Trigger Warning: If you read my blog, What if They're Not Monsters, parts one and two, then you know about the personal work I've done to understand people who sexually offend. Readers should know that this story may be triggering for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. I invite you to not read it or to have support if you do.
In September of 2018, I lost my ex-partner and one of my best friends when he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. I met him five years earlier in a 12-step recovery room. I first noticed his kind eyes and lispy-like way of talking, as I have a lisp too. I noticed how often he cried during his own and other's shares and the permission it gave others to feel their feelings. One day after the meeting I went up to him for a second hug and mid-hug, embarrassed, realized I was really drawn to him. He respectfully touched my arm and acknowledged me as "his sister in recovery." But, a friendship began that day. We went out for coffee after meetings, and that soon led to local theater outings and dinners together.
At the time we met, I was working at an agency providing treatment to severely abused children, and with a two-year-old of my own, it was taking a toll. David was one of the first to reflect to me that I was burned out and not living my passion. He had this way of seeing me so clearly. "You no longer fit there," he told me. "You need to have your own practice." But, I was terrified. How could I support myself and my child? What if I failed? David was adamant that my happiness was possible and said to me one day, "I hereby declare 'Operation: Liberate Rainbow' has begun." And, as a Navy veteran, he wasn't kidding. He started texting me multiple times a day and picking me up for coffee breaks and "Operation: Liberate Rainbow" pep talks. I was so touched by his belief in me and his commitment to my dreams.
What neither of us knew at the time was that my liberation would be two-fold. As our relationship deepened and I learned more of the details of him being on the sex offender registry, I had to confront something deep inside. As a survivor myself, a parent, and as someone whose career had always focused on the protection of children, I had a hard time reconciling this.
But, sometimes liberation comes from the most unlikely sources. Sometimes we do enough work on ourselves to face our demons and heal.
He had already completed sex offender treatment, but I told him that in order to be in a relationship with me he had to be in therapy. I also laid out my rules for how he would be around my child. He agreed to both and I sought help too. I remember in my first session telling my therapist, "I don't know if I can love a sex offender." She said, "I think you already do." And, she was right. I had already fallen in love with David; he was my best friend, my dear love.
But, a rough road would lie ahead. His deep shame and my polarized views of offenders were incompatible bedfellows. We triggered each other, and couldn't see each other clearly at times. He wanted me to move past his worst moments and I wanted to understand them.
We were also each other's best medicine. As my black and white thinking towards offenders was healing, I deeply received his immense capacity to hold my vulnerability. "Your vulnerability is your superpower, Rainbow," he would tell me. He saw me as a Goddess, a warrior, and it greatly impacted my confidence as I left the agency and developed a practice that flourished.
I watched as his acceptance grew for the consequences of his actions, the most painful of which was the court's decision to separate him from his children. As David worked on rebuilding their relationship, I encouraged him to be a loving presence in their lives without need or expectation. When he was denied entry into Mexico because of his sex offender status, I reminded him of the "travel ban" of sorts that survivors have to live with. How offenders steal their joy and give them work that was never theirs to do. He got it, and softened, filling with regret for his actions.
Our relationship was deep and expansive, playful and divine. He nicknamed me "Gnat Eye," (shortened from "Rainbow Gnat Eye Mari-canary-frog") because whenever we went for bike rides, a bug somehow always made its way into my eye and "Mari-canary-frog" for how sensitive I am. He was the guy I jumped in the car with to go on unplanned road trips or to see our favorite bands. He could shift me out of a bad mood better than anyone. Our love for each other was unconditional and it was a deep friendship above all else. Loving him broke me open and apart and into pieces and back again.
In the latter years of our friendship, he started dreaming of a way that he could work with men with offending behaviors. He was already a leader in his recovery community: teaching meditation and mentoring men who were new to the program or were facing prison sentences. Yet he struggled so fiercely with his shame. He desperately wanted to fit in and be accepted, but that was a barrier to facing himself fully and doing the work on all of his hurt parts. When he died, he was wrestling hard with self-forgiveness, working with his childhood trauma and was struggling to accept my feedback to develop a relationship with the offender part of him. It was not a comfortable place for either of us.
I miss David every day. He was one of the silliest, wisest, and most generous people I have ever known. Everywhere we went, he was greeted by countless friends, people from all walks of life coming up for hugs and conversation. There's much I could say about the complexity of David - how his impulsivity and defensiveness challenged me. Yet, right there are all the tender moments when I held him as he cried about the terrible choices he made. How he quietly gave me donations to send to various organizations, including my daughter's school. How much he wanted to make the world a better place and spent his work days bringing solar energy to the planet and discounting his services to any organization doing good in the world.
He was extraordinary and pained, so longing for a path of redemption. I did my best to guide him to freedom as he had guided me so well, but I only wish I had loved him more, better, longer. The path I have taken in this life is the road less traveled, and in a different way so was David's. We each came here to grow big or go home, and with each other we were lucky to find both. "You will always be Home to me," he told me. Well, same here, my Beloved. I'll look for you in the next life where hopefully the lessons will be gentler!
Rainbow A. Marifrog