“When I was 17 years old, freshly graduated from high school, I started a full-time job as a receptionist. I had moved out at 15 and was renting a basement suite with my best friend. My mother had raised me alone but had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and refused medication, so she spent her time between the streets and women’s shelters, frequently calling me to rage against the ‘Stars’ – people who were performing brain surgeries in her sleep and implanting tracking chips into her. The fact that my evening job was at Starbucks fueled her delusions that I was a part of this conspiracy.
So when notes started appearing on my desk from Liam, my 29-year-old manager at my day job, the intrigue was a welcome distraction from the chaos of my life. Notes turned into coffee, which turned into an offer to drive me to work in the mornings so I didn’t have to take 2 buses and a train during the frigid winter.
A steady stream of text messages which became more and more flattering and intimate eventually led to a day that I blocked from my mind and have not revisited until recently, more than a decade later, when I went through boxes of my old journals during a minimalist-inspired clean out.
I don’t remember all the details clearly, but do know I had stayed late with Liam to fix a customer situation. While waiting for the last delivery truck to come in, he told me to follow him through the shop area to a section of the warehouse I had never been in.
What happened after he closed and propped a clothes railing against the door has prompted some of the most suicidal and shame-filled tendencies that I still wrestle to let go of today. There was nothing necessarily violent about it, but it was forceful. My ‘no’ was not an angry scream, but it was repeated several times.
‘It’s fine. It’s fine.’
His words would replay on a cruel loop after he left, while I sat on a table in a dark room bleeding from bruised virginity and trying to make them mean something like comfort.
The journal entries I wrote that night hurt to read because they are so full of question and doubt and worst of all, self-loathing. This was not part of who I viewed myself as, this stuff did not happen to ME. This was not going to be part of my story. I didn’t know how to handle what just happened, so I did what I was good at and wrote myself a different version.
I completely blocked any negative emotion around it and even jokingly giggled to one of my friends that I had ‘done it,’ and pretended that her shocked face was jealousy. I was completely in LOVE with Liam and he loved me and for the next 2 years, that was all I knew to be true. Even when I got pregnant and he was angry. Even when he one night threw me into a wall and then placed his hands around my neck, squeezing until I slid down to the floor and almost blacked out. Even when he said, ‘I will twist your neck so hard the look of shock will still be on your face when they find your body.’
As far as I was concerned, that never happened or if it would try and resurface, I would quickly spin myself a Hollywood version, and muse that we were toxic but so madly in love that we were not rational, and his rage meant passion.
I have never felt so out of control. I was not the kind of person with this kind of life. The police didn’t come to my house at 2 a.m. for domestic disputes. Friends didn’t drive me to the hospital when I started spotting at 8 months pregnant because he threw me down the stairs, kicked out a railing and slammed it over my head. This was NOT my story. I changed the details, the severity, the reasons.
When my daughter was 3 months old, after another night of screaming and breaking and seeing her tiny sleeping body lifted from her bassinet as a threat, I started to surrender the pen, just a little. I went back to church, moved in with some safe friends and kept things as clear as I could handle them. I went to court and obtained a parenting order because that’s what reasonable adults did. This was a mutual decision, I told people. We were still friends, our daughter was the most important thing to both of us.
That story became harder to tell when he disappeared and did not see her for months.
When he did come back, with apologies and promises, I reverted back to my planned paragraphs and told myself everything that had happened was a glitch in the printing press and now the proper story would start – the one where my daughter did not grow up like me in a single parent home, but had her dad around. In a vulnerable and shortsighted moment, I allowed myself to trust his intent and soon after, my womb swelled again, this time with a son. I would spend this entire pregnancy alone and would receive this harsh sentence from Liam when the midwives contacted him, attempting to have him sign the birth certificate, and he realized I had given the baby my last name.
‘If he doesn’t have my name, he is no son of mine.’
It would take years to fully appreciate what a gift that abandonment was.
It has been 10 years and a million details since that day in a dirty warehouse, but I am ready to start telling the truth. The truth that I now know does not define me. By incredible, mind blowing grace, I allowed God to take the pen back and write over these chapters with mercy. There have been moments in prayer when I felt Him leading me to go into those spaces I had locked doors on.
I have screamed at the sky, ‘if you loved me you would not ask me to go there!’ and I have realized that He does and that is why I have to. I have taken back my voice. I have learned to respect and honor this body, with scar lines up my arm, and the curves that I falsely believed led me to that warehouse table in the first place. I have learned how to be the mother of my daughter and not the daughter of my mother.
It has been over 8 years since we’ve heard from him. There are still moments when I almost twist the sentences again to make something prettier out of this story.
Like the day a couple years ago, when I stood in a grocery store and received a phone call from Child Protective Services. A detached voice through the blood pounding in my ears let me know that Liam, now almost 40, had been charged for sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old and had an order restricting him from being in contact with anyone under 18 years of age – including his children. I looked down at my cart full of organic vegetables, chia seeds, little ways I can control some level of nourishment for my children, and thought again, ‘this sort of stuff doesn’t happen to me. I don’t make choices like that. I don’t have those sort of skeletons in my closet.’
But I close the call and I forgive myself for the mistakes. I forgive 17-year-old me for not seeing my worth. I forgive myself for the razor blades and the pills and the hospital visits and the return to cruelty and abuse, and I forgive myself for taking as long as I did to get out. I forgive myself that these beautiful children are being raised without a dad. I forgive myself for thinking I need to be forgiven for that.
I have learned to let the Light in. It illuminates and it hurts and shows up cracks that you can’t imagine will ever be filled. And then it cleans and binds and restores.
I have learned to accept Love. I spent years trying to make up for what happened, trying to be holy and earn favor. I knew if I could get far enough away, in years and in personal growth, maybe I could deserve a different story.
But just learning to be loved is the hardest and most rewarding plot ever written. I don’t like all the chapters in this book that God is writing through me. I wish I could take out some of the characters and the tension and the setting of a lot of the days I have lived. Yet I can see the beauty in what is being written. I look at the still waters I have been led to and I drink gratefully. I lay down in green pastures, knowing safety. I awake to sunrise and the sour sweet morning breath of a child, the closest thing we will ever have on earth to heaven.
I stare down demons in the mirror with warrior eyes and I understand the power of being Woman. I trust the guttural knowledge that lives in my spirit and I use my ‘No’ without apology or explanation.
I take every detail and I hold its page in my hand, trace fingers over the ink that has faded and the ink that is still drying, and I swallow every single flavor of sorrow and strength.
I lay myself open and invite the God of the universe to brand Love across my chest, into my heart. I surrender the neurons of a brain prone to anxiety and I let Him rewire fear into faith. I cup my daughters chin and I speak from the heart script God is teaching me to memorize.
You are worthy, I tell her. You are holy and chosen and adored.
To both of my treasures I insist upon these truths:
You are not your mistakes, you are as much grace as you are willing to let be poured over your head like oil from an ancient cup. Your body is a temple, and this is not a threat to keep you covered, but a gift to keep you filled.
I tell my son that he is tender and powerful, fire and spirit, a vessel and a healer.
I don’t write in journals as much anymore. Between cups of cold coffee and homeschooling and running a business, there’s just not a lot of time. I made the decision to burn all of my old diaries, some from as young as age seven. I honor the lessons of my past but I do not live there anymore. I also do not look ahead to all of the blank pages with trepidation. I know the Author, how careful He is with our hearts, how He watches for the sparrows and clothes the lilies and how He pens forth purpose from our pain. I do not shy away from the darker lines, but I celebrate the way shadows are only present in Light and I bathe myself in the glow.
This is my story, this is my song.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rachelle Daly. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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