‘The best revenge is a well lived life.’
This is a thing I have been saying to my kids quite a lot over the last five years … since, in fact, the county sheriff’s office removed That Man from our household. Thanks to the first person shooter games they all play, they all have pretty grisly imaginations and they brought quite a lot of grisly to bear when talking about their hopes for his future.
I understood their feelings and, to a certain extent, I shared them. I spent 27 years of my life with him and, with the exception the existence of my children, it’s hard to think of that as anything other than wasted time. No, not even wasted time. Abusive as he was, that time wasn’t just wasted.
I’m trying to come up with a word that would describe it better, but my vocabulary is failing me.
Given what he was arrested for, and how he abused our entire family, it is extremely normal for me and my offspring to harbor feelings of vengeance. So, when I tell them that the best revenge will be for them to live their lives well, I’m not preaching some annoying unreasonably saintly doctrine at them. That kind of holier-than-thou pontificating is seriously annoying and I’m not enough of a hypocrite to deny that the thought of some of those grisly fates the kids have come up with for him are extremely gratifying.
The thing is, though, that that stuff is also a waste of time.
It’ll be five years this July, and we are all still healing. Some of us are making better progress than others; some of us are more self-aware than others. My daughters, who have the hardest row to hoe when it comes to getting past his stamp on their lives, have come to the point where they are taking their demons by the throat and earnestly throttling them. They are also coming together to give each other the kind of support that only they can provide each other.
And then there are my sons, who have been wounded in less spectacular ways but are still in need of healing. Poor bewildered David, who is still exchanging correspondence with his debauched and manipulative sire, and who swings back and forth between feeling sorry for That Man and being angry with him for doing anything so stupid. (His words, not mine.) And Ricky, who walked around for so long with such a load of unspent anger that it’s Kind of amazing that he didn’t do something desperate enough to land him in the morgue or on the front page of the newspaper or both.
Sometimes, when I think of what That Man did to me, I get angry with him. But sometimes, when I think of what he did to my children, I utterly loathe him.
That’s when it pays me to remember that the best revenge is a well-lived life.
I’m not trying to be good an saintly or anything like that. I’m not interested in sainthood. I am interested in being a good person. I am interested in liking myself and being at peace with myself. And, as I recently read somewhere, it’s hard to get ahead when you’re too busy getting even.
I wouldn’t trade karma with him for any amount of money.
I spent a chunk of time in North Carolina last week, laying the groundwork for my first semester in graduate school. I am still almost as excited about it now as I was when I found out I’d gotten in at the end of January. While I was down there, I talked to my advisor and figured out what classes I should take during my first year. We talked a little bit about advance plans for my Fourth Semester Paper, and the fieldwork I would need to do during the summer between my first and second years.
And while I was at it, I also found a place to live down there. A darling little three bedroom townhouse in Chapel Hill, with a bus stop right around the corner that will take me straight to campus. My sons will travel south to live with me. My daughters will go back to Arizona together, in much better shape to live together and heal together.
My adventure continues and I am healing, too. For awhile there, I was wondering whether I was going to get a chance to make of my life what I had envisioned. Now, I’ve got my chance. Everything just seems to be falling into place. So far, no snags.
We are all on our way to our well lived lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“When you finally turn and find
No one around
To catch you when you’re falling
To hear you when you’re calling
Remember me …”
– Michael McDonald