It's a shame that you can only look back with regret

This report is from Ted van Lieshout’s book Sehr kleine Liebe (ISBN-13: 978-3943919561). The author, born in 1955, is best known for his children’s books and poems. The book is autobiographical and treats a sensitive topic in a sensitive and truthful way. At the age of 11 to 12, Ted had a very close relationship with a man for about a year, which also led to sexual acts on the initiative of the man.

Quelle: Lieshout, Ted van. 1999. Zeer kleine liefde. Amsterdam: Leopold.

The quotes below come from the German translation of the book (Lieshout, Ted van, Rolf Erdorf, and Brigitte Püls. 2014. Sehr kleine Liebe. München: Rieder.) and have been translated into English by JUMIMA.

Original German text


At the age of 11 to 12, Ted had a very close relationship with a man for about a year, which also led to sexual acts on the initiative of the man. The boy eventually broke up after an incident in which the man had crossed Ted’s boundaries.

25 years later, he received an apology letter from the man. In his reply letter printed in the book, Ted van Lieshout describes how he experienced the relationship as a child and how he evaluates it today as an adult.

Here are a few snippets from the German translation of the book that illustrate Van Lieshout’s stand about his experiences today:

“[…] I never actually thought that you might have remorse for what happened back then. In the course of time, I actually assumed that I must have been one of many. I found a simple explanation for what had happened to me: I ran into a child seducer. But I can tell from your letter that I was the only one: If that’s true, why did it happen and why with me? It was not a coincidence, because everything took more than a year. And there was careful orchestration, it always went a little further. By constantly pushing the boundaries, I thought you knew from experience exactly what you were doing.

Your letter raises questions in me that I thought had long been answered. But the answers are obviously wrong, and with that I am sent back to what I thought it was when it happened: two people felt that each other were special and had a relationship for that reason. One happened to be a man and the other a boy.

The fact that I later looked for other explanations has to do with the fact that our relationship broke off quite suddenly and I sat there with nothing but feelings with which I knew not how to deal with. My memory is now sketchy, that is, I can be wrong, but I think you have gone too far with certain actions this past afternoon. Then I quickly took refuge in the toilet. I stayed there for a while, then said goodbye and left. Forever. […]”

A little later, the topic of guilt comes up:

“[…] But can you be blamed for that? Certainly, you are not responsible for the fact that society rejects sex between adults and children and that this made me struggle with feelings of shame and guilt. The only thing you can be blamed for is that by allowing sex in our relationship, you left me with a problem that I didn’t know what to do with as a 12-year-old. […]”

The letter Ted received from his friend at the time upsets him. It is particularly problematic for him that the man mainly emphasizes his own feelings and less how Ted may have felt then and now.

“[…] One thing should be clear: you haven’t stirred up something in me that I tried to forget. I couldn’t and didn’t want to forget it. It is difficult to say whether I suffered any damage as a result, but if so, it does not mean that I would want to have undone the damage. Everything that has happened to me, good and bad, is now part of my life and my existence, part of the person I have become – and I don’t let anyone take that away.

I find it very difficult about your letter that your feelings of guilt are in the foreground and everything else is in the background. (…) I have never lost sight of the beautiful things from back then, I never felt that I had to forgive you. But that is exactly what you are asking me for. […]”

[…]

You didn’t hurt me and didn’t want to harm me; You have surrounded me with attention. In my eyes, it was an ideal relationship: between a boy and a man who understood that I was more than “just a child”. A man who thought I was exceptional enough to deal with me, who loved me, even though he wasn’t a relative, who listened to me and gave me time, who didn’t keep saying that I shouldn’t do this or that, Gave warmth and wanted to touch me, was meek and trusted me, and also big and strong enough to protect me. – Yes, I was proud that we had something together. That is why I have never experienced our relationship as a situation in which I was abused, even though I am well aware in retrospect that your attention (one hand washes the other) made me compliant when you took another step further with me. But I find it too much to make trouble because of that. I was a clever kid and I saw that you had a crush on me. I never told you that it was clear to me, but kept it to myself. You weren’t supposed to know that even before you started, I knew what sex was: I could have easily pushed you away or got up and gone home, but I was too curious to do that – and I was allowed to be curious about love and sex. So I’m not to be blamed either. […]”

At the end of the letter, Ted expresses that he wants to forgive the man. This is not easy for him because his former friend denies the beautiful elements of their relationship. Ted offers to meet in person.

“[…] I think it’s a shame that you can only look back with regret. Worse: with a denial of what was beautiful. (…) But once faced with it, I can’t help but enable you to forgive yourself, in the hope that a space will be created to acknowledge that your feelings at that time were sincere and that a little mistake out of love (or however one might call it) is less important than that and should not be held against you over 25 years.

These days I was forced to take these facts into account. What was is still there. With you too, apparently, considering your letter, but overshadowed by “self-punishment”. It is an unfinished business that cannot be dealt with at a distance with a few letters or straightened out. I think it’s important to meet again 25 years later. Do you want to think about that? […]”