A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin
Kaitlin–what? Newt is Newt? Norm’s Newt? How can that be?
I guess it figures–never doubt one’s first intuition, right?
But really. You must have been so blown away. Was it freaky? Or creepy?
I want you to know that I never told Norm anything about you: He knows I have pen pals, but he doesn’t know any of your names or anything about any of you–no personal details. Nothing!
It’s such a mind-blower.
Are you feeling OK?
You sound really great in your letter, actually. You sound happy, optimistic and strong. I’m so glad to hear that you aren’t denying the love you have for Newt. That’s such an important part of healing. Of course you’re not excusing what he did–nothing excuses that. At the same time, you recognize what you share together–your children and grandchildren–and you recognize the validity of your feelings for him.
I’m also glad that you’re letting yourself grieve, too. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not happy that you’re experiencing grief. What I mean is that it’s so important to let yourself, and your kids, grieve. So many of the women I’ve met keep their hearts hard. They tell themselves that their lives were always awful with their abuser, ignoring the moments of closeness or fun. They try to push away any idea of loss. But there is so much loss: Loss of a dream for what the relationship “could have been”; loss of the reality of a life together; loss of material items–houses, clothing, even dishes and furniture; loss of friends and family. So much loss for everyone involved.
The women I’ve known who’ve let themselves grieve, like Ira and Micah, they’re the ones who are able to move into their new lives. They’re the ones who are genuinely happy.
You sound happy, too–even around the sadness and worry, you sound really happy and strong.
I’m glad you and Ben had a chance to talk and reconnect. He’s going through grief, too. I’ve seen grief tear families apart, when each one suffers it in isolation, and I’ve seen it bring families together, when family members turn towards each other and don’t try to hide their pain.
Life is so tricky. If we can live it together, it’s so much better!
I’m glad you are OK with me telling Norm about Newt. After I read your letter, I felt I had to.
I really didn’t know what to say.
Norm and Ira dropped by after school one day, when Jena had over a lot of her friends from the afterschool club. It was right after I got your letter.
I knew I had to tell him, but I couldn’t figure out how.
He looks up to Newt so much, almost as if Newt were a hero to him. I guess Newt has a big personality.
I considered not saying anything, letting him continue to admire Newt and to think of Newt’s abusiveness in the abstract, as something “not quite real.”
But if there’s one thing that they drum into us in my graduate program, as evidenced in every study, every practice, every therapy approach, it’s that secrets are what allow abuse to continue.
When we face hard truths, it stretches us. But sometimes, through stretching, we grow in ways we never thought possible. Look at you and how you’ve grown in strength and love. We develop capacity by facing the hard truths and loving anyway.
Eventually, I just mustered up my courage and told him.
I’m not sure how he took it. I think he’s going to need to process it for a while.
I need to process it, too.
Mizuki Suzuki saw me looking concerned and extra thoughtful while we were watching a movie with Jena. When the movie was over, and Jena was tucked in, Mizuki asked me what was wrong.
I told her that a close friend of mine had been hurt by a close friend of Norm’s. She asked if Norm’s friend was still hurting my friend.
“No,” I was able to answer, “though there’s still a lot of residual pain.”
“I imagine there’s pain on both sides, right?” Mizuki Suzuki asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “I know so.”
“In that case,” said Mizuki Suzuki, “they are both very lucky to have the two of you as friends.”
I took a long run after she said that, so I could think through her words. One of the things we’ve learned in our trauma studies at grad school is that emotional pain is amplified by social rejection and isolation. This is especially important in trauma therapy. One of my more radical professors holds that it’s true in working with the abuser, too: Social rejection and isolation get in the way of healing and recovery, rather than promote it.
I guess I’m glad, at the end of the day, that Norm was Newt’s pen pal. He stayed with him, didn’t he? I just hope that now he knows of Newt’s connection to someone dear to me he’ll continue to stay. He seemed pretty upset when he left, and I recognized that “big brother protector mode” that he switches into sometimes, whenever he sniffs a bully around me.
Maybe I’ll ask Jasper to have a word with him.
Oh, I’m sorry to share all these troubled thoughts with you! We will be OK. We just need processing time.
And before I go, I have so many congratulations to share with you! Congratulations on Reid getting cleared! Congratulations on being so brave with Newt. Congratulations on reaching out to Ben–I know that must have been hard to break through that wall he put up. Congratulations on Reese and Brooke’s graduation and on their upcoming wedding! You must be so very proud.
And thank you, more than you can ever know, for being my friend. Sometimes, I think of how much I’ve changed through knowing you! I was such a solipsistic scholar before we began writing! It’s through you I learned the importance of putting others first (namely Jena!), and the value of opening my home to another (specifically Mizuki Suzuki), and it’s because of you that I’m now a doctoral candidate in Therapy Studies! That’s right! I’m getting my Ph.D.! I always wanted to be Dr. McCumber! And in eight years (or maybe seven-and-a-half if I work at a brilliant pace) I will be!
Thank you so much for everything!
Your friend forever, too,