The Long Defeat

I blame Mikala. It’s her fault he was on my mind that day.

We were driving to some friends’ house and I was excitedly talking about how close my book was to being finished (the first draft anyway) and was relating extremely premature thoughts on cover designs when she said, “I was just thinking about that the other day! I still want to send him a copy and I was thinking about what it would look like when he opened the package—and what the note would say that I write in it.”

I grumbled somewhat at her hanging onto old grudges, reminding her we needed to forgive if we were to move on, but she replied, “I know we need to pursue grace and peace, but he betrayed us. He was supposed to be your Board member that was sort of on your side. He told us we wouldn’t get fired just because of what we believed, then sat back and watched while we did. He never checked in on us, never tried to apologize or make amends. This isn’t about a grudge, but I want him to know: the least we can do is send him a copy of the book detailing what that did to us.”

I let it go because I didn’t want to argue: this was her crusade and after 10 years of marriage, I’ve finally learned not to get in Mikala’s warpath. But also, whether I wanted to admit or not, there was still a hope that this passive-aggressive move might assuage the as-yet unclosed wound made by him over two years ago.

So I want to blame Mikala for what happens next, but that’s not entirely fair. After all, only a week before this, I had spent almost an entire day writing the chapter concerned with the whole Missouri Campus House debacle, doing which reminded me quite clearly of his role in the affair. It’s amazing how I could forget that we had been betrayed. I realized through the writing that I’d spent much of the last years building up a defensive barrier against the pain—all in the hope of “moving on.” I had convinced myself I “knew it was coming,” that I had never truly hoped we would be allowed to remain, that I was considering departing for school in a few years anyway.

All lies. But we all tell ourselves what we must to forget and move on, don’t we?

The writing and the conversation with my wife brought back to mind the sting of betrayal, the surprise wind-knocked-out feeling of a knife slipping into your back, the sudden tears and guts-in-your-throat sensation of solid ground suddenly falling away below your feet.

It’s probably no surprise what happened next, is it?

No surprise I tried to put it out of my mind that evening and couldn’t. No surprise I dreamt about him that night. No surprise the dream version of him was an unrepentant, even scornful man, pleased with his choices. He had read the book we sent and was unmoved.

No surprise that as my dream-self departed, I turned to make a parting shot, trying to make some cutting remark about his intellect, only to see dream-him swat away the weak insult with a knowing smile. Mine were the ravings of a powerless man in pain. His was the smile of a man holding all the cards.

I woke up and wondered when will I ever be free?

The conversation and dream caused by the turning over of long-fallow ground shouldn’t have surprised me.

The remnant of pain and heartache caused by past betrayal shouldn’t have surprised me.

The fact that I still have forgiveness yet to extend should definitely not have surprised me.

Now I do believe in the adage “forgiveness is setting someone free and finding out it’s you.” I believe that it’s hard, harder than most anything we ever do, and as much an act of self-care as community maintenance.

But still I wonder, when will I be free of this? When will the cage of my own imprisonment open for the last time? When will I not be surprised by the pain? Will I ever be able to think of him without having to once again do the work of self-emancipation?

Maybe decades from now.

Maybe never.

It may very well be that I will carry this cage with me for the rest of my life, occasionally thinking I’d left it behind, only to wake up from yet another angry, tearful dream and once again find myself locked from the inside. It may be that extending true forgiveness is nothing more than a long defeat.

But maybe,

just maybe,

the periods between imprisonments will grow longer. I have hope they will, someday. Maybe the next time (or the next, or the next . . .) I awake with my heart clenched in anger and grief, I will realize it’s the first time in years, rather than months. And maybe that will be some comfort as I once more turn the key and walk into the open, sun-lit paths of forgiveness.

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