It's an unpleasant experience if ever there was one. Unpleasant might be too mild a word. Awful, evil, soul-destroying, foul - these may be better words.
I happened to watch a movie on television last night. The plot revolved around four characters - a nineteen year old girl almost completely silenced and restrained by her embittered and autocratic father, her helpless and frustrated mother and her best friend.
It stirred up memories.
How quickly innocence is contaminated with guilt! The things that enchant a young girl's spirit, like wearing red high heeled shoes and pink lipstick and listening to Killing me Softly and curling her hair and talking tirelessly about boys and school friends and David Cassidy and periods and pimples and shaving and dreams and the future and the boy she can't get her mind off.
These colorful, playful, tentative free-hand drawings she makes on life's unresisting canvas, flush with innocence and promise, can all too hastily and insensitively be smeared over with the dark, heavy handed, brushstrokes of guilt by a parent anxious to hide his child's shameful proclivities, believing as he does, that she is born with sin and is thus prone to sinful ways.
As an adult, you can't help but wonder what guilt of his own he was really trying to hide. As a teenager, however, teetering on the terrifying and intoxicating brink of womanhood, you assume his guilt, taking it on as your own. And it makes you scared and angry and you remain scared and angry for much of your life.
What's so sickening about all this is that you don't even know that it's happened. Instead, you find yourself unable to trust anyone completely, least of all yourself. And you get angry at people because of the way you believe they make you feel. And you're sullenly indignant if anyone should ever question your intentions or integrity. And for all your ranting and grandstanding, you live your life secretly believing you are guilty and that you don't deserve a good life, never mind a great one.
If, through all this, you manage to salvage some of the dreams that you discarded early in life, clean the grimy guilt off them, whisper fresh hope into them and somehow find new wings for them, you'll have triumphed where so many others have failed or simply languished. Because, somehow, unlike them, you've managed to scrape through that heavy, crusted paint of your father's guilt or your mother's or whoever else's it happened to be for you and recover those innocent, tentative drawings you made oh so long ago.
But guilt has a way of penetrating your life beyond its initial point of entry, rather like an ink blot through soft paper or mildew on damp clothing. And while resurrected dreams may spin into breathtaking action, the unexpected, unrecognized or forgotten guilt lies in wait.
A brand new, never before experienced event occurs, like the disappearance of your cat or the refusal of your son to respond to your calls and, agree with it or not, the ink has reached your mind, the mildew has spread to your heart.
What did I do? What didn't I do? What should I have done? Why didn't I? Why was I so consumed with my dreams? Why couldn't I have just stayed.. .?
A fresh whirlwind of guilty thoughts reeking of a sickeningly familiar feeling.
You could easily get sucked into its unforgiving vortex but, fortunately for you, your life experiences have left you some insight in exchange for your pain.
No one is guilty. Neither you nor your father nor his father nor his father's father. Each, like you, has been or is a potential victim or victor. Each, a broken piece of glass, shattered from the whole but retaining all its elements. Each piece of glass capable of scraping away the crusted overcoat of guilt left early in life.