Jonathan, I got your letter. I saw the envelope in my mailbox, my parents’ address crossed out and mine filled in by my dad. I’m surprised they forwarded it to me at all. But then, perhaps they don’t recognise your handwriting like I do.
I’m not angry anymore, just so you know. Some days when I think of you it doesn’t hurt. Some days I don’t think of you at all.
In the nights after the trial, I used to lie awake and worry for you. I’d worry about what kind of food they gave you, thinking how awful it must be to be unable to choose what you can eat. You always hated strawberries. As I grew older and learned more, I began to worry that the prison officers would beat you. Sometimes I worried that the other inmates would rape you.
I stopped worrying when you didn’t write. Was your apology eight years in the making, or did you think I wouldn’t want to hear it back then? I didn’t care about apologies, but I wanted to know that you missed me.
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You wouldn’t know it, but you came thundering back to me six months ago. It’s the internet, you see. Someone posted a link to an article. A warning story: how a man ‘stumbled into sin’ and ended up in prison. I heard the words in your voice as I read them. With the clarity of distance, I could nod along as the writer of the article re-labelled his ‘extra-marital affair’ as ‘statutory rape’. But I sobbed when I saw that word: groomed.
Is that all it was? You were grooming me? Those moments that I clung to: fruit breakfasts in your car as you drove me to school. My tears on your fingertips. Whispered comfort in the dark of the church hall after youth group. The smell of hair. In my head, I had called it love.
I went back to my counsellor, after reading that. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell her why. I think of myself as a jar once broken, glued back together by time. All that remains of you is the crack that reminds me not to let myself fall again. A fault line—your fault, not mine.
I want to thank you for your letter. For writing it although you must know it’s eight years too late to apologise, thirteen years too late to undo. And I have to wonder—too late for what? For a normal life? I have that. I have a marriage and a career. I am not destroyed. On the outside, it’s just that fault line. On the inside … well, you know what it’s like inside me.
When I’m tired and my skin crawls at the thought of sex, but I don’t know how to say no to my husband, is that your fault? When I witness a secret handshake and my stomach jolts with mixed nostalgia and loathing, is that your fault? When I hear teenagers proclaiming “we’re Just Friends” and I want to slap them, is that your fault?
Or is it just who I am now, a person defined by my experiences in a world full of people defined by theirs?
I don’t know anymore. I’m tired of analysing blame. I’m tired of analysing us. I don’t want there to be an ‘us’.
I have all these words, but I don’t know if I should send them to you. I’m afraid to look up your new address, to see your name on a sex offender registry. And my mother, she wouldn’t like it. All those years ago I didn’t listen to her. When she told me they had to press charges, I fought with her. When she said that fourteen was too young to know love, I hated her. I think it’s the least I can do to think of her now. Maybe I should do to this letter what I did to yours.
I burned it, by the way. In the envelope, unopened. I think it’s better this way.
This way I can believe that you’re sorry.