From ages fourteen to sixteen, I only had one friend. Before that, I had no friends. And after that, things started to look up for me.
This isn’t a story I tell often, because I’ve not found a version of it which makes any sort of sense to me. It’s still completely baffling and I’m not sure what it says about me. And that’s not comfortable.
The one person I did tell relatively recently was my friend who committed suicide. Earlier this year (only a few months ago) I wrote the story and sent it to her in a letter. It felt good to put it into words, and even though it wasn’t the definitive version, it was a version, and she responded with love. After she died her girlfriend was looking through her flat and found the letter hidden in a little box under her bed – with a few other precious things. The person I felt came closest to understanding has gone. So I feel I have to tell it again, in the hope that somebody else might get it – differently. Perhaps even better.
My friend (best and only friend) was a man ten years older than me. He lived a long way away. We met in person once (in intense settings and pressures that bonded us together) and then he went back to where he lived. And we spoke online every day, usually for hours. It’s strange, but I hardly remember what about anymore. I’m quite far removed from my fourteen-year-old self. I don’t know what she liked. What I do know is that we liked each other a lot, shared a lot. Also, that the friendship was never equal. He was the adult, and I was the child. As such, he often reinforced me, tried to “help” me. My shaky self-esteem was built on his praise and encouragement. This went on for about a year. Then he moved closer to where I lived, got out of the relationship he’d been in when I’d met him, and into a new one. We spoke less, but saw each other more often. And that’s when it started to sour. People accused us of having an affair, and he never corrected them. His girlfriend thought I was trying to steal him away from her, and he let her. It broke my heart that he should let that happen to me. He threw me under the bus – poor daft girl throwing herself at the older man. He let people think that’s what it was. And they did. Eventually the friendship became so noxious for me that I chose to have no friends at all rather than to be friends with him. I felt like he forced my hand. Made the state of affairs so untenable that I had to get out. I never wanted to be lonely. But nor could I bear his girlfriend’s torments and accusations.
The friendship breakup really hurt me – more than any relationship breakup has since. But it was the right thing to do. My life moved on, I eventually all but forgot about it. Until five years later we spoke on Facebook.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve kept a blog all my life. He revealed that he’d read every post. Quoted things to me that I ouldn’t even remember writing. Linked me to the pages.
I took fright. I closed the blog.
And now I don’t know.
My mother thinks he groomed me, and got some sort of satisfaction from the idea that we were having an affair (although we weren’t). He’s married now, with two kids. My mother thinks perhaps he’s been keeping an eye on me to see if perhaps he would’ve been better off waiting for me.
But my mother simultaneously always thinks I’m in danger, and terribly attractive. She’s the only witness I have of the events of those years, but I didn’t tell her anywhere near everything, and she’s a very unreliable narrator.
The idea of myself at 14 being attractive and sexualisable is strange. I know that much younger children are groomed that way, so I know it happens. But it’s a very strange thought to have about myself. I was a child. And a very messed up one at that. I don’t see anything attractive about the person I was then (and not very much more now, except I’m more emotionally stable and have bigger breasts).
I don’t know. I might be rewriting the past to absolve myself. Perhaps his intentions were entirely pure. Perhaps I did behave like a threat to his girlfriend. I don’t know. I remember surprisingly little. I don’t trust my memories.
But I see ways in which it shaped me.
A huge proportion of my friends nowadays are men roughly ten years older than me. They are all much healthier friendships than what I had then, but I think I learned to be friends with men through him. I learned how to charm them and make them laugh. I learned how to impress them.
I’m friends with women now, and men of different ages, but those people, men ten years older than me, are still the people I have the easier connection to.
And the place that ease came from is unknown to me. And that frightens me.