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Becoming Human Before My Eyes This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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I have a friend; she’s my best friend, actually. We became friends in middle school with one of those instant bonds so common when you’re little. Honestly, we’re an odd pair. Her mouth produces a hundred words to one of mine; she loves rainy days, while my skin aches for the warmth of sunshine; she exudes a confidence one can’t help but admire, while I, ever tentative, label my deficiency in that area as “modesty.” But as the years passed, and I spent more and more time around her, I became aware that some of her subtle habits and behaviors got under my skin.

My friend’s confidence, which I had so admired, began to lose its luster as it seemed more and more like disdain. I saw that she put others down to raise herself up. She would boast that she got better grades than everyone else (except me, but I “always got good grades so it doesn’t really count”) and constantly say things like, “I have an amazing voice” or “I dance better than all of them.” She was always careful to make it sound like she wasn’t completely serious, but after a while that light-hearted buffer wasn’t enough to lessen the blow for me. My friend would brag so often that I started to think that she meant to make me feel like I was beneath her. So irritating was her condescension, I felt like she expected me to answer her every demand. She acted like her way was the only way (whether it was right or wrong), and when she was upset she took it out on everyone, including me.

These things hurt me and made me feel small. “I hate you, why do you bully me?” I wondered. “Why do you need to put me down? Why are you so full of yourself?” But, as it turned out, it was I who was arrogant for thinking like that. I asked those questions to myself, but I had decided the answer. And my answer was “because you suck,” which isn’t an answer at all. I was only thinking about me, what she did to me, how she made me feel, how she was the monster, and I the victim.

But I was wrong.

A few months ago, my friend shared a secret that changed my mind. That morning, she was jerked awake by her mom’s nails scraping her scalp and yanking her up by her hair. When she told her mom she wasn’t feeling well, her mom cursed her out and made it clear that she was still going to school. The screaming episode lasted ten minutes, and my friend was going to ask only for some tea. Later, in the car, she asked her mom to pass her her coffee mug. Her mom said, “Get it yourself, you lazy, worthless excuse for a daughter!” After school, her father shoved her against the wall for being “disrespectful” to her mom.

It wasn’t the first time her parents had treated her like that…or the second.

In horror, I listened to her explain what her life at home was like. I had known that she got into arguments with her mom a lot, but that was all I knew, until she finally told me. Her mother bullies her and her father takes the mom’s side. Her mother curses her every day, calls her ugly, fat, friendless, stupid, and lazy. Her mom tells her that she is cold and heartless. The worst incident: her mom telling her, “GO DIE.”

I knew about child abuse. But my knowledge was purely theoretical; this brand of cruelty only lived in TV screens and Health class. When I knew someone who was abused, someone I had resented, but who was nonetheless close to my heart, the malady became abruptly real. Forced to integrate this new reality into my mental framework, I frantically searched for an explanation. Why? My friend does nothing wrong; she listens to her mom, has a good attitude, and will be the first in her immediate family to go to college. I wanted to blame her mom, of course. But years ago, my friend had told me that her mom had been physically and verbally abused by her own parents. When the dad of my friend’s mom died this year, her mom said, “Good.” Who is the monster here? Who is to blame?

Someone with an over-developed left side of the brain, I like patterns, order, and logic. I’ve had the mantra “everything happens for a reason” ingrained in my head since I could walk. But how does someone make sense of child abuse, bullying in its ugliest form? I could find no answer. If evil is a cycle, where did it begin?

My best friend, whom I have secretly disliked for so long, had shaken everything I believed in. She had me asking profound questions that belong to religion, philosophy, and the basic aspects of human nature – questions I couldn’t answer. The straight lines and clean corners of life I had found comfort in spun askew and revealed the world as it was: messy.

My friend’s words rang loud in my ears, but I experienced her pain only vicariously. I could not, cannot, begin to imagine how she withstands this trauma and manages to act so strong. Her story socked me in the face, and I couldn’t stop crying – for my friend, for her mom, and – because I finally found someone to blame – for myself. I was ashamed of the way I had so callously judged her, without bothering to take a look outside my own situation. Before, I had resented my friend, even though she was only trying to fill a void in her life. But now, all that anger and pain she had caused me has dissipated.

Now that I understand why my friend acted the way she did, I no longer feel like a victim. I’ve stopped focusing on my pain and instead cannot stop thinking about her and taking away her pain. I no longer feel justified in blaming my friend because I no longer see her as a monster. She has become startlingly human before my eyes, and because of that, my pain has healed.

My friend has taught me that everyone has a story. I realize that I should try not to accuse those who hurt me but instead try to empathize. I should wonder “why are you like this” and want a real answer. If I can understand people, I can heal the suffering I feel, and in turn be able to heal others. This, I believe.



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