Handing Back Other People’s Pain
I walk in the front door. I’m listening as I close and lock the door behind me. My ritual begins: first checking the coat closet, then moving on to the bedrooms behind the doors, under the beds, and behind the shower curtains. I sweep the whole house, making sure not to miss any space where someone could be waiting for me.
It’s been almost 20 years since I stopped performing this ritual and I thought it was no longer a part of me. I’ve just moved back to my hometown, and now I see that I never let it go. I just left it behind—and here it sat, waiting for me, like a stalker that just won’t let go.
Growing up, I was the kind of kid that always had the one best friend. Actually, I was lucky enough to have two—one at school and one in my neighborhood. After school, I spent all of my free time with my neighborhood friend. She was two years older than me, but we were inseparable. From five years old, we hung out together and played games, made up dances, told each other our secrets.
I shared with her, during junior high, that someone was prank calling me. They would call many times a day and breathe heavily into the phone or just not say a word. The calls became more frequent, and then I started to notice that things around my room were missing. One day, I came home from school and it was obvious someone had been rummaging through my drawers. A few days later, I came home to a room with my clothes strewn about—and even more disturbing, someone had taken scissors to my underwear and cut holes throughout. With both parents at work, I ran to my friend’s house. It became my safe place to go if no one was at home after school.
The phone calls kept coming, things continued to go missing, and it was obvious someone was continually coming into our house. We changed the locks, and in a 1980s mindset, figured I was now safe. We quickly learned that wasn’t the case. We had another break-in, and this time, the person let us know we had pissed them off. They emptied our kitchen cupboards of our food, throwing it to the floor. Broken glass and food were tossed all over the kitchen. A ripe strawberry was used to write the word Sucker on the door.
My family and I tried to figure out who could be doing this to me. We called the police, and they questioned if I had any enemies. Had I made anyone mad at school? Could there be a boy that I made angry by not returning attention? Did I do anything to bring this on? They placed a tap on our phone to trace the call for when the heavy breather called back. And this is how we caught her.
The detectives came to my door to let us know that the trace was successful and they knew the identity of my stalker. The calls were coming from my neighborhood. They were coming from the home I ran to as my safe space. They were coming from my best friend’s house.
The thing is, I already knew this. See, I had figured it out two weeks earlier. During one of the phone calls, I recognized her breathing and knew in that moment that it was her. I was so ashamed that I immediately hung up the phone, breaking the trace. In my seventh-grade mind, I was scared to tell my family that it was my friend. I was so rejected. None of it made sense. What was it about me that she hated so much? What did I do?
I now understand that it wasn’t what I did, or didn’t do. Or what kind of a friend I was. It was about her and her demons. I was just the outlet for her own pain. But by pouring her pain on me, she took away my innocence. To this day, I’m slow to make friendships because I know a friend can turn evil.
My next step in healing is to forgive her. I need to accept that she was also a young girl and obviously troubled and lost. How do I do that? I know in my heart that she did these things because of her own pain. But how does a best friend do this to their friend? Their pain is greater than the friendship, I suppose. But in order for me to move on, I can’t put my energy into thinking about her pain. Her pain is for her to carry, not me.
I think about the little girl I was, grieving the sadness of a friendship lost and all of the craziness that went along with it. I want to hug that girl and let her know that it sucks that she was the dumping ground for another person’s pain, and that’s all it was. It wasn’t my fault or my deficiencies that allowed this to happen to that little girl.
I’m tired of checking closets. Tonight I’m done, I tell myself.