Imagine being the victim of a brutal attack that put you in a coma for two months and left you with brain damage, speech problems and blindness. Now, imagine sitting down face-to-face with your attacker and finding it in your heart to not only forgive him, but also to listen to his side of the story.
It’s unfathomable on so many levels, and yet, Chris Anguiano has managed all of it. And it couldn’t say more about his character.
“He said he feels bad and he’s so sorry,” Anguiano told NBC 7 in an exclusive interview Saturday. “I took his apology. I accepted it.”
Anguiano’s referring to the former Border Patrol agent who attacked him and his then-girlfriend with two hatchets while they slept in their Escondido home in July 2009. Gamalier Rivera meant to kill his estranged wife and her new boyfriend but went into the wrong bedroom.
“I think it’s good to confront the person who harmed you,” said Dr. Skip Himelstein, Anguiano’s therapist. “It kind of raises you up and lowers them down.”
Himelstein traveled Saturday with Anguiano to Centinela State Prison where they sat down for a meeting with Rivera. They had prepared months for this.
Even if Anguiano didn’t believe Rivera’s side, hearing it brought him closure.
“How he’s so sorry what he’s done to me. How he’s changed his life forever, you know. I told him, 'You changed your life forever,’” Anguiano said.
Himelstein has seen Anguiano progress from rage and anger to where he is now, a state of peace and positivity. She’s incredibly proud of him.
“He was so glad and relieved to hear what Gamalier had to say,” she said.
“I'm in a better place. I have freedom. He doesn't have freedom,” Anguiano said. “I have life. I’m enjoying it in a different manner.”
Even if he can’t see images, Anguiano loves watching movies, listening to the dialogue and special effects. He also joked that he’s trying to convince his friends to let him drive their cars but hasn’t had any luck yet.
As impressive as Anguiano’s outlook on life and overcoming obstacles is his independence. He’s been living in an apartment alone for nearly a year and a half, and though he has a caretaker -- his father -- three days a week, he gets along just fine on his own as well.
In the past five years he’s adapted to his environment so he can carry out the simple tasks most of us take for granted. He’s organized his refrigerator so he knows exactly where everything is when he reaches in. He has an app on his iPhone that reads and identifies banknotes. He even has a way of navigating the remote so he can change the channel, or play and enjoy those movies he loves.
He’s even gone skiing, flown on a Dive Devil, and gone crabbing.
Anguiano has come a long way, but naturally, he can’t deny his deepest feelings.
“I feel like he should have been punished the way he punished me,” he said.
But he has taken an immeasurable step.
“I could say I forgive him, but I'm never going to forget,” Anguiano said. “The rest of my life I'll remember.”
When all this happened, Anguiano was studying nursing. He's on a different track now, taking classes at Palomar College and encouraging other victims of violent crime not to give up on life, even speaking about his trauma in college classes taught by his therapist.