It happened on weekends mostly—when he would come down to visit. And it happened for more than five years, the sexual abuse by her brother. At first, it didn’t seem to bother her. It was just something that was happening between them, something they did together. But it got worse as she grew older. She began learning—from friends, from family—that things related to sex were inappropriate, immoral, shameful even. This was when she began to wonder if she should stop what she was doing with her brother. She didn’t know if she should tell someone about it.
She really didn’t even know that it was illegal—what was happening to her—she just knew it was something she wasn’t supposed to be doing. And she worried that she would be blamed for doing these things with him if she told someone. In her mind, she believed that it was her fault. She knew it was wrong but let it happen anyway. She knew it was wrong but participated anyway. She knew it was wrong but kept it a secret anyway. And so she kept it to herself.
It was months later when she was struck by the shame again. She experienced a trigger that reminded her of all the horrible things she did with her brother. And she broke entirely—her mind hollow, already deteriorated. The guilt and shame corroded the energy, innocence, and joy she once had.
It was her fault, and she needed to confess.
She found herself in a room with her sister and decided to tell her. She didn’t say much, just enough. She couldn’t carry the secret any longer.
A bomb exploded that day. The police came to the house and interrogated her. Her brother was thrown out, arrested, and taken into custody. Her father found her a therapist. And the trial happened only weeks after.
She had to testify against her brother when she was only thirteen, and she sent him away to prison for fourteen years. Justice was done. But it didn’t feel that way.
Most of the conflict she faced came after. A lot of her time was spent battling with feelings of guilt and blame, wondering how things might be different had she kept it to herself, dealt with it on her own. She blamed herself for everything that happened after, her mother’s silence, her father’s rage, the heavy blanket of depression that suffocated her entire family.
But the biggest dilemma was dealing with how the world felt about her brother versus how she felt about him. And the biggest problem was keeping him in the family, keeping him in her life.
She didn’t know how to feel about any of it.
One part of her kept telling herself that she should feel grateful for what her parents did for her. She should be grateful they even listened. She knew there were so many people who would tell but were never believed. And she knew that the people who were believed rarely got justice. Most abusers didn’t go to prison. This same part also told her that she should forgive her brother. He was paying the price for his actions. His life was ruined. He couldn’t hurt her anymore.
But at the same time, justice didn’t really mean anything to her. It couldn’t undo what happened. She didn’t feel like it gave her any closure or peace. Why should she forgive him, clear his conscience and suffer the irreversible damage herself? And even though he was gone, it didn’t take away from the fact that he destroyed her life, and the world seemed to keep on loving him anyway. People couldn’t understand why he did what he did, but they’d continue to look after him. Everyone seemed so quick to forgive him.
She partially resented her parents for keeping contact with him. But at the same time, she couldn’t blame them for it. They still loved him. He was still their son. Why should she force them to forget him?
As for herself, she didn’t know what to think. People told her many times that forgiveness was the key to peace, a way out. But what did that even mean? She had no idea.
She couldn’t imagine herself ever forgiving her brother for all the pain and confusion he caused her. She lost all the love she used to have for him. But hating him didn’t do anything either. It only made her more bitter and unbearable.
And she couldn’t just ignore him like she thought she’d be able to anyway. Even though he was a thousand miles away, she was constantly reminded of him every day. He’d call the house and write letters regularly. And her parents would drive for hours to visit him whenever they got the chance.
For a couple of years, she’d block him out of her mind as best she could. He’d write letters to her, but she’d never respond. He’d call the house, but she’d leave it for someone else to pick up, and when no one else was available to pick up, she’d let the phone ring. He’d send her some of the drawings he’d make, but she’d never look at them. And when her parents would talk about him with other people, she’d shut her ears and walk away.
But something inside her changed, just a few months ago. After reading Not That Bad, she began to reflect on everything that happened to her. She discovered the difference between forgiveness and peace. For her, forgiveness felt like forgetting, being able to remember less and less until the past could be left behind. It was something she was incapable of doing, no matter how hard she tried. But peace was something else entirely. It was about knowing that there was nothing wrong with her and allowing herself to accept kindness—from other people but especially herself. She didn’t have to live, trapped in anger and hatred. She realized that healing was something she could and should do for herself.
You cannot find peace by avoiding life. It took her almost six years to agree. But, finally, she does.
One day, she found herself alone at the house. Her parents were out eating a late breakfast. The phone rang, and the number flashing on the screen...it was him. She picked up the phone and held it to her ear.