I wish I could grab you by the hand and stop you, not because tonight will change your life, or because you will do anything drastic, or because you’ll give him more than a goodnight kiss after the festivities, but because you still believe that monsters are in the newspaper or in someone else’s town. Not that long ago, you thought they lived under the bed or in dark closets. You don’t yet know monsters–the kind that can really hurt you, with words and hands and a familiar roughness–live inside skin, just like the kind you wear beneath your prom dress. People like that surely don’t make you laugh or leave butterflies in your stomach.But Nina, I wish I could stop you from falling in love with him, believing that the lightness beneath his skin will over take the dark. You haven’t seen all the dark yet; you have not plumbed its depths. You won’t see it tonight either. But this may be a turning point. I wish I could call you back. But these wishes are like dandelion puffs I blow in the wind, promises unkept, words that when I really consider it, I cannot mean (though I want to). I cannot call you back and I should not. Because some type of powerful story is being written even then and even now. Even if it takes years to believe that others will mark your story as true and even longer to tell all of it.
A year after prom, when your head cracks open, slammed so hard against a door, I cannot do anything about that either. Or worse, what you waited so long to tell a soul: knocked out from your wisdom teeth, lying on the couch, waking to find your clothes in disarray, with a mouth packed full of cotton and a mind muddled with painkillers, though he already started you could not say no wait stop as he continued. He didn’t even give the pretext of a kiss because what did a kiss matter in that moment when he had your body to use? You could only think: I could be a blow up doll right now…I’m not even a person, let alone the girl he loves and thank God (literally) that he didn’t complete the act.
But a part of me has to wish because oh baby, no one should have to cry like that or think like that or lie like that, in the summers when bruises from pinches show.
And I know you loved him. Some people will never understand that. But you did. Even after he left you on that couch and walked out the front door, you loved him and did not think to tell anyone.
Wishes aren’t the same as regrets and God is writing some type of powerful story in you. But like a big sister or a mother, I look at you, so fresh faced and young (though you would never want me to say so at that time) so innocent (another word you wouldn’t want me to use). You think you are so strong, Nina. So tough. And you are. But even that strength of self will fail against pure muscle and raw anger and the love all mixed together, binding you like some horrible kind of magic.
Get out, I want to scream. Just a few short months from the night you hang up your prom dress you will hear that little whisper inside yourself: Get out. Get out. But for the first time in your whole life, you will ignore it because love is a dangerous and powerful thing. And because he is a Christian. Even now, I believe that he is. Why would you hear that whisper if he is a Christian? Your gut, your hardly-ever-wrong gut, must be wrong this time. The thing is, Nina, even Christian men can be dangerous. But I still don’t hear the churches talking about this even though I am hearing more and more the hushed stories of other young women, girlfriends, wives with stories not so different from yours and it is a Christian man on the other side.
Upon those first whispers in your gut, you didn’t know how bad it would or could become. So how can I blame you for not running in the other direction? There was only a feeling, maybe a fleeting warning sign, but nothing so serious. No one knew, most especially not you, what was inside his head and heart, what a boy or maybe a man is capable of doing to a girl or maybe a woman he claims to love. You didn’t know. No one did. And I do believe he loved you.
So you see, it is complicated.
I don’t believe in regrets because our God is bigger than pure muscle and raw anger and that twisted kind of love. Our God writes stories with so many chapters and so many pages that may not make sense in the middle or in the beginning (and baby girl, in your prom dress, you are certainly at the beginning). Our God works all things for good for those who love Him.
I do know that silence is medicine for a slow death in situations like this. So I try not to be silent, even though it is hard. I tried to tell those closest to me and they didn’t or couldn’t hear it (with a few exceptions…sadly, the ones who listen are typically the ones who have gone through something similar.) Silence and secrets like these can kill souls, eating away at a person bit by bit. No matter how complicated or difficult, we need to learn a language to tell such stories and we must learn that language in order to listen to these stories.
Still, no one on this entire earth knows the full story or how bad it was or how complicated. Not yet anyway.
People who knew both of you…well some will never believe. And even with those closest, you can’t bear to explain how bad it truly was (not even here). Would they believe you? Some don’t ask for details because the they would have to know and acknowledge it. Those will be the hardest people for you to understand and they will be those closest to you–some family and even your very best friends. Their silence will feel like they are condoning his actions or as if they don’t believe you. For them to simply say: I’m sorry he hurt you would change everything. But who can say what wordlessness truly means? Maybe they are afraid too. And soon, though not yet in that prom dress, you will know what it feels like to be afraid.
And though you are falling in love with him, you love Him more. So as if I am holding a video camera, I zoom out from you in the prom dress smiling up into his face. I zoom out further and watch you cling to Him years later when the breakup happens, when your heart is shattered, even as you realize He, God, rescued you from something much more horrible than anything you endured by the human hands of the someone, the him, you loved but lived in fear of. He saved you from a lifetime of that. Farther and farther out I go. Farther still. And you only think of him when you happen to glance up at the exact right moment when you see the park where those prom photos were taken. Or maybe when it comes to relationships with other men but you are hopeful this will ease just as the pain has. Do not worry. You get out. You are healing all the time. You are free.
But for now, you are in a beautiful prom dress. Be strong, brave girl.
(One year to the day after this post was written: I wrote another letter.)