The small, green eyes, lightly tinted by the ever fading bruises, seemed fake to me then as you shot knives at him from across the courtroom. I wanted you to meet my gaze, have as much gall to look at me as you possess to weave such a story. I didn't realize then how strong you really were, your weak demeanor defying gravity. I will admit that I hated you. I hated you for being the victim, for even existing at all. Because you being the victim meant that he was the attacker, the criminal, the rapist.
When I married him, he was a soft-eyed, strong man who wore a crown of brown curls. The kiwi-green of his iris enthralled me and expertly hid the rage underneath. He was handsome, but never affectionate enough for me. I never understood why he wouldn't kiss me on the back of my neck while I made dinner or why he wouldn't answer me when I asked what he was thinking. So when I found out why he was arrested, I wondered why he never craved to pull me close and undress me - even without the ferocity and force with which he used on you. I saw you merely as a trickster, the seductress. The one responsible for orchestrating an event you never wanted...or that you deserved. I wanted so badly for him to be your victim - even up until the moment when the gavel slammed down and declared five years with no parole. I cried and you cried. We were two women tied together by the same person, but two slightly different men.
I wondered if you ever saw the man that I knew. He went to the gas station where you worked at least twice a week; there were so many times you handed him his smokes and change, and he thanked you and smiled. I wondered if he knew then what he wanted. I wondered if you ever really paid attention to him before that night, when he locked the front door of the gas station, produced a gun, and forced you into the back room. Certainly after that I know that you knew about the star shaped birthmark on his neck, the tuft of hair missing from his right eyebrow due to a childhood accident, and the way his breath smelled of menthols and whiskey. I never thought that the things I once loved and craved about my husband would one day become evidence against him. And I never thought that one day I'd hear him described by a trembling, but stern blue eyed girl. With your words, he was transformed into a monster who pinned you down, ripped past barriers he never asked to, and then left you for dead. And all I ever wanted was for him to grab me and possess me with such “passion”.
Only a year later, when another young woman came forward telling the same story from years back and was followed by another, then another, and then another that the reality hit me. Hit me so hard that it was like a bat to the knees, my stomach heaved under the pressure. I saw that he never possessed passion for me, you, or any of those young women. They were victims and I was used. I was married to him, but never his wife. I was the bookkeeper, the alibi; the one who folds the shorts and cleans the floor, but never the one who was worshipped or even loved. And now I was the one who shared the burden of his crimes. The floor that these women walked on was held up on my back. And I deserved it. No matter who told me different, I deserved it. It didn't matter if you ever forgave me for all of the time I spent blaming and hating. I let jealousy and heartbreak blind me from seeing the truth that desperately tried to make itself known. I wrote you letters of apology that I never expected you to answer. I wrote them all letters. I knew you had every right to hate me, hell, even fear me. I couldn't imagine what it must have felt like to feel my hatred swell inside that small courtroom. I only wished that I could go back and hold you, apologize, and protect you from his looming gaze.
I never thought I'd actually have the courage to approach you until I saw you walking down the street. The same gravity that held you upright while you testified propelled me towards you on that rainy afternoon. I almost hit my head on your umbrella when you stopped, frozen solid in your place. My brain was firing off fevered essays, but my tongue was cemented in my mouth. You stared at me with those blue eyes, now aged by post-traumatic stress. I realized my hearing was muffled by fear when you finally spoke.
"I received your letters."
I nodded, "I'd hoped you would." I finally choked out.
"I didn't know what to say back."
I smiled warmly, "I understand."
You looked at the ground, then back at me, biting at the corner of your lip.
"But, I want you to know that I forgive you. I never even blamed you. I blame him. And I understand that you loved him. I even blamed myself for not fighting back, until I realized that even that wasn't right. It was just easy."
I could feel the tears on the edge of my eyelids, clouding your face slightly.
"But…I forgive you, and I forgive myself. So we can move on with our lives. You don't have anything to repay."
And I before I could speak, you walked away, huddled under your umbrella. I watched as you got smaller and smaller. My heart still felt heavy, but my body felt lighter. The floor that they all stood on seemed to fade away, or maybe it was that I climbed up to stand on it to. We all stood atop the man who hurt us and connected us. I was absolved from blame that I was never assigned. And it meant more to me than anything.