Around twenty years ago, some genius finally figured out that sexual harassment had been a rampant problem in the high school of Byron, Minnesota. For a long time.
Duh. Back in the mid-1980s, I had been one of the victims.
But of all the boys who had groped at me, or run a finger down my back asking if I was wearing a bra, I was only truly afraid of one of them.
I’ll call him by his initials, C.B.
He was fat, taller than I, and had a glint in his eyes that today I would recognize as evil. I could actually sense maliciousness emanating from him.
C.B. terrorized me during the eighth and ninth grades. In eighth grade, he sat right behind me in math for a while, and the long-term substitute teacher couldn’t have been more clueless about the lewd things he was whispering to me, about how he’d reach around to my front and fondle the small bumps on my chest.
In ninth grade, we were in the same social studies class, and again, for a while he sat behind me, taking advantage of my shyness and fear, and the fact that back in the 1980s, girls and women weren’t being taught to speak out against sexual harassment.
Plus, I had no idea that such things were happening to other girls. I thought I was wearing some invisible target that boys could somehow sense. I thought it was my problem, and mine alone.
To make matters worse, C.B. rode the same school bus as my siblings and I. And sometimes, we were forced to sit together. I still remember the day I, the girl who never broke any rules, stood up while the bus was moving so I could squish myself against the window to get away from him. His response? To reach out and grab at my privates through my jeans.
I finally told my mom about what was happening in the social studies class, and she drove to the school to insist that the teacher move me away from him. I gotta hand it to my mom: while she’d never been shy about voicing an opinion, she’d also never been much for taking actions on her opinions. So I don’t take lightly the action she took on my behalf that day.
Thanks, Mom. 🙂
Of course, the very next school day, after the social studies teacher moved my seat, C.B. cornered me and demanded to know if I’d told on him.
Long story short, at some point during ninth grade I became convinced that if I stayed at that school, one day he was going to find me in the restroom and rape me. At the end of the year, I told my parents that if I had to return to Byron High, I was going to drop out and take night classes to get my GED, as my brother was doing at the time.
The terror was so real, I have few other vivid memories of that school year.
What happened next
Two things resulted from the situation. First, my mom talked me out of dropping out of school, and into attending a Catholic high school in Rochester.
The second thing that happened was that I harbored a growing hatred for C.B. for decades after. Until a few days ago.
You gotta understand, I’m almost fifty years old. That’s a long time to hate somebody.
I’ve tried over the years to forgive him. I really have. I know that verse well where Yeshua says that I have to forgive if I want to be forgiven. But even though C.B. never violated me the way I’d feared he would, he did violate my tender and vulnerable teenage soul.
How I healed
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to write a novel based on that year in high school. Originally, the plot was going to revolve around how Byron saw its first black students that year, and the quiet uproar it caused among the community that, up until then, had seen zero black people. But when I sat down to write it, it started to be all about the sexual harassment.
I was struggling with the story – as you might understand – and set it aside one day to write a blog post about the dangers of traditional education. I had written several bullet points, then got to the one about bullies.
I got angry. I began fuming. J and B were outside at the time, but when they came in, I let my emotions and opinions explode. Then I went off about C.B. J already knew about him, what he had done – and what I had feared, so many years ago, that he might do. B, however, had no idea what I was talking about. I had to give him the thousand foot view. (He was twelve, so he had been told about “the birds and the bees.”)
After he was safely tucked away in his room, watching videos, I bawled onto J’s chest. And as my dear, sweet husband held me, I realized that this was the first time I’d ever cried over the situation.
In essence, I had held in my emotions surrounding it for around thirty-four years.
Thirty. Four. Bleeping. Years.
I didn’t feel better about it right then. But I did sit down with J and B and confess my sin of unforgiveness, and of hating. I asked God to help me forgive C.B. I asked the Holy Spirit to fill the place that had been full of bitterness and anger and hatred.
And, guess what? A couple of days ago, I was thinking about C.B., and for the first time ever, I didn’t feel any negative emotions toward him. The hate was gone. The anger was gone.
The burden was completely, totally, and thoroughly gone.
I had finally forgiven him.
What I learned
Here’s what I learned about forgiving.
#1. It’s as important to forgive imagined terrors as it is to forgive real events.
#2. You can’t forgive if you’re hiding the wounds the person caused you. You have to get vulnerable, expose the wound so God can touch it.
#3. The longer you walk in unforgiveness, the more difficult it becomes to forgive.
#4. You need someone who loves you to be by your side once you decide to let your guard down, and allow the old wounds to be exposed. The pain is often too deep to handle alone. You need the extra strength and courage that the other person brings to the table. Without it, the wound could fester further, instead of being healed.
Everyone needs a hand to hold onto. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on.
#5. For deep, long-term wounds, you need to call on your heavenly Father for help to forgive the other person.
#6. Asking for forgiveness from Father for your unforgiveness and hatred will move things along even faster. The original wound may have been caused by someone else, but you make it worse by making yourself judge over the person.
Asking God to forgive your unforgiveness equates to humbling yourself, and admitting that you’ve tried to take the Lord’s place in judging that person and that you’re ready to step down.
#7: Walking in unforgiveness is akin to playing God, which is a heavy burden.
#8: When you ask the Holy Spirit to come and fill the places in your soul that you’ve emptied, He will. And it will change your life. Make it both brighter and lighter.
I think the reason I started writing the novel, and that blog post that brought me to bullying, was that my subconscious couldn’t handle the burden anymore, and led me to begin to vent. At that point, God put His finger on it and began to expose the evil beast inside me.
Or, maybe Father knew it was past time for me to forgive, and nudged my subconscious into this path.
However it happened doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it happened.
I forgave C.B.
And I almost feel like I’ve been born again, again.