Episode 4: “The Friend”

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Trigger Warning: the following episode contains discussion of important social issues that may be triggering to some. If you are easily triggered by the topics of abuse, self-harm, or suicide, please read only if you are stable and capable of remaining safe.

 

All I ever wanted was a friend.

Call me ridiculous, or stupid, or cliche; call me pathetic if that’s the first thing that comes to mind. I know it’s the first thing that comes to my mind.

It’s truly the only thing I can remember really, deeply desiring. A good friend, who was there for me, and I would be there for her. We would care about each other more than anything else. We would spend time together and laugh about how silly other teenage girls were, and cry over sappy old movies; and when anything went wrong, we would run to each other for comfort and support.

And love. Not romantic love. Just that strong feeling that someone cares enough for you that they use the word “love” to describe it because there is no other word that works.

I’ve never had that. You expect to have that with your family if with no one else, but that didn’t happen for me.

Not having any friends wasn’t what made me despair, but it certainly left a vacuum that allowed the despondency to rapidly reproduce.

Strangely enough, it was when I had finally resigned myself to a lack of hope in both friendship and life itself, that my salvation arrived in the form of the very friend I’d dreamed of having.

I was thirteen and had been suffering from a deep depression for as long as I could remember, not that I understood at the time the meaning or depth of the word “depression,” let alone the condition.

I’d been thinking about ending it for a long time. I truly had nothing to live for, and my life looked more and more hopeless every day. The only things I even remotely liked were reading and science, but neither of them was enough to keep me alive indefinitely through all the struggles I had.

I had come to school that day with a plan. After lying awake all night listening to my uncle beat the crap out of my aunt yet again, I was exhausted and just… finished. I’d finally gotten out of bed in the early hours – it was still dark outside – and gone as quietly as I could to the bathroom down the hall to take my shower before school. I’d winced at the vision of my aunt standing hunched over the kitchen sink, one arm wrapped around her waist, the other supporting her weight against the edge of the counter. I’d been trying to just stay quiet ever since my uncle had thrown me down the basement stairs just two weeks before, but I couldn’t stand the sight of her looking so broken. I’d gone to her, helped her sit down, dug down into the freezer for an ice pack to put on the nasty bruise flowering on the side of her head.

“I’m so sorry, Alex,” she’d whispered. “I wish you didn’t have to see this.”

I’d felt my face crumple. She wished I didn’t have to see this? I wished she didn’t have to live this.

“What if we went to the police together?” I’d whispered back. “Tell them everything, ask for help and protection.”

She’d swallowed hard. “I’m afraid.”

“I know. Me too.”

A sound from the master bedroom down the hall startled me. “You’d better get ready for school,” she whispered quickly. I’d scurried into the bathroom before he came out of the room.

I could hear him as I showered, apologizing profusely and begging her to forgive him. He’d promised it would never happen again; he was getting help with his anger issues.

I’d heard it all before, more times than I could count.

When I’d come out of the bathroom, dressed but with still-wet hair, my uncle had been standing there waiting for me.

I’d jumped slightly, not expecting him. He’d grabbed me immediately, causing me to drop my towel and pajamas. With his hand tightly around my neck just under my jaw, he’d pressed me up against the wall; I barely struggled, that was how much I’d already given up.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” he’d said quietly and severely into my ear. “You. Are. Not. To. Meddle. In. Our. Lives. You got that?”

I’d swallowed hard and tried to nod against his iron grip. It must have been enough for him, because he let go, stared at me for a moment like I was a bug he’d squashed on the sidewalk, and then turned and walked away without another glance.

The anger and resentment that I fought daily was often turned in on myself for my inability to do anything; I didn’t know who to ask for help, and the one time I’d picked up the phone to call the police, he’d yanked the cord out of the wall and threatened to lock me in the basement if I ever tried that again.

So I’d come to school that day with a plan. I couldn’t do anything for my aunt. And the only thing I could do for myself was something too horrifying for most people to even think about coherently. But I’d finally realized there was nothing else I could do. My only way out was… out. All the way out.

I was going to do it in the bathroom. I’d broken a shaving razor and brought the individual blades to school in my pocket. At lunch, I would go into one of the big stalls at the end and wait for the immediate lunch rush to end; then everyone would be outside or in the cafeteria eating, and no one would come in again for at least thirty minutes. Plenty of time for me to bleed out and no chance anyone would find me until it was too late.

 

I was waiting for history class to start, anxious for the lunch hour to come, when she swooped in and promptly set up a safety net for me, just like a superhero.

As with any friendship, ours took time to grow; but our unique positions allowed for it to grow swiftly.

But it wasn’t until midway through our freshman year, nearly a year after we’d met, that we finally trusted each other with our deepest secrets, though I had a feeling she’d known – or least suspected – mine for a long time.