I will not forgive you. Not ever. Not ever until I’m dead. Not even then.
I’m almost 9 years old. I’m hopelessly clumsy. I get a lot of bruises that summer even though I am more careful. Somebody does something unforgivable. I decide not to talk about it.
There are other things that are easier to say.
I’m 14 years old. My hips grow over break and when I put my school skirt on it rips at the seams. I fix it clumsily with safety pins. It’s a long skirt. It goes all the way to the ground, but you can see a few square inches of my hip. It’s my right hip, I think. I can’t be sure. Before class my science teacher stops me at the door and tells me that it isn’t fair to the male teachers to walk around like that, with all that skin showing. Then she explains what atoms are made of, how the smallest thing isn’t the smallest thing at all, how we’re all infinite things full of other infinite things. I can’t concentrate. My face is hot. I draw an anatomically questionable penis on the back of my folder. I feel sick for the rest of the day, but I’m not sure why.
I’m 20 years old. It’s spring. I’m in love with someone who I’ve never touched. We talk all night. The sun is up before I go to sleep. I’m entirely alight. I forget that I exist outside of this love, forget that I have a heart to pump blood, and not to keep another person in. By Autumn we’re in pieces. I don’t know what goes wrong. Like a detective in an old movie I stick the evidence to the wall. I stay up all night with it. Goddamn it, Carl. I say. What am I missing? (Carl is my partner. All good detectives have partners). It comes close to killing me. I take medicine that I don’t need so that I can sleep. I do terrible things to myself. I eat nothing but M&Ms and painkillers for 5 days. I stay up all night crying and watching Gilmore Girls. At first I root for Christopher and Lorelai, but then I’m not so sure. Luke’s emotionally erratic but he’s reliable and he loves her. It’s too complicated. I watch Bob’s Burger’s instead.
It takes hard work, time, and for spring to come again before I’m no longer at war with myself. When I finally say I forgive you I’m also saying sorry. When I say I forgive you I look down and watch the word go from my left hand to my right hand.
Last Tuesday, I’m driving to work and someone pulls out right in front of me. They’re going way too fast. They aren’t looking and I have to slam the brakes. I swear at them, I honk the horn. It frightens me but after half a mile I’ve forgiven them. A song I like comes on the radio and I turn it up, I sing along.
What is forgiveness, then? I know what it isn’t. It isn’t a pill, too big to swallow. It isn’t surrender. It isn’t blood pact or sacrifice or Love Thy Enemy. It isn’t the end of rain. What it is: It’s putting your head on the pillow at last. It’s taking off a pair of poorly fitting shoes after a lifetime of walking, it’s pressing down on the places it hurts and realizing that you don’t have to go anywhere you don’t want to go anymore. It’s a deep breath in, then out, forever.
I am 22 years old. I keep no secrets. I let my suffering be water, be sand. I imagine my Forgiving like this: A vast tree, big as heaven, on each branch forgiveness is flowering. No single flower the same. This forgiveness is for you, for not loving me kindly. This forgiveness for them, for not seeing what was happening. This forgiveness, biggest of all, for me. For all the ways I hurt myself.
So this is everything I know. You forgive by not forgiving. You get better by being honest about the fact that you will probably never stop hating that person for the harm they did to you. You get better by realizing that this is okay. Eventually they will stop taking from you, they will stop having any claim to your blood.
I will not let you win. Not ever. Not ever until I’m dead. Not even then.