Juan was broken. I always believed he was born a kind soul, but he didn’t live in an environment that nurtured that.
I used to tell myself that if I were patient and loved Juan enough to overlook all of his shortcomings, he would eventually reward my loyalty by loving me back. The more pain he caused me, the more love he would show me in the end.
I wish I could say my relationship with Juan was the last time I told myself this lie. I felt lost all through high school and college and latched onto people who exploited my hopelessness. I threw away several years being loyal to someone else’s husband. Then I found a man of my own and moved to North Carolina to be with him. I knew deep down that he was cheating on me, but I bought a house with him anyway.
It was when I was packing boxes to move out of that house and wondering if I would ever have a happy ending that I realized I was destroying my life. I’m not sure why it took me so long to believe I could have love without paying for it with so much pain. I’ve learned to give my loyalty to the people who deserve it. My parents top that list.
A few years ago, Dateline aired a story about a woman who’d been raped while in college in the 1980s. Twenty-one years later, she received a letter from her rapist—who’d never been caught—describing his years of anguish and guilt and asking for forgiveness. She took his letter to the police and filed charges. When asked if she was at all moved by his anguish, she said no. With her rapist behind bars for 18 months, she said, she was finally able to heal. But to me it didn’t seem she had healed at all. What I saw was a woman slashing through her wounds with a knife.
She said she’d never been the same after the rape. I agree—I was forever changed in a way I can’t quite explain. “It’s like you’re being killed,” she said. “And yet you still live.”
I wanted to jump through the TV. Yes—you still live. And after recovering from rape, I’ve always felt that with the passage of time I’ve had a choice: I could live fully and freely or live anchored in resentment.
I don’t judge the woman for reporting her rape. I wish I had reported mine back when it happened—not for the sake of justice but to protect the women who were later hurt by the same man.
The state of Virginia doesn’t have a statute of limitations on felonies, which means I could still report the men who raped me and press charges against Juan as an accessory—and I can understand why some people might think I should. But I can’t see how pressing charges would bring peace to anyone involved, especially me.
I never expected to have the chance to talk to Juan again. Our conversations helped me fill in blanks about a time in my life that I’d been resigned to leave full of questions. My parents and close friends are baffled by my willingness to forgive him. Maybe they’re right—maybe I am crazy. But I’m also happy and free.