The mere sound of my cellphone ringing used to send me spiraling into ‘80s Wes Craven-type fear. My palms would grow wet, my heartbeat racing like I’d taken those Stacker 2 pills I was all about in high school, just because a semi-muted MIDI of “Bittersweet Symphony” had begun to play through the fabric of my jeans. Without reaching into my pocket, I already knew who was calling; I already knew that answering the phone — or worse, not answering the phone — would destroy my night, possibly my week. I’d typically let the fear paralyze me, let the call go to voicemail, then dread checking the voicemail because I knew what was waiting for me when I did. I knew who was waiting.
People have very clear ideas on what abuse is. Abuse is physical, or abuse is between man and woman, or abuse is between parent and child; abuse is verbal, mental; abuse happens in romantic relationships and marriages and in between the walls of a house where no one can see in. But abuse is not just that. And the one abuse people get away with, right out in the open, the abuse people don’t call abuse or recognize as such is that which takes place between two peers. Two friends.
Now, obviously the first reaction someone will have to what I’ve just written is that someone who abuses you is not your friend. This is what common sense, television, and our parents tell us. But anyone who’s ever been under the spell of another, more manipulative person is not a slave to their common sense. They’re a slave to fear, a slave to schedules they need to keep and phone calls they need to answer and extravagant lies they need to tell just to avoid a verbal (or physical) lashing, just to avoid the repercussions of autonomy.
Besides, that person? That person who will drive by to make sure you are where you say you are, that person who will tell your entire school how and where and why you lost your virginity, that person who urges you to kill yourself because you spent the day with someone who wasn’t her? She wasn’t always this way. Just think of all of the memories you’ve created together. Of course she’s your friend. She’s always there for you — even when you don’t want her to be. That guy who blew you off? She’ll tear him six new assholes and make him regret the day he discovered what his dick was for. She’ll loan you money so that being broke isn’t excuse enough to not hang out, she’ll pick you up and drop you off, she’ll come up with cutesy pet names for your parents.
Sometimes she’s a blast, the only person who Gets It, the only person who knows how you got those cuts on your arm because she has ones to match. She’s the one who taught you how to shoplift from the mall, who knows the best places to secure illegal pleasantries; the one who can stay up all night playing wingman while you explore your young body with guys who are much too old for you. She has all the best hair products and all the best snacks in her pantry and she is your very, very best friend. Because she says so.
But this person, this friend only builds you up so that she knows which bricks are loose, which fuses to light, what the quickest way to demolish you is. She holds your deed, your title, she owns you now. She is an expert in your mental faculties; she knows exactly which buttons to push and what insults to sling and which cheek to slap when she perceives you as being an entire string of obscenities that would make George Carlin blush, words she’ll leave on your voicemail without hesitation, maybe twice or three times in a row, insults she’ll pretend have no significance when she calls three days later wondering where you’ve been. She will scream at you — publicly, privately, so privately that you can hear the chill in her voice when she’s miles away, a looping mental recording of her disapproval. She will destroy you: threaten to turn the world against you and ask you to go see a movie with her in the same breath.
In time, you will become afraid. Not afraid of her, not anymore, because you know how to placate her now. You know the acceptable excuses for not hanging out: feeling sick, movies with boyfriend, shopping with mom. You know to answer on the first ring. You know — you learn — to lie like your goddamn life depended on it should you cease to invite her to whatever it is you’re doing, you know to sit alone in someone’s car with the windows shut and the doors locked so that she can’t hear anything but your quaking voice, “I think I’m staying in tonight.” You have become an expert in white lies; soon even you will have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction.
What you’re really afraid of though, is escaping. Or rather, not escaping. When is it ever the right time? How much longer can this go on? Not forever, right? The truth is, it can. The truth is, it will. Your friend will never change. She will not see the light, she will not recognize the insanity of her actions, she will not apologize for reducing you to tears in front of everyone you know for no reason other than that she could, ‘cause she felt like it. She is broken and she’s not yours to fix. So when is the right time to escape? The moment you realize that someone else is maliciously dictating your every move. The moment you realize you’ve lost control. Listen to common sense, to the television, to your parents. Fix what’s salvageable, what’s worth fixing — abandon your fear and just fix you.