I love “aha” moments, those flashes of insight when a deeper truth is revealed through some random event.
A number of years ago, I had one of those moments while reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. If you haven’t read it, here is a spoiler alert: I am about to reveal a pivotal scene in the story, so stop right here if you plan to read the book (and I highly recommend it).
The story is about two boys growing up in Kabul. One scene involves the narrator as a boy, witnessing his friend being set upon by a gang of boys and raped. The narrator watches in horror, but neither tries to stop it nor runs for help.
His inaction leaves him with a deep sense of guilt, and that guilt has a powerful impact on the rest of the narrator’s life.
Like the narrator, I, too, was present when my childhood companion was raped. She was just weeks shy of her thirteenth birthday. The rapist ordered me to stay still, and I obeyed. After he raped her, he warned us not to tell anyone. I offered her comfort and then moved us along to a safer place, fearful he would return. I never told anyone what happened and we did not speak of it for more than twenty years.
Then she came to me with a request. She was in therapy and her therapist suggested that something had happened to her when she was young which had altered the path of her life. She had no memory of anything happening, only a sense that I would know.
I knew, and I told her.
Another twenty years passed and then I read The Kite Runner.
New thought: what if being present during a rape forty years earlier had had a profound effect on me? What if my feelings were as buried as her memories had been? What if I felt guilty for not running for help? Could that incident explain some of the beliefs I held about myself? And some of the choices I had made in my life? Had my life path also been impacted by that incident? Had her trauma been my trauma as well?
I had to talk to her.
By then, we lived on opposite sides of the country and by the time I got around to visiting her, she had cancer. She asked if we could wait until she was finished with her treatments to talk about it. What choice did I have but to agree to her request.
She died before her treatment was finished, and we never talked about it.
If this were a novel, there would be some kind of tidy resolution, but it is not a novel and I am left with my questions.
I am also left with gratitude that The Kite Runner has unearthed this buried event from my past. Bringing it to light has helped me to see myself from a different perspective.