Finding Love after 50: Moving On After a Breakup and Leaving Resentment and Bitterness Behind
After a Lifetime of Resentment, Here's How I Finally Forgave My Mom For Not Protecting Me From My Stepfather
Thanks to my long legs, I was able to step out of my ground-floor bedroom window. I scraped my calf on a peony bush. I was 17. My 55-year-old stepfather had just left pornographic magazines on my dresser "in case I needed something to read."
The window was the only way to leave the house and avoid him. I started walking to my best friend Debbie's house. It was hot, and the sun stung the cut on my leg.
Jim had always been an odd duck, but around my 16th birthday, things got really weird. He took to walking around the house in his underwear when my mother wasn't home. He asked questions like "Is your boyfriend pressuring you into sex?" and "Have you been to the gynecologist?" The bathroom door didn't lock. Once in a while, he would walk in on me in the bathroom, then take too long apologizing profusely.
I never thought of myself as abused. After all, I was not a child (a fact I reminded my mom of often), and he never touched me. I thought of him as another bane of teenage existence that would eventually go away, like my evil math teacher and zits that appear on cue before parties.
I confided in my boyfriend, who, at first, seemed alarmed. "Does he hurt you!?" he demanded.
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"Not really....I mean, no. He doesn'thurtme. He just looks at me creepy and..." He cut me off, relieved. "Good," he said, kissing my head.
Debbie has a similar reaction. "Oh my God, that's so gross!" she shouted. Then she said, "Want to go to the pizzeria?" When I said I wasn't hungry, she asked, "What? Did he do somethingreallybad?"
At home, that night, I blurted out how I saw it.
"Mommy, I think Jim wants to have sex with me."
She loved me more than her own life, I knew. I was confident Jim would be ousted. They'd been married eight years, but fought from day one. She wasn't losing much from where I sat.
She looked away. "OK." Then, softly, "I'll talk to him."
The next day, she took me aside.
"Jim says he never touched you."
There it was again, the could-be-worse interpretation I was sick of. But from her?
Her eyes pleaded with me to acknowledge that much was true.
They divorced two years later, for reasons that had nothing to do with me.
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For 30 years, I've been angry with my mother. All that time, our conversations rarely went deeper than chit chat, our visits no longer than a few hours.
I grew more bitter after I had my own daughter. My new-mom emotions made my mother's response even harder to resolve. Why didn't she rush to protect me?
What haunted me most was that she didn't ask for any explanation of my mind-blowing announcement. A part of me wondered if she knew.
My mother just celebrated her 90th birthday. She mixes up my kids' names, and shares news from Aunt Sally, long dead. Her age made me want to forgive her, but I didn't know how.
After cake, we sat on the couch with our coffee.
She caught her breath and said, "What do you remember about Jim?"
Neither of us had said that name since 1987. She looked more tired and confused than I ever noticed.
"Why?" I managed.
"I don't know..." She trailed off.
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Suddenly, I saw a way out of this crushing resentment. Something about Jim was bothering her, but she couldn't remember what. She seemed uneasy, but genuinely curious if maybe I remembered....?
"He was such a kook," I dove in. "He wore a big sombrero and played ping-pong in the driveway. I almost died that day my friends saw him."
"Yes, the ridiculous clothes! Socks and sandals! Though I read that's trendy now."
"And he'd dig for worms at the park so he didn't have to buy bait. And then the cop kicked him out. And all the curb trash he'd drag home...but you hated clutter!"
"And he left that moose head with me! I heard he died. He's God's problem now." She was smiling.
I hugged her.
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