It always seems impossible until it is done. -Credited to Nelson Mandela
Indeed what is there that does not appear marvellous, when it comes to our knowledge for the first time? How many things, too, are looked upon as quite impossible, until they have been actually effected? -Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia
Of course it is Utopian and impossible until it is done. A thousand things which were impossible twenty years ago are so common today as to pass without comment. -Elbert Anderson Young, speech printed in Wilshire’s Magazine, Number 56, “A House Divided”
Dr. Jefferson brushed it aside. “Everything is theoretically impossible, until it’s done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.” -Robert A. Heinlein, Between Planets
“Yes, indeed,” they repeated together; “but if we’d told you then, you might not have gone—and, as you’ve discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.” -Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
I am not a scientist, so I will leave the theories to other, better qualified people.
But this is a truth in my life: Overcoming [fill-in-the-blank] is impossible until it isn’t.
There was a time I thought I would never be able to look back on this day eight years ago with only joy and no take-backs. There was a time when I could not speak of my suicide plan. There was a time I could not conceive of letting my children out the door every day. There was a time when all was fear and panic and impossibilities.
There was a time Before. Everything Before felt impossible, insurmountable. Now the impossible is happening swiftly. I must be wary of an After I hope never arrives.
The After flows down again into the belly of depression and anxiety. It dilutes the usefulness of Now. It seeks to pull me under, where I have been Before. All my life I must guard against relapse. I must work to ensure my thinking remains clear.
It seems impossible that After will not come. It seems impossible that Now will abide. This is why I take the words in The Phantom Tollbooth to heart: not knowing the impossibility may be exactly the thing that makes it possible. While Now is here, I have work to do.
I have released my resentment toward my past selves. I have trashed the notion of my mediocre motherhood. I have let go my cloying need for more sweet babies. Of the things remaining undone, one thing must be complete before April 18th can be only joy.
You should know, I cheated. This exercise – writing these words – this exists to remind me in case I forget. But the hard part is over.
I thought it would be impossible to forgive the woman who hurt my children and our family and me. And then I did.
To the woman who abused my trust, my heart, my children:
This day eight years ago I cried all day long. Alone with my newborn in my hospital room, everyone gone to work, the depression that had been mounting throughout my pregnancy broke open after I learned of your cancer diagnosis and surgery. I thought of how very close you had been to us. I remembered Eldest and Middling crying sometimes when I came home and you left them. I didn’t want them to lose you. I didn’t want to lose you.
You were close when my mom was far away. Your grey, flyaway hair and your peaceful smile were welcome attractions in our daily lives, busy as we were. I mourned you on April 18, 2008.
My depression swelled from there. How aware you were, I do not know. But you returned to keeping the children at the end of my maternity leave, and we were immensely grateful. That fall, you saved my life when you called in sick, when I tore the note to you off the door, when I removed the cords, when I called my doctor for help. For that unintentional gift, I will be forever thankful.
I do not think you always hurt them. No. I am quite sure something shifted after your surgery. I’ve gone over it a million times. Did you have a small stroke during the operation? Did the medications alter you? Because I desperately needed to know why you hurt three little boys after loving them (as they arrived) for nearly four years.
For a long while we attributed your disquiet to our move across town, your longer commute, your recovery. But came the day we accidentally discovered your venom.
I’m sure you remember. My father stopped by my house and found Eldest locked out. He was four. Then my father confronted you. And you said vile things to him, about him and about the rest of us. You left and I never saw you again, though I have sometimes wondered what I might do if I did lay eyes on you.
Husband and I were called away from work and told all that had happened. I was distraught, but I was never disbelieving. I had no suspicions and it was all so horrible, but I had known you were different.
I wrote you a letter of termination and we delivered it to you at your house. I couldn’t face you. Husband took the letter to you, along with your final pay.
Your presence has remained with us and may always do so.
See, Eldest adored you. So when you told him he was evil, that he would be a killer, that he was the devil – he believed you.
Middling was a toddler. You established this line between him and Eldest where one was victim and the other tormentor – but that was in your mind. It wasn’t real.
Third, beautiful boy. You ignored him. He could not tell us that. But you did.
The day you left our home, my father and Husband changed every lock in the house and added chain locks. Do you know why? I feared you spoke truthfully when you said you would come back for Middling. I feared you would come here and enter and be gone with my son.
Not even one year after mourning your cancer, I was mourning the cancer you inflicted on us. My depression seemed to lift in the face of this breach. I began to mother and stay home and make plans for my family. But my body betrayed me, too, as it so often has. I began falling, passing out, as many as six times a day. It wasn’t until 2011 that conversion disorder was diagnosed. It wasn’t until 2016 that I could stand up and say what I thought impossible: I forgive you.
I forgive you for changing.
I forgive you for the lies you told Eldest.
I forgive you for the lasting impression you left on Eldest.
I forgive you for the fear and anger Eldest experienced when, four years after you left, he believed he might die at any time and that he would deserve it.
I forgive you for fashioning two-year-old Middling into a victim he was never meant to be.
I forgive you for the damaged relationship you created between Middling and Eldest.
I forgive you for ignoring Third.
I forgive you for locking Eldest out, and I forgive you the awful things you said to him before you left.
I forgive you for the terrible lies you said to my father.
I forgive you for giving me reason to fear and distrust.
I forgive you for the lies you told about us to others, including to our church home, that we were abusers, that Middling was not safe with us. I forgive you for the same lies spun to any others, which we’ll never know.
I forgive you for every mite of wrong you did to us.
I forgive you for eight years of fallout and for any more that comes in the future.
You are nothing in my daily life now. You were, Before, once upon a time, something important enough for me to mourn, then something important enough for me to loathe. Now I am done.
Now the boys can say your name without causing the ache of weeping in my throat. Now they can remember whatever fond things about you they cling to, and there are few. Now they can ask why you hurt them, and I can answer without emotion.
You ensured we would not ever forget you. But we are free of you. And getting freer every second.
Consider yourself released from every emotion of mine, from my fear, from my anger, from my sorrow, from every facet of my existence, save one. I will keep one thought of you in the sterile, crystalline, operating room of my mind for this singular purpose: to teach me how very strong we are without you.
And I don’t stop there. I also forgive myself and Husband for not seeing this situation sooner. I forgive our church leaders for examining us after you called them with your lies and for never telling us you called until Eldest was in dire need of spiritual rebuilding. I forgive you for every dividing line you ever devised among us or between us and others.
We were broken. You broke us in ways we are still learning. But you don’t get to keep us. Not any part of us. Like a gangrenous limb, you have been excised from our lives and stripped from my heart. Like a cancer, you have been irradiated by our love and our hard work of healing.
And I sit here, burning these words to you and the paper that housed them – an act that would have been impossible Before.
But this is Now.
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