On What I Would Change

None of it. All of it. Some of it. I don’t know.

A while ago, a friend asked me if I would change what had happened to me. The truth is that I don’t know. 

When I started this blog, I thought that Caleb had broken me. I wrote this blog as a way of saying, I am not stronger. I am broken. He broke me in ways that can never be repaired.

But, in the past couple of years, I have been putting the pieces back together, slowly, and although I am still damaged, I am no longer broken.

I have been working on my literary writing about the abuse (which serves a different purpose for me than the blog). It’s emotionally draining to go back to the woman who lived with Caleb. When I think of that woman now, I see her as though she is at the end of a long tunnel. I am on one side, and she is on the other, and we are not the same, but we are shadows of one another. 

There is a certain measure of grief in letting her go. 

I want to say, Come back. 

I want to say, Go.

I want to say, I’m so sorry that I could not save you.

I have no idea if this makes any sense.

That woman was me. I am me. We are only two parts of the whole that I am now. There are so many parts to this whole, and I don’t know that I’m willing to give any of those parts up. Even the part that Caleb damaged. I’m not sure that I want to let her go either. 

Instead, I want to cradle that woman. I want to say, I forgive you.

Oh God, the only person I can forgive is myself. I can never forgive him. I can love him, still–and in ways I always will–but I can never forgive him.

I accidentally stumbled across an old apology from him yesterday while I was searching for a student’s paper. 

He had written:

You’re right to think about leaving. It was wrong of me to argue with you this morning and try to argue why it was right for you to stay or wrong for you to leave.

I don’t know if I covered everything, or if it’s even possible to fix this with an apology, but I wanted to try, and I wanted to tell you what I love about you.

I think you’re beautiful and sexy. Sometimes I’m incredibly filled with pride and vanity about how attractive and smart my wife is. I love being with you, even if we aren’t doing anything special. I love talking to you. I love it that you’re such a wonderful mother to Reed and devoted wife to me. I love you for the fact that you have always seen the best in me and always pushed me to be the best possible version of myself. I love you because you’re honest and forthright. It’s something that few people are, but somehow you do it. I also love you because you’re my partner and because you’ve always forgiven me once I’ve earned it.

All of this that I tell you, I know I say the opposite of when we argue, but I hope you’ll recognize that this is the real me. And these are my real feelings for you.

I read that apology, and I wept for the woman who had believed him, who had believed that what he had written in that apology was what was real, and who had believed that the horrible things he had said during the argument that prefaced the apology were not real. I wept for the woman who had worked so hard to reconcile those two different realities.

But now, I can be kinder to that former version of myself. I can tell myself that it wasn’t my fault that I believed him. Of course I believed him. Like Caleb wrote, I always saw the best in him. Like Caleb wrote, I always forgave him.

Caleb knew me. 

Caleb taught me that forgiveness can be warped into something ugly, and for that reason, I no longer offer him my forgiveness. I offer it only to myself.

His abuse was not my fault, and I did not deserve it. And I believe that. I believe all of the wonderful things he wrote about me in that apology. I believe those things to be true, and I believe the horrible things that he said to me before the apology to be untrue. There is still so much confusion for me, but there is also a lot that I see clearly now. 

And, if I’m being perfectly honest, then I must admit that, even if Caleb hadn’t abused me, I don’t think I would have been happy with him. What I’ve written about the moments of joy we shared were true. He made me laugh in ways that no one else ever has. He made me feel cherished in ways that no one else ever has. At night, I looked forward to closing my eyes so that I could wake them in the morning and see him.

But I was not happy with the life that I had with him.

I often think back to myself as a teenager–a time when I regarded the world with a great certainty that I had not yet earned. At that time, I wanted things that seemed impractical and naive, but with the faith of a teenager, I thought that I could attain them. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to make my living that way. I wanted to have artistic friends. I wanted to travel. I wanted a life that was so different from the life in which I had been raised. But then, when I went to college, reality sunk in. It sunk in that I had to pay my bills and that my dreams were foolish. I spent many years trying to set those dreams aside.

And then, I met Caleb. Caleb became my dream. Caleb is a man who needs a woman who fits easily into his shadow, but I am no one’s shadow. 

And so, my years with him were very unfulfilling. They were painful because of the abuse, but they were also unfulfilling, and there is a difference between painful and unfulfilling. And the truth is that I’m not sure that unfulfilling, on its own, would have been enough to prompt me to leave. So, if Caleb hadn’t abused me, I would likely still be living an intermittently pleasant, but ultimately unfulfilling life.

And perhaps, even if I had never met Caleb, I would still be living an unfulfilling life because I wasn’t really fulfilled when I met him either. I recently read an article that said that happier people are less likely to live meaningful lives, that finding meaning in life requires a certain access to pain and unpleasantness. I am not someone who has ever wanted to live a comfortable life. I don’t believe that an absence of pain is possible in a life lived fully. 

Right now, I am not suffering. A few years ago, I was suffering tremendously. Still, because of that suffering from those years, I am now a more fulfilled person. I realize the sentiment is trite, but the grand destruction of my marriage forced me to confront more than just Caleb’s abuse. It also forced me to confront the ways in which my life wasn’t fulfilling me. It forced me to confront the ways in which I wasn’t meeting my own needs. It forced me to confront some lingering issues with my own family that I had put on the back burner. 

And now, I may be damaged, but I’m also living the life that teenaged-Kelly wanted to live. I’m making a living as a writer. I have artistic friends. I travel a lot. Right now, I am writing in a loft in a lovely, little house while my intelligent, humorous, and kind 10-year-old sleeps quietly downstairs. It is the life that I always dreamed of, and I am not living in anyone’s shadow. 

This life is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is all mine, and I was never going to have it with Caleb. And in truth, I don’t know if I would have found it without him.

I am not grateful for his abuse. I will never be grateful for what he did to me. I am angry as hell at what he did to me. I am angry as hell at the lessons I learned about humanity through my experience with him. But I still turned out okay. 

Last weekend, I had a cold. I was feeling pretty terrible. I really wanted some soup. I remembered the wonderful soup that Caleb used to make me. I remembered how Caleb nurtured me during the times when he was nurturing me. (I don’t know how else to phrase that previous sentence. He was either nurturing or hateful, and they were bound up in the same dynamic.) But that day, I knew that, if I was going to have soup, I would have to make it myself. And then, in the evening, while I was making soup, my friend Brad showed up. He gave me a present. It was a bracelet in the shape of an arrow. The arrow was for my future, he said. The point and feathers were in turquoise, my favorite color. It was beautiful, and I was so excited that I put it on immediately, but then he said, “There’s something engraved on it!” I took it off, and the word “sunshine” was written on it. Brad calls me “Kelly Sunshine,” and I’m crying as I type this because for so many years, I was not sunshine. 

I was only darkness.

Today, I had lunch with another friend, and she said, “You are joy personified right now.” I felt her words to be true. I am so filled with joy in this current moment (all emotions are transient, I have learned). But in the wake of such deep sadness, there is still joy to be found. I give Caleb none of the credit for that, but I give myself infinite credit for accessing my joy. 

So would I change things? I don’t know. The truth is that I can’t change things, so it doesn’t matter. What I can do is work to find peace with all of my different incarnations. What I can do is work to never again be in someone else’s shadow.

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