06/24/2014 04:27 pm ET Updated Aug 24, 2014

An Open Letter to My Perpetrator

Kristina Strasunske via Getty Images

The voice and face of one of my childhood perpetrators had popped into my head a number of times. It was as if he had a guest-starring role in the film of my mind, but I had not been given notice of his most recent casting.

Curiosity (and a need to appease the old fears) got the best of me. I hesitantly Googled his name. After five or six clicks I found that he had died less than two weeks earlier. Something in my spirit already knew, I suppose. It has been decades since seeing him, but many fears remained.

I read his obituary over and over. I read it until the words didn't sound like words. They took on the tone of Charlie Brown's teacher. Whah-wah whah-wah...

I was frozen. I felt my entire being would shatter if I blinked. I felt nothing, then everything, and nothing again. Then, from the depths of my soul came anger and pain that had long since been buried under the memories of this man.

The whitecaps of anger and ten-foot swells of pain exploded in my soul. I threw objects, cursed and cried. By the time the tide of rage was ebbing, I looked like a swollen-eyed, sweaty, shaky prizefighter.

Many months later, sitting in my favorite, old, comfy chair, I wrote a letter to the dead man. This is that letter:

Dear _____,

Google informed me you're dead.What am I supposed to do with that information? I guess I'll just breathe. Deep, commanding breaths.

No longer am I taking the shallow, startled breaths you elicited so long ago. I'm no longer a small child you can bully and abuse into silence. I can tell the truth and be safe. I'm not unafraid because you're dead. I'm unafraid because truth triumphs. Courage triumphs. Gentleness triumphs. Grief triumphs.

In your moments of pleasure, were you aware what you stole from me? Did you ever consider the pain you caused? The fear you cultivated? Your choices so long ago have been oh-so-costly to my heart.

You stole my capacity to feel safe in my own home... in my own bed.
You stole my innocence through violence.
You tainted the many blessings of healthy touch.
You stole the splendor of excitement and left terror in its place.
Disturbing flashbacks of you stole many cherished firsts.
You injected ice where vulnerability once lived.
You stole layers of life and priceless moments I can never re-live.
You crushed bouncy, pig-tailed, little girl's simplicity.
You took pleasure by force.
You stole open-hearted trust and replaced it with shame.
You took wholeness and left fragmented pieces.
You produced the certainty within me that bodies are dangerous.
You crushed a spirit while you tore flesh.
You inflicted decades of nightmares and uncertainty.
You collapsed the barrier between virtue and knowledge long before it was time.
You stole a little girl's ability to intuitively know the difference between "good" and "bad" guys.
You cemented the false conviction that safety matters above all else.
You left me with years of working to replace that which I did not steal.

I grieve for the violated little girl and for the grown-up me who lives with the pain of deep loss.

But, here's the truest and most wonderful thing: You Don't Get the Final Word in My Story. Many of the memories will not die until I do, but they don't own me anymore, either. The pictures in my head are no longer stuck to me, weighing me down. They are photos from the past.

In spite of your choices, I'm a resilient, bold, tender, caring woman. I have a strong voice. I am no longer haunted by your expression, voice or scent every time a man is kind to me. I stand tall, look others in the eye, and am (more often than not) free from the shame of what was never my fault. I ask for what I need, seek understanding and do my best to love well. I'm learning to accept the reality of the many things that will never be for me because of your actions.

Even in the pain, there are days when I can find compassion for you. Days when I wonder about your story. What causes a grown man to find gratification in a child's pain? What in your life took you to that point? Were you ever truly loved? Did you find healing for your own guilt and shame? Were you cared for?

Amazingly, what you took from me as a little girl is, in the end, also the thing that brings me the greatest satisfaction as an adult.

You took my innocence. Now, I sit with others who had theirs taken, and they are not alone in their pain.

You stole my ability to feel safe. Now, I sit patiently and gently listen while another finds safety in telling the truth within the four walls of my office.

You took what wasn't yours and left shame I never should have had. Now, I am allowed the gift of helping others sort out the same.

I'm not sure exactly what forgiveness is; I find it all very tricky. Seems to be a more complicated matter than most of us let on. Perhaps I know what forgiveness isn't more than I know what it is. I don't know if I fully have that for you, but I want to. What I do have is freedom. I hope somewhere on your journey you found the same. I hope someone cared about you and your heart and the pain you carried was lessened by another's love.