In a #metoo post world, with anti-bullying posters filling the walls of schools or the billboards across American highways bringing attention to child abuse and domestic violence, people are talking about abuse everywhere.
There is so much in culture today about relationships, abuse within them, but rarely do they focus on friendships in the sense I’m about to relay to you the reader.
I was abused by my best friend for seven years growing up. It’s even hard for me to write about because it’s not something ever discussed.
You often hear about a spouse hurting someone (whether it’s same-sex or not), you hear about families where abuse is so common that it creates lifelong scars through generations, you even see the traditional bullying by kids.
My story is not rare and even quite common among kids, especially teens. People just classify it as straight bullying or my least favorite “peer pressure” as if everything can be classified so simply.
My best friend, Jenny, for the sake of her identity, her name is not going to be revealed. This isn’t an expose on the evils this person did to me. I don’t even want to highlight all the negatives because things like this are always more complicated, and I wish her no ill will. I’d instead provide my experiences as teachable moments for a young person who may be reading this and maybe going through something similar.
I blog for myself, and I blog unpredictability I will never get used to something like blogging. I have felt for a while that I wanted to blog about my relationship with my friend, Jenny, but was not sure how or what it really meant to me. I still wonder what I was able to take from it.
In seeing my niece’s strength standing up to a bully recently put me in that mindset about what it’s like to be 11 or 12 and feel all those pressures, you think at that age. She’s 11 now, and her body is changing, she is made aware of it constantly not just by society but by the magazines she reads, the television programs and the girls she looks up to in media. It got me thinking about Jenny, and I was driving across town recently when I happened to see something that reminded me of Jenny. There are times when things just pop up, and you are constantly reminded of a period of your life. It was an old music store in downtown Kent, Ohio; we frequented as teenagers. This was not any friend, but one that shaped who I am today. The music I listen to, the books I read, nerdy conspiracy theories, my interest in the paranormal are all scattered with memories of her. We had some great experiences together. We even had arguments the way friends do. Those were the usual things about our friendship, the version we let everyone else see.
Jenny and I lost touch after she got married nearly 18 years ago now. We had shared many years of friendship, some ups but looking back a lot of downs. I barely recognize myself as the girl that allowed the sort of abuse into my life at that time. I don’t even know why I accepted it, but I did. I was a child when it began, and I was still very unfamiliar with what good friendships looked like at that age.
My only best friend I had up until I was ten years old, Brian, moved with his parents to Florida. I was alone for the first time at the beginning of my fourth grade year.
Abuse comes in many shapes and sizes. I only see it, for it is now as a woman at 41. It is a painful part of my past that I have only spoken to a few people about.
You are probably wondering how this sort of thing occurs in children that seem, friends, even good friends.
A lot of abusers may not even realize they are abusing their victims. They don’t also see the person they are abusing as “victims.”
This is my story.
Jenny and I became friends in the fourth grade. We were two girls of the same age who shared interest in at the time UFOs. It was one of those cold October days where we had recess, and I was left alone with no one to play with. My friend, Brian, had moved to Florida, and so I was left with the task to figure out how to navigate the casual friendship thing at ten years of age. I still missed my soul friend, Brian, who had moved that summer before fourth grade. Jenny was, who I thought, one of the more popular girls. She had a best friend at the time, and they had been forbidden to speak because, as the story was told to me later, their mothers had a falling out.
Jenny was open and friendly, and before that day, we had never really crossed social paths too much. I saw her crying by the “dodge ball” court (yes, we had one- it was the 80’s), and I happened to muster up the courage to ask her if she was okay. I had always been painfully shy and very introverted unless I knew you well. That day I was not shy at all. Jenny explained the fact she and her friend, Melody, we’re no longer friends as of that morning. So I asked her if she wanted to swing with me on the swing sets.
She smiled, and her large brown eyes smiled too. I felt I had done a good deed. Melody had caught us and asked if she could talk to me, and she told me that I should stay away from Jenny. Jenny was bad news. I didn’t think Jenny was terrible. I wanted to scold Melody for saying what she did to me about Jenny. Jenny had been nothing but sweet to me. Before that day, she had never been rude to me either even at a distance as mere acquaintances in the same choir group.
Not wanting to believe Melody, I gave Jenny a chance. That day we became inseparable. For two months, we hung out every day in school but had never had an official playdate.
There was the day that things changed.
I was invited over to Jenny’s house for a play date. It was the first time we had ever hung out alone at her home. We spent an hour playing “Life” and talking about music. I had no clue apparently how cool Debbie Gibson was, so in typical Jenny fashion, she ensured I watched all of her music videos, recorded on a VHS tape.
That evening started perfectly. Then we went into her bedroom and all of a sudden as if she had become possessed, she changed. She smacked me and then began laughing hysterically. I was in some sort of shock because I didn’t know if she was joking. No one my age had ever smacked me before. I felt stupid like there was some sort of joke I was supposed to be in on. I played it off and laughed. Then she hopped over her bed and began throwing her pillows at me, still laughing hysterically.
It was not normal. It wasn’t Jenny, at least the one I had known up until that point. Her eyes were wild and hateful as the warmth from her pretty brown eyes was gone.
Our time together was at an end, and my mom was there to pick me up. As if on cue, her wild eyes went back to warm brown. She hugged me in front of her mother and said she would see me at school the next day.
I was still in shock from what had occurred only moments before. I didn’t want to hang out with Jenny. If I had been a kid with more friends or the skills I have now at making friends as an adult, that is something that I would never have allowed.
The next day in school was a blur. Things were back to the way they had been before, and I forgot the incident for the time being. She must have had too much sugar. So I reasoned with myself.
A few months later, at Christmas, my parents got me the same winter coat as hers, mine was mint green, and hers was yellow. I didn’t ask for it, it just happened. Instead of taking it back to the store, I recall showing my friend the funny coincidence. I thought it would be calm that we had the same winter coat. She didn’t say anything at the time, but a few days later, we were playing tag with some of the boys when she grabbed me by the back of my winter coat and yanked it as hard as she could ripping it.
When I got home, my mother was furious, because my grandmother had bought it and really couldn’t afford it. We weren’t a wealthy family by any means. When I told my mom what happened, it was like moms know things.
“She is a jealous brat. I don’t want you hanging out with that girl anymore.” my mother told me.
I recall crying myself to sleep that night. I hadn’t even considered my new best friend had done it to be mean. Looking back, I know that is what she did.
My mother sewed it back together, and the next day I went to school and didn’t speak to Jenny.
As if she knew what she had done, making my mother more right. She gave me a friendship necklace.
You know the kind. There is one heart that says “best friends” on it, but it is cut in half so that you get half, and the other person gets the other half.
It was a typical abusive behavior complete with a honeymoon phase.
Over the next few months, she was sweet as she could be, but then a more popular girl, LeeAnn, wanted to hang out with Jenny.
I still recall the conversation like it was yesterday. I went into school on an April spring morning, and I was at my locker. Jenny came over to me and asked if she could have the friendship necklace back that she had given me.
I looked at her, “It’s mine.”
“I gave it to you, but I don’t think we are best friend material.” she had said in her typical grown-up way. She had a way about her where she could appear more adult. She was allowed to do things that I wasn’t allowed to do, like staying at home for long periods alone. Her mother had always treated her like an adult. I recall that I had tears in my eyes, and I took it off. She yanked it out of my hands in an aggressive way, and an hour later, the other girl was wearing my best friend necklace.
I cannot tell you how depressed I became. Not only did she take the necklace, but that whole day she refused to talk to me. I had no idea what I had done. She was even on the playground, making fun of me. LeeAnn didn’t seem to think it was funny. I recall her asking me why Jenny and I had stopped being friends. I had no idea. I felt so rejected, like the biggest loser on the planet.
When I got home, I locked myself in my bedroom until my father made me unlock it. When he saw my tears, he had my mom come to deal with it. He knew my mother was better equipped to handle me at that moment. I was eleven and had also just started my period, so it was a hormonal thing to him, and he had no desire to deal with it.
I told my mother what happened and how I didn’t want to go back to school the next day.
My mother knew LeeAnn’s mother well from the PTA, so she called her and explained to her what had happened. That was my mom, the gangster. She wasn’t calling Jenny’s mom, and she called LeeAnn’s mom, who, unbeknownst to Jenny, was good friends with my mom.
The next day LeeAnn came over and hugged me and then walked over to Jenny and gave her back the necklace telling her she didn’t want some hand me down friendship necklaces.
It was a few days, but Jenny apologized profusely. We did makeup eventually, but I never forgot the incident with the necklace.
Over the years, things were that way all the time. I recall in 8th grade when another few girls started hanging out with Jenny. They all sat at our lunch table. It was a popular table as far as we were concerned. One of the girls, Hannah, had gotten close to Jenny as well. One thing about Hannah, she was not thin, nor was she a mean girl, but she was popular. She had become Jenny’s new favorite at the time because she could talk Hannah into anything. She could not talk me into anything, and I didn’t even like being alone with Jenny because when I was, she would insult me. She told me once I was fat and needed to lose weight that we couldn’t be seen together. At the time, I think I weighed 95 pounds soaking wet. So I tried to lose weight to fit in. I was hospitalized at 14 after eating some sort of old salad dressing because I didn’t want to eat a hamburger. I was afraid that Jenny would say something to me out of disapproval.
Where Hannah just wanted to be liked. I was glad not to have to deal with Jenny all the time. It was like going on an extended vacation. I would get sick before school because I knew I had to see Jenny. I never knew when she was going to be mad at me and cause me not to have any friends. Jenny had what I now think were psychotic or manic episodes where she would hit me. It wasn’t in the face, but I recall her telling me it was just a game, and she punched me so hard in my thigh. Jenny had laughed, saying not to be a cry baby, and I was a stupid bitch. She had told me on more than one occasion that she was my only friend.
The whole of 8th grade, she hung out with Hannah until we went into 9th grade. Hannah and Jenny both liked the same Senior. When he decided he liked Hannah more who had lost a bunch of weight the summer before, Jenny, had no one again. She had me because I always felt terrible for her. I was the girl she could use as a punching bag. When I was in sixth grade, I recall losing weight because I didn’t want to go to school because I was afraid of her. She would verbally abuse me and had me convinced I would never have any other friends.
I believed it. Stupidly.
I thought I was a loser and couldn’t get any other friends because if we weren’t friends, then I wouldn’t have anyone.
Then at 16, I fell in love for the first time.
It was a guy who was in a band from another high school we liked to watch play around town. I was in love with the bass player, and she was in love with the lead singer. They had even taken us to our Homecoming and some crazy night with the boys and my first real French kiss. She had me convinced that I should write him a love letter for Valentine’s day, which was a week away. She would see his best friend on a date later and give it to him.
Stupidly I wrote the letter. Until my older and much wiser sister found out, she had me put a stop to it immediately.
“You never tell a boy you are in love with him after the first date, dummy. Didn’t I teach you anything?” she asked, applying her makeup.
I called Jenny and asked her not to pass the letter to him. She swore she tore it up, but my sister shook her head.
The next day my new almost-boyfriend said he thought we were moving too quickly and that he didn’t think we should hang out anymore, breaking my heart. I do not doubt that Jenny did more than give him the letter. I can only imagine the things she made up about me. Jenny was a jealous human being, and she hated me so much sometimes. I never understood why, because I had done everything she wanted me to do. I was the perfect friend, always there for her whenever someone was mean to her. I held her when she cried about her volatile relationship with her mother. When someone was mean to her in school or made fun of her because she was often caught making up stories about famous people she had met. I knew the stories weren’t true, but I always let her think I believed it. No matter how mean she was to me, I didn’t see the point of being mean to her or having her hate me. By this point, I had gotten so used to her being my only supposed best friend, that I don’t think I knew any better.
The incident with the boy was the beginning of my reasons for finally standing up for myself.
I called her after the guy dumped me and yelled at her.
I refused to speak to her for days.
For once in my life, I was standing up for myself.
It didn’t last, though. We became friends again, but from that point on, I was different.
We had formed a good friendship with two other friends who joined our lunch table. One, I am still best friends with one and the other I only speak to occasionally.
Jenny had begun to lose interest in me once I began to speak up for myself. I had to teach myself how to be more outgoing and make other friends to both my older sister’s urgency and my mother. I have a lot to owe to my big sister at that time in my life.
Understanding studies that were done on abusers, I now know that they want someone to control to bully to make themselves feel more powerful.
I had willingly given my power to her.
Once I turned 18, however, I was an adult. I had, for the most part, formed other friendships in my Senior year of high school after deciding I didn’t want to be friends with her anymore after an incident where I heard she was talking about me behind my back. I was stupid enough to feel betrayed by this. In truth, Jenny was always that person. I had spent years listening to her cry about her life living with her mom. Jenny was an only child often not told right from wrong.
Jenny was drinking and doing things with boys way before other girls. I think she looked at me as someone who had something she did not. Ironically, I always thought she was the one who had it all. Her family spent hundreds of dollars on her. She was spoiled beyond belief. Jenny was also a sufferer of depression. She was often threatening to harm herself on and off over the years. I was one of the few people she would tell her darkest secrets to.
I got older and stopped hating her, but instead saw her for the person with an illness that she was. I now know more about mental issues, and Jenny had her demons.
That doesn’t give someone the right to hurt you. No matter their issues.
I was 19 when we finally talked about what happened all those years. I told her how I felt and how hurt I was by the way she had treated me. Jenny had never owned up to her behavior and how she hurt me until New Year’s Eve of 1999.
That night we hugged and cried. I was relieved to let go of all of the pain finally.
But then she met her fiance.
Her old habits returned once he came into the picture. Suddenly, I was barely good enough to be in her wedding. My family was white trash, according to her over one conversation on the phone. We weren’t, but she knew in saying it would hurt me.
I chalked it up to her nerves about her wedding. We had come so far, so I thought, but deep down, it was the end of our friendship.
Abusers never change.
After the wedding, she gradually stopped speaking to me. I was relieved and moved on with my life.
The thing that I still struggle with to this day is how much I still love her. We had some fantastic times. Jenny taught me how to love rock n roll. She taught me how to play guitar. Jenny even taught me how to stand up for myself when someone was messing with me. Jenny had a possessive streak in her where I was concerned. There was a girl in school that was mean to me once, and Jenny made her life a living hell for messing with her “best friend.” I went to my first concert with Jenny. I was introduced to bands that I still love to this day because of Jenny. She actually could be an amazing person sometimes and even someone I looked to in hard times. When my grandma passed away, she was at my house so fast, crying right along with me.
When my friend Brian killed himself to suicide, at 19, Jenny was there holding my hand in the front seat of her car, telling me that she understood how Brian had felt and how she had thought of harming herself so many times. Jenny had told me not to blame myself. Jenny was my best friend in those moments. No strings attached, no control, no malice, only love.
You know when people can’t understand why a woman may stay with a man who beats her. The reason is that they are not always that way. If they were, it would be easier to leave.
It has been 19 years since I have spoken to Jenny.
She is married and has children of her own. I often wonder if my life would have been different had I never known her.
There are other people I could have been friends with, parties I may have attended had I not been so insecure and brainwashed into thinking I wasn’t good enough.
I learned I am good enough.
The bad stuff comes up sometimes still. I still find myself comparing every new friend I meet, whether it is male or female, to Jenny. Loyalty has been a hard thing to earn from me. If someone hurts my feelings, it is often hard for me to put it out of my mind and move on. I spent so long being friends with someone I was always giving my trust to only to have it broken. There is a line in my favorite movie, “Man Without a Face,” where Mel Gibson’s character says to a young boy he is tutoring, “It is either pass or fail with you.” I try not to be someone passing or failing people. Time helps all wounds, though. It doesn’t tear them from your memory. They still can be found when I look in the mirror and find constant fault with myself. No matter how much I try to be beautiful, as a woman, you have that negative voice all the time; but Jenny put it in my head that I was imperfect.
I hated her for so long after we stopped speaking, and yet I missed her. I still miss her.
What Jenny gave me was a gift. Because while it hurt so much when it was going on, it taught me so much. It has protected me from other “Jennys” that may have tried to enter my life.
I like to think of the good times now. I don’t want to dwell on the bad. I have moved on from that, and I’m okay.
I still hope she is safe and happy. I hold no grudge in my heart.
Forgiveness is the most powerful thing in this universe. More powerful than revenge, hate, or pain.
If you are someone that has had similar experiences or is someone going through the same experiences, you aren’t alone.
Stay safe out there.