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Just as grieving is a process that can return in ass-biting waves long after you’re sure you’re done with it, I am toying with the idea that forgiveness, and unforgiveness, is also a process. To be clear, I believe forgiving is an important step toward sanity. You can’t be pissed off at your worst offenders indefinitely. It only gives them power while sucking the life force out of you. It took me a long time to forgive my ex-husband. But when I did, I felt I forgave him completely. Never mind that he totally checked out of the lives of our two children. I told myself (and them) that it was for the best. In my mind, I framed this as virtue. He knew he couldn’t be a good father, so he disengaged.

In a lot of ways, this line of thinking still makes sense to me. Because of his addictions and mental-health issues, my ex couldn’t be the dad our kids needed. He knew it before I knew it. I’ll give him that. But as I mature, I remember other egregious acts that my younger self could not process, and I therefore suppressed.

Like the time he tied my wrist to the lawn mower. I haven’t thought about it in years, but recently I can’t get it out of my head, and I think it calls for some unforgiving. It was a couple years after the car accident. I still walked with a limp and nerve damage in my right hand meant I couldn’t lift my wrist or move my fingers. But I was healing, slowly but surely. Mark hated mowing the lawn. He thought that as a feminist, it was my responsibility to “pull my weight” and we should distribute household chores equally. “I can’t grip the lawnmower,” I said. “Sorry, I just can’t mow the lawn.” I could do other things that he couldn't do, like bring in a little income with my writing, incubate children, and lactate milk to feed them. I just couldn’t push the mower.

Undeterred, one day he said he’d found a way. I followed him out to the front lawn. To this day I can’t imagine why I let this happen, just that I watched him prop my wrist on the handlebar of the lawnmower, and tie my gimpy right hand in place.

“See? Now your hand won’t slip.” He went back in the house.

I don’t remember lasting long in this position. Maybe I moved a few feet before realizing how abusive and ugly and wrong this was. With my good hand, I freed my damaged one and marched back into the house. Even he knew he’d gone too far. Or maybe my humiliation was enough. Maybe that’s what he was after in the first place.

There is a rarified form of domestic abuse that can be hard to catalog. Emotional abuse is a sociopathic game, and if you don’t tend toward sociopathy, it’s easy to dismiss it. He didn’t mean it like that. And besides, why did I let him get away with it? That’s the real problem. Though I forgave him, I failed to forgive myself.

For the past few days, I’ve been struggling to remember if it was duct tape, or a piece of rope, or a belt, or a bungee cord that he used to tie my hand. Did I just stand there and let it happen? How long did I allow this to go on? Did I mow a strip of grass, or half the yard, or none at all before I tore off the constraints and said no? Can I forgive myself more easily if it was a thin rope and I refused to go more than a few steps? I think so, and it’s my story to tell.

So for the moment, while I seek self-forgiveness, my ex-husband is unforgiven. Like grieving, this is a dynamic, non-linear process. This doesn’t mean I won’t forgive again, or perhaps re-forgive. But I’ll let you know. It may be a while.
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