I have been silent about something that has turned me on my head. Silent about something I would normally be very vocal about. Silent because the words would not come through the fog of shock, and, yes, silent because I hoped I'd heard wrong, hoped there'd been a mistake. But I feel wrong being silent any longer. And I do not want my silence to be misconstrued as victim blaming or disbelief. I hear you, victims. Your voices are important. You are heard and believed. It was brave of you to speak.
For a long time proponent of lifting the victims of sexual assault up, helping them in their voices and supporting them when they do not feel heard... as an author whose stories and poems against sexual abuse and discrimination are at least somewhat known...as a survivor of harassment and abuse myself, I feel it is no longer acceptable to not talk about what happens when a friend is identified as an abuser.
Not long ago, I felt a sense of betrayal when a person I long revered for his writing ended up being an abuser. Sherman Alexie disappointed and disgusted me with his actions. His works were the bedrock of much of my teaching and I was shocked and appalled by his abuse. I felt somewhat lied to, but mostly disappointed.
But what happens when the abuser is a friend? I've had to deal with this occurrence in the past, sadly. Just last week I had to deal with it again. I've had the unlucky shock and immediate revulsion of a friend turned abuser three times in my life. It's such a difficult set of emotions that hit when something like this happens, that it's hard to explain.
However, as a proponent for lifting victims up, I think it's necessary to try to wade through what it's like to know an abuser, or to feel you knew someone who was, in your estimation, a "good person" only to be understand that he was not safe, not, in fact, the person you thought he was. An acquaintance of mine, who knew the abuser in much the same way I did, who counted the abuser as a friend said, "It's like I'm mourning the person I thought he was."
What a perfect way of describing what is happening in my mind, right now. I feel like I'm in deep mourning. That friend I loved is no longer alive. He was replaced with a man I do not know, and that man is a child abuser. The friend I thought I had is dead to me, then, because the two pictures cannot coincide. They just can't exist together. So, I'm left feeling so much that my stomach is in pains:
Shock: There must be some mistake, but, no, that's not right. I know what it's like to not be believed or heard in my abuse, and it was wrong then. If the child said he did it, he did. He did. He did. He did. He did it. He touched a child.
Anger: How in the fuck does someone touch a child? How did he trick me into caring for him? How dare he steal my confidence, the confidence of so many, and use it to hurt others! What kind of sick person does that shit? How did I trust someone so sick? Enough to bring my children to his house! I would have ended his existence if the victim were my daughter. I would have tried to kill him. My anger is so volatile, when I think about what I would have done in the mother's place, that it scares me. I know I am capable of murder when it comes people harming my children, and that is terrifying.
Guilt: I encouraged my students to take his classes. I talked him up and told people they could not go wrong with him in their corner. I trusted him and asked others to do the same. I did not protect my students like I should have. I know it's not my fault. The actions of others are never my fault, but...should I have known? It's stupid. Futile, to blame oneself for not knowing other people's demons, but it's inevitable, that guilt.
Nauseating Confusion: Why? Was there any part of the person I thought was my friend that actually existed? Were all of his actions a preparation for the pain he would inflict on others? Was he really selfless or did he just want to make his way into the homes of the vulnerable? Was there any part of him who was not the sick man who preyed on little girls? Was the man who cried after losing his wife, shaking with grief, eating the food I prepared for him in his time of need, sitting across from me and regaling me with the beauty of the wife who left too soon the same man who harmed a child, maybe many children? Was the man who seemed to care so much for others that he'd give his last dollar ever real? Was it a veneer?
Mourning: The man I considered a friend is dead to me. The man I thought I knew never was. He couldn't be. It doesn't match up. Tears stream down my face. I don't make friends easily. The loss of them shatters me.
Anxiety: Why does this always happen? Will women ever be safe? Are my children doomed to be the victims of sick people and their whims? How do I protect them? How can I possibly protect my kids when I cannot trust even my friends? I can never leave them alone. Never. How will I let them experience life without the anxiety that now eats at me? How will I let go enough to let them live, but to also see that they're safe? I pray. I pray. I pray.
Dear God, I pray that you'll help the spinning in my head slow, the pain in my gut to abate, the anger to dissipate. How can I love a world full of people who will knowingly hurt the most vulnerable? It tears at me. Please give me peace. More importantly, comfort those who need it like I needed it. Those who will need to find strength when their innocence is stolen, when their stay is ripped from their lips.
My chest aches. My eyes hurt from trying to keep tears in. It's not fair to mourn the man who is a disgrace, so I tell myself I mourn the picture in my head, of a man I loved as a friend. Not the man who, given the right circumstances and excuses, would abuse a child. I cannot and will not explain away, excuse or tolerate any suggestion that his doing so was anything other than a sick crime of a sick mind, even when doing so brings tears to my eyes.
If you're feeling even a little of this right now, those who have been let down, I'm sorry you're hurting. To those who have had the unwanted touch of a hand they thought they could trust, that's what hurts the most. Your pain is valid. Your pain is what matters. I'm sorry for you. Your trust in others is forever shaken. It was not your fault.
No matter what I feel it is nothing, insignificant, compared to the tidal wave of confusion and pain that poor child had to go through. Because she lost a friend and gained an abuser, too. I don't have to keep the abuser. He did not scar me like he did her. He is just somebody that I used to know. A person I can't call a friend, even when it's the friend I mourn.
H.M Jones is the author of B.R.A.G Medallion Honor and NIEA finalist book Monochrome, its prequel Fade to Blue, the Adela Darken Graphic Novellas, Al Ravien's Night, The Immortals series, and several short stories.