My higher power orchestrated quite the “do-over” at a folk festival here this last weekend.
It was one of the most successful big crowd / high stimuli weekends in my life; and, it was also momentous and ground-breaking in the people from my past who showed up, and my interactions with them.
First of all, I have to acknowledge that I haven’t done so much socializing in 3 days in a very very long time. I don’t know what came over me. By the end of the 2nd of 3 days, my voice was hoarse from talking with so many friends. I felt so wonderfully at ease with whomever was standing in front of me, and that is something that has never happened to me. Throughout the weekend, I never felt estranged, isolated or humiliated, like I have so many times in the past; and I enjoyed having several different friends and groups to land with. Whenever I came to sit and take in a concert, there was always someone I knew to go and sit with. Walking the grounds, there were lots of smiles and hellos and chance meetings along the way.
This might sound normal to many people, but for me, it has not been. I can often end up feeling like the odd one out, and that everyone I know is witnessing me standing there like a square peg in a round hole, perhaps pitying me, perhaps avoiding me especially, perhaps both. It’s like in the movies, when the sound fades out, and all the surroundings go blurry, and suddenly, the whole world is definitely and extremely separate from me. The feeling that I have to hide what I am feeling — the pressure, the shame, the silent panic — is suffocating and horrible. The only thing I can do is disappear, leave immediately. I’ve had horrible times trying to stick it out, filled with awkwardly forced conversations. And so, this weekend was not another one of these experiences, though I was very worried it could be.
The headliner was an artist I had listened to at the time I was abused as a young girl. I had cried myself to sleep each night listening to this woman’s sad, beautiful iconic voice, and here she was, in my back yard. Also in my back yard, having returned to live here, is the teacher who abused me. (Full story here, and follow-up here) I had heard that he was returning, meanwhile continuing to process deeply and remember more of the feelings of what happened. New information has also been coming in, from various folks I run into — people I didn’t know when I was here, but who were involved with the school when my letter was written. I now know that there were two letters written: Mine, in 2005, and another one in 2008. It was the latter that had gotten (I’ll refer to him here as) ‘P’ to resign in the face of defacing dismissal / termination; not my letter.
There are supporters and non-supporters of ‘P’ here. As I have said before, I do not consider him to be a dangerous or evil man. Emotionally needy and unprofessional to a tragic and life-altering fault, and should not be teaching children (which he is currently not); but not in the same category of perverts, pedafiles, and molesters.
And so, on Friday afternoon at the festival, I was walking the main passage way to find my chair in the back row of the main stage area when I spotted him. I stood a few feet away from him, which also happened to be at my chair, having no intention of interacting with him; then spotted a friend and moved my chair to her immediately, not looking up, not looking around, keeping my head down, feeling relatively calm and grounded, but relieved to find a recovery friend I could tell.
But this was not high drama. Remarkably, I actually felt relatively calm and grounded. I think this is where my higher power was there to shelter me, and give me this strength of genuine connection with others. Having so many people I knew there, and feeling so comfortable around them kept me in a place of strength and empowerment, rather than the feeling of smallness and shame that goes with the dissociation and the disappearing act described above. It was fine that he was there; just because he was there did not mean that I would have to interact with him. I felt totally safe and supported to interact or not interact as much as felt right to me, and for the most part, it felt right not to interact at all.
At the same time, there was the question in me of how I would handle coming face to face with P — what I would say or not say, how to respect my own inner boundaries with grace and in a way that wasn’t going to gnaw at my psyche for days afterwards. I was a little bit nervous, and I didn’t know what I was going to do; but in the mean time, I didn’t let it distract me or stop me from enjoying the festival and friends.
The next morning, I came back earlier than I would have normally, for a workshop on vocal harmonies with one of my favourite bands. The room was packed. I scanned it for people I knew, and found a colleague I sing in the same choir with. We sat on a counter at the very back of the room. The energy in the room and between us was light and playful and joyous; the room was large and bright, the sun was shining, gearing itself up for another hot summer day on this beautiful farm, and a delicious breeze wafted through two sets of french doors on either side of the space.
The workshop started, but the people in the back couldn’t hear anything, so we were invited to move up and sit on the floor at the front. I decided to move. As I came around the counter at the back and headed down the isle between seats, someone grabbed my hand and held on to stop me from continuing forward. I turned around, and there he was, smiling, expecting a friendly and jovial greeting; expecting me to be happy to see him, as I would have been even a few years ago. I’m not sure what has changed in me, but I knew that I could not continue that warmth with him while honouring myself here.
In grade school with P, we sang for a hour at the start of each day, sitting on the floor in a circle; we sang around the camp fire on class camping trips, and always, I would sing the harmonies. It was my thing, and he told me how much he appreciated my talent. And now, after all these years, I have been singing again, doing my harmonies around fires and in my choir. And so here I was at this harmony workshop, and here we met.
A smile lingered on my face. I was glowing with the spirit of the weekend and the place, dressed to the hilt in summer folk fest fashion — halter top, bold shell necklace, flowy, hip-hugging pants. More radiant and sensual than I have dressed in years. Aglow. And here, in this moment, was our meeting.
I felt that the smile and a brief moment of acknowledgement were all I could give him, and so, I let the moment linger for as long as I could; and then, without a word, I let go of his hand, turned and walked away to go and sit on the floor in the front and sing.
This was the moment that should have happened so many years ago. If, instead of engaging in a secret together, we had connected in a healthy student-teacher way, and I had run off to play with my classmates …
Did anyone see us, holding hands and smiling strangely at each other, in the middle of the jam-packed room of people all shuffling to move to the front. Was the weight of this fleeting moment, and its richness, visible at all, or hidden from all others, just like it had been all along. Yes, I couldn’t linger here any longer. Time to connect “above board” with a quick hello, a nod to the past, and then move on.
I then found myself once again, not alone, sitting there on the floor, for the rest of the workshop, with a friend at my back and by my side. The friend at my side looked at me with tears in her eyes, and said, in the middle of her own process with her marriage, “I’m caught up in the emotions; I’m overwhelmed.” A tear rolled down her cheek, and I replied, “And here you are, showing up in this moment, in whatever state you are in. And you are safe.” I put my hand on her knee, and we stayed that way for a few minutes, and she let her tears fall. And there I was, feeling like a rock, aglow, in the midst of the fire, dancing.
I didn’t tell anyone what had happened that morning for the rest of the festival; I didn’t feel the need. It happened and I flowed out of it with little notice.
That night was the artist I mentioned above, from the time of the abuse. I noticed P sitting a few rows over, slightly in front of me. And there we were again, listening to this artist, singing the songs from my childhood, even some children’s fairytale songs. I came and went with ease, allowing myself to be seen. He knew I was there, and I knew he was there, and it didn’t matter. Our secret had ended, and this was the first time it showed. We did not engage in it. We let it go.
I could feel my higher self there, watching with wonder and awe; not oblivious in any way to the beacons of our past and the synergy that was present in what was happening.
Residual feelings are there, yes. The memory of how much it hurt when I missed the opportunity to connect with him, be around him, be in our secret place together. It was like oxygen to that young girl, and when it was gone, it felt like dying. I remember. Also is the codependent concern that I have hurt his feelings by avoiding him, changing my stance towards him so drastically and without warning. I want to protect him from that hurt. And that is the old pattern, working its way out of my system. I remember. I feel it. I feel the sadness and the burden of it.
In Love and Healing.