Rising from the Ashes

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Part IV: Out of the past and into the light

Read also Part I  Part II  Part III

By Julie . . . One time, when my father’s assault on me was especially brutal and painful, I stared out the window looking at the street light outside. In my mind, my body went to the light. I remember the pain he was causing me, and I remember it fading away as I went to the light. The light was so bright around me, and as I felt it embrace me, I felt I was part of the light. I couldn’t see the street below, and I didn’t look back through the window to the bed where I was lying.

I have remembered that feeling all of my life. I think of it as the “becoming the light” moment in my life, and I remembered the safety there and the way that it felt anytime something happened to give me a tiny bit of joy.

The only such times that I can remember were when I was drawing or coloring. My one refuge in childhood was that I found comfort in drawing. I always dreamed of getting the ideal gift for Christmas or my birthday, a box of 64 crayons. That was a big deal back then. The colors just mesmerized me. I never got them. I would draw and color with the box of eight colors that we got at the beginning of each school year. I loved art. I felt good, peaceful even, when I was drawing, coloring, or doing anything with art. Those were my childhood times in the light.

My life, through many twists and turns, has brought me here, where I am today.

I have many light moments now. Being there for my niece are some of them. During her time in prison, through her treatment, her therapy, and the agony of being incarcerated as a “sex offender,” I am her support, figuratively walking beside her every single day. She calls me daily, and I ask her what she was learning and what it all meant. I encourage her to stay strong in her faith in God. I know without a doubt, knowing her true heart, that her mistakes were rooted in the traumatic childhood that crept into her adult life and caused her to make such mistaken decisions.

The abuse she endures in prison is unimaginable.  She was labeled the moment she turned herself in to take responsibility for her actions. The media went crazy with calling her a rapist. Her case was resolved with a plea bargain. I never knew what that meant until I saw that process strip her of any voice she might have wanted to have. We do not blame the victim, but there is always a story behind the story.

An unheard-of number of people showed up at court to speak on her behalf. Of her integrity; of her stellar professional history; of her dedication as a mom and as a person.  But society doesn’t allow for any of that to matter when someone is splashed all over the media as a rapist. Some of the people who showed up in support of her were fired from their positions for speaking on her behalf. What happened to the First Amendment? The whole story turned into a frenzied circus with her at the center of the damage it caused.

There were days when it seemed her spirit was diminishing day by day.  I worked with a full heart, working hard for my light to shine, to remind her who God always meant her to be. She will be listed on her state’s sexual offense registry, which will bring is own challenges and tears. Despite this, I know that she will rise and her own light will shine.

Upon her release, she will be starting a new chapter of her life, navigating how she can safely return to society.  The concern for safety is for her; she is no risk to anyone. However, our society judges people by their labels.  But she is strong; she is a survivor. She learned how to fight for her life as a child.

I am sure that she will make a positive change in the world. Forgiveness of herself will be her biggest uphill battle.  And it will not be an easy one if, because of the mistakes she has made and the label she will bear, her children are made to suffer.

We have already cried together so many times. With her traumatic childhood and mine, we will be able to process the whys — the reasons that can never be explained and the questions that can never be answered.

And together we will try to pick up the pieces. She is paying for her mistake dearly. But no one paid for the offenses and the crimes committed against us.  How do we rise above that?

Read Part V, A twist in the road, Saturday, July 10.

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