When I was seven, I had my life threatened. The implements that could kill me were pointed out, and the words were emphatic. If I told anyone about what happened, I would die. And so I kept mum. For months. Eventually, my bond with my mother and stepfather enabled me to confide in them what had happened to me. They believed me. As we have seen so publicly and so recently, that is not a given. I could not be more thankful to have the parents that I do.
But that didn’t change the fact that I had to live across the street from this person for years. He wasn’t there all those years, but I certainly did not fully escape him. My family’s goat mysteriously had its neck snapped. Our cats mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. When I took the trash out at night, my fears manifested as vivid worries over a zombie popping out of the can, gross and deformed. To be fair, I’d had anxiety issues years before then, fear of the dark, oversensitive reaction to horror. Perhaps some buried memories of my mother and biological father’s divorce. I don’t know. But knowing someone who had promised to murder me still remained free… that exacerbated things.
And yet, I forgave him. I forgave his family, even though they spread rumors that my allegations were really about my stepfather. From an early age, I’d been forced to deal with the dichotomy within people. How my biological father, who loved me so much, who was so fun to be around, nonetheless had been a danger to my mother. And the rapist was just an extension of that. Someone I spent time with. Taught me how to fish. Showed me how to play Donkey Kong.
Far harder to forgive was a system that dropped hints to my family that my name could end up in papers if we pursued a trial. Far harder to forgive was a system that laid down a restraining order, and then whose police presence never enforced it, even when given evidence. Far harder to forgive, and this perhaps is what stings the most, is telling my elementary school teachers how I felt the world was against me, how I felt like everyone and everything was against me, with the divorce and the fires and the rape, only for them to panic – panic – over the allegation, and then my family and I had to explain, no, the law had “dealt” with it, yes, I was getting counseling, and then, being told that I just couldn’t talk about it, see, because people panic. I couldn’t give names, I already knew, because that would be “slander,” technically, oh so technically. And so it progressed to total silence. I had to endure all the sodomy jokes in high school, and when I protested, when I exposed myself and said, “I was raped,” I was met with indifference. To a point, who could blame them. It wasn’t real to them. Everything was a simulation of hyper-sexuality and intentional offense, and here I was, not getting it. I can’t hold that against them. The system, though. A system that shushed me. A system that didn’t believe in me. Who met my secrets not with sympathy but panic.
Perhaps that’s why I have so little patience for that emotion, I, who deal with a neurological disorder that regularly dispenses panic through my system when left unchecked. But my experience with panic in other people is that it enables them to think selfishly and with complete disregard for others. They are the only ones that matter. I loathed the seemingly annual, if not twice-annual, thrice, the nigh-constant holiday that was Another American Mass-Shooting. Because everyone always gave me the side-eye, the weird one, the one we pick on, the one who makes dark jokes. I had to watch myself, I, the victim of violence, had to assuage the fears of those who knew nothing of being threatened. I had to control my words. After all, people are afraid, Blaise, people are afraid.
People are afraid, the news stations say now, and people are angry. They’re not wrong, those stations. But the target of that anger, that fear, is left by those pundits up to the public’s imagination. Not even in this country, but across the world, people scapegoat those they don’t understand and blame them for the recession this planet hit. Fear the Shi’ites. Fear the Muslims. Fear anyone with any religious conviction whatsoever. And fear those who don’t. Fear this, fear that, and hey, that’s what you get with a capitalistic free press, a need to sensationalize. We should all just be happy that they’re more subtle when they start wars, if only the Spanish-American War could claim the same. But the simple fact is, people tune in to those shows. They look for the literature, in print and online. They post the memes. They share the thinkpieces. They are complicit and indeed the sustenance of the flames. People are afraid and angry, and because of that, they want someone to blame.
And there are plenty of people to blame. There are injustices that cannot be ignored, cannot be dismissed. But all too often, the pursuit is not for justice, for others and their safety, but to make someone suffer, suffer for all the school bullying, the domestic feuding, the workplace animosity, the anxiety of marginalization that they feel.
This violence we see now is only going to get worse. It’s true that we have far less armed conflict than we’ve had in most of history. That tidbit does not resurrect the dead, nor fully restore the maimed.
People are going to retreat more into an exclusive identity that pushes others out. They will say they want to be freer, but it’s always a relative freedom. It’s a freedom to hurt. A freedom to not hold back and call people whatever without bounds.
For years… no, to this day, I view society as one large domination hierarchy. That people will assert their dominance over whoever they think is weak without thought, as impulse. No rationale behind it, no ideology, just the instinctive need to hurt. Another part desperately tries to counter that everyone has a story to tell, a reason to do what they do. No one is the villain in their own tale. It’s how I can love my biological father. It’s how I can love those who I know have done awful things, unapologetically. It’s how I can forgive my rapist. A reason. He has to have a reason.
Those two ideologies have married each other, resulting in a worldview that insists that people all think they’re doing the right thing, but they will all hurt the weak when they see fit, then rationalize it in post-perspective. I can’t claim that worldview as truth. It clashes somewhat with my religious beliefs and with common wisdom. It’s a worldview that comes across as self-pitying and absolving myself of my own role in hurting others. But it is how I feel. Hopefully, one day, I can evolve beyond such feelings.
I do know this – that I make mistakes, do things I don’t understand why I do in hindsight. To a point, sometimes, I feel out of control of my own life, my own body, my own actions. Stuck in a groove on a vinyl. Knowing that forces me to forgive others. But it’s difficult. For every so many I forgive, there seems to be a hundred others I hold an eternal grudge over. And that’s not right.
But I know that the chief sin, the chief mistake any one person can make with another is to dehumanize them. When you simplify people into a construct, a single label, when you divide humanity under “good people” and “right bad ones,” when you call for punishment without mercy, without curiosity into the other’s mindset, with a dismissive, “They don’t deserve _____,” when we all play Javert to the world’s Valjean, we end up like Javert and murder ourselves, or even worse, become part of the mass system of violence that we claimed before to oppose. We’re all angry. I’m angry. So badly do I want to use what morsel of wit I have to strike back at the world and rip people apart, thinking that will somehow make people question themselves, their decisions, their prejudices, when I know the reality, that people retreat more because of that, into their mobs, leaving me vulnerable to the very violence I simultaneously abhorred and enacted.
Peacekeeping is not about lying to people about the stakes. It’s not about censoring those with convictions. It’s about curiosity. It’s about a need to understand. A need to help. Not to order. Not condemn. Not to roll out the guillotines. To approach in good faith. To believe, well, certainly not in people. For me, to believe in God. For others, I cannot speak for them. But we have to believe in something greater than ourselves. Greater than our faults. Greater than the faults of others.
We have to believe in something, if we’re to go forward. Living across the street from a rapist whose family terrorized mine, I went through the nightmare scenario that so many would rather die than live out, would rather kill others than live out. But I survived. I won’t lie and say I’m well because of it, because I’m extremely damaged. There’s few levels of my cognition that the experience hasn’t touched in some ways. I find new angles it influences all the time. But I survived.
We have to believe that we can survive. That belief took a huge blow after 9/11. It’s endured successive blows since. But the world didn’t change. We just thought it did, out of panic. But belief in things… faith. That never became passé.
In times like this, I’m the first to snarl that the world should burn. But I’m just as quickly to desire death in my deepest despairs. I get through them by remembering I’ve survived worse. And so, we have to believe we can survive. As America? Maybe not. As the future we envisioned in all our utopias? Well, heh, there’s a reason utopia means “No Place.” But making it through violence, and finding and fighting for redemption for all? For redemption? That’s what we should be fighting for. Not destruction. Redemption.