Coming of Age

In the time not long after I was raped in college, I kept a journal for a time. In one particular entry, I wrote that being raped is much like being murdered, except that the victim is still around afterward to keep hurting. I wrote about how the person– Fred– who had suffered that assault, was dead. I was dead. This new person walking around who looks like Fred, and sounds like him, is a completely different person who shares the dead man’s memories, and who mourns the loss of a dear, dear friend he’ll never see again.

The thing is, from birth we spend a lifetime building ourselves from nothing. We spend years gaining a sense of who and what we are, and how we fit into the world around us, and what our very existence means. It takes a long time to build up that mature sense of our own self; and in the course of a bit under two years, culminating in the rape; all of that was stripped away from me and destroyed. Fred was tortured to death. Who was this guy still standing there in his place?

In the time since I’ve basically drifted through adulthood. I’ve no doubt that virtually everybody I know regards me as enormously irresponsible. They’re right. I’m unreliable; I’m always late. There are times when it goes a bit overboard, and I’m assumed to be neglectful even when I’m not, but in general the assessment is accurate. I don’t properly take care of myself. My marriage is collapsing and I can’t seem to do enough to even try and fix it– not really. People look at me and just don’t understand why I don’t have so much better of a job than I do– the short answer is that I have a job I can get away with, a job that I would have difficulty getting fired from. I’m utterly paralyzed with indecision on virtually every front; it seems that any decision I make would result in a sealed trap with no escape.

In the end, this new Fred is like a frightened child whom everybody expects to be an adult. If I were ten years old people wouldn’t expect so much from me, but at 30 or 40 of course things are different. And there’s the rub: The new Fred isn’t as old as people think he is. He started life beaten down in a way that nobody could see. He’s spent his life terrified of discovery– of the exposure of the secret shame that birthed him.

And yet…

He has grown.

The Fred Who Was has been dead now for eighteen years. His memories– shadows of lost happiness– live on in me, but they are the shadows of a past that doesn’t belong to my life. They are the scattered spirit of a young man who passed away. I cherish what is recoverable from that history, but it’s time for a new life to begin.

I feel lately as though at long last I’m starting to feel my feet under me. That I’m starting to feel my own weight supported without fear that I’ll collapse at any moment. The Fred Who Is, at long last, is growing up.

There is some embarrassment in the fact that I’m basically taking what seem to be first steps into the world at my age, but there’s nothing to be done about that. I wish I could explain why to the people who know me; but that’s not going to happen. Choose a direction. Take a step. Repeat. So I didn’t take over the world at age 25. Maybe I’ll pull it off at 50.

I’m standing in a room with a thousand doors. Time to open one and step through.

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