“Do you want to go to a support group meeting with me tonight?” Jen asked.
“What are we supporting?” I asked. We were out for a run, except we were walking. Jen started breathing hard less than 5 minutes into the run and stopped. I waited for her to catch up and fell in step beside her. I needed a firmer sports bra to do the kind of running I wanted to do anyway.
“It’s a support group for women who are dealing with some heavy issues,” she said.
“Sure. I’ll go,” I said. “Did you just join?”
“I've been a member for years,” She said.
“Why am I just finding out about this group?”
“It’s not your kind of group, Kit. These women have had horrible experiences with men. They've given up on love. They are sensitive, and sometimes you’re too opinionated,”
“I’m too opinionated?" I asked, a bit surprised by the observation especially coming from Jen.
“Yes, you are,"
“It doesn't sound like it’s your kind of group either. You haven’t given up on love. However, one could argue that since you won’t leave John-with-a-wife that you have given up on love,”
She chuckled, “See what I mean about opinionated? Maybe I have given up on love,”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.
“Promise me that if you come, you’ll keep your thoughts to yourself.”
“Can I write my thoughts?” I asked.
The women in the group seemed perfectly fine – and at first, I didn't understand what Jen was worried about. The first part of the evening was spent catching up on the happenings in their lives. I was surprised to find out that the meeting was a support group for rape victims.
“Who here has gotten what they wanted from life and is happy with the way their life has turned out thus far?” Theresa, matriarch of the group and organizer asked.
I forgot that I wasn't supposed to talk and raised my hand like a second grader, joined only by Corrine, the lesbian, who informed us that her name was now officially Cory.
“I’m happy because I live my life the way I want, I don’t give a shit about most things, and I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore,” Cory said.
We smiled at each other.
“What are you happy about?” Theresa tossed the question at me.
“I’m not unhappy about anything,” I said. “I feel that my life thus far has been a great adventure filled with obstacles that I never saw coming. But I've come to accept that the life I think I want, may not be the life I was meant to live. I still go after what I want, but when life throws me a curve, I take my hits, learn my lessons, and roll with the punches. I’ve taught my heart to approach life with humor and be adaptable,”
Theresa laughed. “I like you. I like your friend,” She said to Jen. “There is old age, sickness and death, in the future too,”
“Yes. But there may also be another great love, a closer relationship with my boys, many more valuable life lessons to learn, the living of my dreams….” I said.
“Just don’t be disappointed if you don’t get any of that,”
“I understand that nothing is promised,” I said.
Jen was giving me the stop talking eye, so I observed in silence the rest of the evening.
The women relived their stories from which they have never healed–and spoke of the stolen lives that they have not reclaimed.
They spoke of wearing their experience and anger as a protective shield so that they may never forget their pain, and so that they may never again be a victim. I stood across the room and watched them huddle, chanting, never forgive, never forget, never be a victim again!
A sense of sadness overwhelmed me. Did they not realize that the cloak of bitterness and hate within which they wrapped themselves to keep safe from harm was laced with poison?
How do you prevent the purse- snatcher from grabbing your purse as you walk down the street? The criminal from breaking into your home, holding you hostage at gun-point and stealing your belongings? Can you stop a rapist from deciding to rape you? Or stop people you love and trust from hurting and betraying you?
I have found that it's best to accept the bad things that happens to me as part of my life journey - see my abusers for the dregs that they are - fight to hold on to myself and not allow anyone to rob me of my life. It’s not easy I know. The kind of violation the women suffered is deep. But so is our ability to overcome.
There is a great line by Johnny Depp in his role as Captain Jack Sparrow, You've stolen me. And I've come to take myself back,”
I felt as if I were standing in a room of stolen lives and it bothered me.
Jen and I left the group in silence. She had brought me to the meeting to find a piece of her puzzle. I drove her to the park and we sat on a bench by the lake. The sun was shining when we arrived at the meeting, but darkness had descended and several geese were floating on the stilled water. The delightful screams of children pierced the night as they ran from the lighted fountain that sprayed them at random. The sound of their tiny feet hit the bricked ground in musical thumps and joined the tune of the little man with purple hair nearby strumming his guitar and belting Peter Gabriel’s, In your eyes.
“What do you think?” Jen asked after she had spent a long time staring at the lake.
“How long have you been in the group?” I asked.
“About three years,”
“Does it help ease your pain?” I asked.
“It’s not meant to ease my pain, Kit,”
“Why didn't you tell me? We've been friends for so long.”
“I’ve never told anyone except the women in that group,”
“I’m glad that they've been there for you,” I said.
“But?” she asked.
“But what?” I asked.
“I know you, Kit. I saw the look on your face. And you’re itching to tell me to get the hell out of there,”
“No. It’s great to have a support group. But I think the group’s mantra should be about survival and strength and leading healthy lives. I think that holding on to your pain and anger enslaves you,”
She stared at me.
"Have you ever been raped?"
“Then what do you know?” she asked.
"I know that I will not allow a rapist or anyone to rob me of my life. If someone steals me, I'm going to take myself back,"
I did a mock version of Johnny Depp, "You've stolen me and I've come to take myself back."
She laughed. Jen is one of the few people I know who thinks that I'm funny.
I climbed into bed that night with the events of the evening clinging to my skin. I pictured time and again the women huddled in their grief – my Jen among them - unable to climb out of the abyss where some man had left them.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Maya Angelou’s epic Still I Rise poem resounded in my head full of struggle and pain, yes, but the poem also spoke of an unrelenting spirit - that was beyond reach and could not be broken.
…Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
In honor of the late great Dr. Maya Angelou who spoke to the heart of millions.