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For me, hope showed up in the top row of the soprano section in my eighth grade choir class. She was a new student at our harsh and callous school and, after I introduced myself as, “Stephanie, it’s nice to meet you,” a group of girls seemed to engulf her as is tradition with any new student at any new school. I was a little sad to lose my new prospective friend, but i was busy dealing with my own issues. My mind was much more occupied with the verbally abusive high school boyfriend that my parents so cruelly banned me from seeing. Not to worry though; he promised to come back for me once he turned 18. Yeah, I was a walking disaster.
However, I did not entirely lose my choir friend. I took my first steps on the school bus and saw her sitting by herself. After politely asking to sit beside her, I spent the rest of the ride filling her in on my dilemma. It’s no wonder I came to be known to her mother as “that poor girl who think the boy is coming back for her” even before she realized I had been verbally abused. I should have scared her away entirely, but somehow I didn’t, and through the mess that I was, I gained a best friend that year.
To this day, I haven’t known a friendship like ours. We sang songs through the halls at the top of our lungs, shared clothes, did a play together and integrated into each other’s families. She started coming to church with me and became a Christian while we were friends and we would pray together during times of distress. We entered high school as sisters instead of merely friends.
We also added a third to our friend group; a bubbly, hilarious young girl who I probably wouldn’t have noticed if not for my close friend. They bonded in a way that was different than I had seen before and I loved to see the development of their friendship grow and mature. It didn’t take long for the three of us to become closer than ever.
When I was younger, my mom always told me to never do a sleepover with an odd number of people because someone would always be left out. I don’t think I ever thought I would learn my lesson the way I did. These two friends seemed to bring out the best and worst in each other. They complemented each other in humor and laughter, joy and loyalty. However, I witnessed one turn to vicious sarcasm instead of her usual facetious demeanor; the other began to reveal her greatest fears and insecurities.
The very friend that brought me hope, that saved me from my mindset of obedience to a verbally abusive force, became verbally abusive. I found I was constantly made to feel stupid, talentless, slow, and boring. How could I win a humor award of all people? Stephanie, you’re stupid. Just stop talking. I was made to believe that this form of communication was how friendship was supposed to work. I was constantly told, “Your best friends don’t compliment you all the time, they insult you!” I just couldn’t do it. I had spent years in verbally abusive relationships and even though everyone told me differently, this sure felt like one.
This other bubbly, funny young girl seemed suddenly fallen into a pit of insecurity. My once sweet, relatable friend became solely focused on our differing financial situations, the differences between our family dynamics, and the fear that she would one day be forgotten by those she loved most. I did all I could to hold her up, to be there when she cried, to provide a laugh when needed. We drove around town every day and talked through things. She once got mad at me because my parents were dishing out extra cash for a vacation when I was also opposed to how much money was being spent. I felt like I could never do anything right.
Then, junior year, it reached a boiling point. I had gotten into an argument with my once-facetious sister which carried over to my other friend. Lies were told, feelings were hurt, and in the process of things, I made every effort to apologize and right things.
The day after the argument, our school camping trip was scheduled, so I arrived to school with camping gear and a silent, angry friend. By the time we reached Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, both friends were angry, bitter, and giving me the silent treatment. I was alone at an event that was meant to bring people together.
I made one of the most selfish, best decisions I could have made while we were at camp. I let them go. To them, it was cruel, gut-wrenching betrayal. To me, it was necessary. I let them vent for about 20 minutes while i sat in silence. I tried to speak and was told I was wrong and they couldn’t possible be at fault for a single one of my outrageous accusations. In the weeks that followed, I apologized for any harsh words, but told them I meant what I said. I needed my freedom and they needed theirs, but I can tell you it didn’t feel like freedom for a very long time.
I learned a lot of lessons through my lengthy, rewarding, and painful friendship with these two lovely human beings. One, it is okay to walk away from a verbally abusive friendship for the sake of your own mental health. Two, people can be wholly beautiful and lovely and still hurt you. Sometimes, friends stop being compatible and you just need to walk away. Three, there will often be hardships and rewards that come from walking away from volatile relationships. I lost my closest companions, my future bridesmaids, college roommates, loving counterparts, but I also gained the loving boyfriend I, “wasn’t allowed to date.” I entered contests I wouldn’t have entered, and I won! I started focusing more on how to be loving toward those around me and started to face the shallow depression that had begun to seep into my life. I gained friends that cared about me and told me I was beautiful, powerful, and strong, instead of saying I “should just stop talking”.
I miss and love these girls. If I had my way, they would still be a part of my life and we’d have a healthy cohesive friendship. But through my actions of taking a step out of verbally abusive relationships, I found a new identity, new hope, in the things around me. Their friendship, the good and the bad, made a true impact on who I am today. I will never again allow myself to be swallowed by an abusive relationship, but instead, will find my hope in the good things of this world and all the beauty it holds.