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I’m lucky in my friendships, I think. When I was in school, especially college, I would probably not have said so. But looking back now, the people that endured over time are the folks I think I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life. And, yeah, some people I thought were my friends really did some hurtful things, but they’re gone and the ones I’ve got left, well, they’re just awesome.

I’ve been trying to get a conversation in with one of my oldest and dearest pals for a while, but schedule and our mental wherewithal notwithstanding, we finally connected. She and I have been friends for decades, in the times before cell phones and emails, we were actually pen pals. Our friendship is one that we just pick back up where we left off when we see each other. And for that I’m so grateful. She’s like my touchstone.

The girl who introduced us lived down the street from me growing up. She’s also awesome, but less interested in keeping in touch, and more focused on having fun. I would see her through social media, and wished her well. It wasn’t until I talked to my friend that she mentioned how my neighbor was asking about me. Then the bomb dropped. Because she’s on social media, publicly so, my estranged mother has been pestering her for information about me (and my estranged brother – I love him, and I hope he loves me, but we’re not in touch and that’s okay, really).

So, I get the full story from my pen pal. How she denied any information to my mother, since she truly didn’t have any. This is sort of deliberate on my part, not just with her, but with so many people I wish I could stay in touch with. It’s embarrassing to have to explain my family’s dysfunction, the stalking, the no-contact, the uncomfortable conversation and worrying people just won’t understand. It’s easier just to be silent.

In being silent, though, I don’t give people the chance to hear my side of the story. I just assume that they don’t want to hear it, that my mother and father have them snowed, and that they already think what my parents would want them to think: that I’m the asshole and that I did this without warning or reason. I honestly don’t know what people think, I do know what my extended family has done, the things they say, to make me understand that they will never see things from my perspective. It’s easy to second guess yourself when that’s all you hear. And so, to keep out the venom, I shut off everything.

I decided though, based on the gentle prodding from my pen pal to get in touch with my old neighbor. She, of course, holds no ill will toward me, and was remarkably understanding. She gave me some insight to my estranged brother’s own circle of protection from his friends, and although I feel better knowing he’s okay, and he’s safe from them. I feel a bit foolish, like coming out of hiding, realizing it was only a small (yet very loud) minority that wanted me to be a certain way and that my friends, the very people my abusive family railed against, were the ones who protected me, who stood up for me, who kept me safe and secret.

This is what abusers do to keep you in line. They lie, they make you think that everyone believes what they do. They do whatever they can to steal the light inside you for their own. I’ve been estranged from my mother for over four years now, and it sometimes feels like I’m the one in hiding. My abusers get to walk free without any fear, convincing strangers, and the people who I care about, what a monster I am. I had to give birth to my son in secret. I will have to protect him from them for the rest of my life. This is the reality I am living. But I’ve come to see that people can love me, have always loved me, and that’s something my abusers can’t take away.