How do you forgive after a tragic loss?
As I lie in the warm water, silky with salt as it held my body afloat, it was difficult to relax. I’m in a pod. A small pod, only slightly larger than my own body, smaller than my own magnetic field. It’s dark, it’s quiet. Too quiet, maybe. I lie there thinking, “Stop thinking.” I’m supposed to relax, not think, not let my mind get carried away with thoughts of work, home, dirty dishes, dinner, the fat around my belly, the dead dog, a child who needs my attention, my aging parents, friends who are going through tough times. I’m supposed to just be. Quiet. So I focus on my breath.
My breath is loud, my heart is beating loudly in my eardrums, reminding me of my aliveness, my being. My shoulders are tense with the day’s stresses, work, kids, finances, worry, combined with the leftovers from years of stress and traumas to my body. I notice as I start to relax that my body doesn’t want to, it doesn’t remember how. Though I am floating, weightless and quiet, I have to force myself to let my neck fall back, drop my shoulders, let my arms just hang where they are. I fall a little deeper into the water. I can feel little bubbles on my skin as keep focusing on my breath. Finally I start to drift off, like dozing off on the train or a long car ride.
My mind goes to a place that’s hard for me to visit. I am alone on the side of the highway, confused and wondering why no one comes. Covered in blood, my skin is burned down and there is gravel and glass in my face. I start to panic. It’s a car accident. Fatal. I’m 17 and starting my senior year in high school. But this is not where my mind wants to be. I’ve relived this over and over, hearing the wrecking ball in my ears, feeling my face crushed and fragments of my being ripped from my body, never really coming back completely. I’ve lived this again and again for 20 years. But the tragic loss, the horror and the lasting guilt are not what I’m focusing on. Right now I’m focusing on something else. The aftershock.
I never said, “Thank you.” To a friend, who came upon the accident that morning and calmed me down, made me stop screaming, told me I needed to get better so I could get back to the gym. He held my eyes and kept me from completely losing my mind, while my thoughts went to the stranger on the motorcycle I could only hope was alive. He wasn’t. I knew he wasn’t, but my friend kept me from letting that knowledge attack my mind in those moments of sheer terror. He covered my bleeding knees, ripped to the shock-white bone, and helped stop the blood that was running into my eyes, giving everything a haunting red tint. He waited and held my hand and talked with me while we waited for the ambulance to come. He was calm, he was strong and he was assuring. And I never said, “Thank you.”
I never said, “I’m sorry,” To a boy who only wanted to love me. That’s all. I pushed him away and pretended not to care. I couldn’t bear to be close to him. Or anyone. I wasn’t sure I was even supposed to be alive and I couldn’t bear to have him touch me or know me. He knew me better than anyone, he made me laugh, he listened to what I wanted, who I was and he tried to understand, and I pushed him out of my life. My little life with it’s fragile illusion of safety had been ripped apart and I couldn’t let him be part of it. I never told him why it made me so sad to be with him. I didn’t believe I deserved him, and I’ve never felt that loved since.
I never said “F**k you,” to the cheerleader who called me “Scarface.” I let her say it and I just looked at her, numb, and let her get away with it.
I never told my dad, “I need help.” I needed help. I was 17 and I shoved all that pain, all that guilt down into my self. I hid it beneath the smiles and the jokes and the laughing; I hid behind a shield of faux strength, never letting anyone know that inside I was a little bit dead, feeling empty and guilty – a hole where my soul once lived. Buried, just like the dog in the back yard.
Thank You. I’m Sorry. F**k You. I Need Help.
Slowly, I unwind and undo these things, and control what I can, yet these are still the hardest words for me to say. I’m working on it.
I Need Help.
Thank you to all the people who have helped me and are helping me deal with my pain, unravel these stories that have woven themselves into some semblance of a reality-even if I know this is only an illusion. Thank you to all the body workers, massage therapists, friends, strangers, and healers who have come in and out of my life, who have helped me release even a bit at a time, who have helped me to cry, allowing all of my weakness to pour out.
I’m sorry for pushing so many people out of my life who loved me unconditionally, afraid to let them love me, or feeling unworthy of love. Pushing them away before they even get the chance to show me their love – like a magician – a disappearing act.
Fuck you to those who have preyed upon my pain, those I allowed to make me feel bad about myself, use me and abuse me for their own gain. Bosses, boyfriends, so-called friends, predators. F**k you.
I need help. I need help repairing the damage, staying focused, regaining trust in people and learning to let myself be loved. I know that all the help I need is around me, just waiting for me to accept it, welcome it and allow it to come into my life. All I have to do is say, “yes.”
As I step out of the float tank, I think that this is better than therapy, this is meditation. Alone with your own truth and the space to let it go without someone else telling you what it means or how to feel, this tiny pod of water holds the potential for self-healing, self-realization and self-love. I feel lighter, more at peace and know that although this experience will stay with me for life, helping to shape who I am, giving my life a perspective only I can have, it doesn’t have to define me, own me or hold me hostage. I can transform this into power, empathy and learning. And now it’s time to say, “I forgive you.”