensive and despite multiple surgeries to try to fix it is not going to get better.

      No speaking doesn’t bring it on. I don’t have angst, though sometimes after I speak what I hear bothers me.

  11. Very very good post. You are a much better human than I could ever be were I in your place. It’ s an honor to know you, Ms. Cara.

  12. Reblogged this on MrMilitantNegro™.

  13. There are days I want to reach through my monitor and into your room and smash you up in hugs.

    Those days are every day, but some days the urge is a little stronger.

    Mad props to you for doing the work–not “just” showing up, which would still be big–no matter how you are feeling. No props to those who tell you you must forgive because it benefits them, like catcallers who tell you to smile (it’s prettier) … but worse. And this from someone who celebrates the merits of forgiveness, for the forgiver. In general, not because those requiring forgiveness demand it.

    • I always feel your hugs, thank you. I let go, I think maybe that is different than forgiveness but the same. I wish them no harm and certainly do not hold hate or even anger toward them. I consider the terrible waste of their lives a tragedy. But forgiveness is something altogether different, for me at least.

  14. Wow. The comments you received at those meetings just blow my mind (although perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised). I really think this shows how far we’re willing to go to take something dark and painful and try to force it to make sense somehow, to make it fit as part of a happy picture that we can accept.

    I don’t think you should feel obligated to forgive anyone, or to be all smiley and cheery and grateful just to make everyone feel better. What happened to you is yours to deal with, and it’s up to you to decide how best to deal with it.

    Sorry you had to deal with judgmental people.

    • This happens sometimes. It is interesting, usually it happens more with the parole groups than with the groups inside. Though there is always a discussion on forgiveness, always.

      • So guilt and forgiveness continues to be a thorny and difficult issue for us, I guess.

        • I think so. I think we always want to know there is forgiveness. The issue is most of us want it without effort on our part. The idea of remorse, of having to truly say the words ‘I am sorry’; these are difficult. This is where we all stumble. This was the stumbling block of the discussion this week. Transfer guilt to the victim for not offering ‘free’ forgiveness, well that is one of my hot buttons.

          • Yeah, I remember when one of those horrific school shootings happened, and the local news was asking some of the injured kids if they had forgiven the shooters…and they answered yes, I think because they were expected to do so. This was only two days after the shooting, when those victims wouldn’t have even had time to process the shock of what had happened to them yet, much less consider forgiving anyone. The incident really stuck in my mind and has soured me on the whole forgiveness topic.

  15. I just love you.

  16. What a week for you, my friend.

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