"I never thought of it as incest."
At least six times, I've heard that statement from survivors. Their fathers, mothers, or older siblings were the perpetrators. They understood it fitted under the title of sexual abuse, but not incest.
"I finally accepted the word rape,” *Barry said two years ago over coffee, "but now I have to face the word incest. Somehow that makes it worse."
To him, the word was limited to a father-daughter sexual relationship. "My mother raped me," he said, "but it didn't hit me until I read the definition in a book about boys being molested. It said that incest refers to sexual activity between close relatives." He paused to wipe tears from his eyes. "How could she do that to me? How could she?"
Although he asked me the question, he didn't expect me to answer (as if I could). For Barry, the word incest was the ultimate evil in any family. "And I was a victim."
As we talked, it was obvious he wanted to make sense out of the situation. Finally he said, "She was lonely because Dad was gone a lot."
"You're excusing her," I said. "I suggest you focus on the crime she perpetrated instead of making excuses."
That shocked him, but then he nodded. "You're right. I have to remind myself that she did an evil, immoral, and illegal act."
Barry and I had coffee together about a month ago. One of the first sentences from him was, "My mother incested me."
Although I wasn't used to hearing the word as a verb, I understood. He had faced the reality of her sexual assault. "Now my struggle is to forgive her."
"Do you want to forgive her?" I asked, "Or is it something you feel you have to do?"
After a lengthy silence, Barry thanked me. "Thanks. My counselor urged me to forgive her—and I know I need to do that, but—"
"But not yet."
"Not yet," he said.
And I admired him for realizing he wasn't yet ready.
One day he will be ready. In his own time.