Disclosure means to make ‘a fact, especially a secret, known.’
This is my secret: I have unintentionally lied about something for years. Eleven years, to be exact.
Now I need to bring it out in the open:
I had friends in high school.
Five of them, to be exact.
The final nail in the coffin was hammered when I received a certain message from a childhood friend a few weeks ago.
The way we view our lives are complicated and interesting.
It is because we are complex beings.
You have a child, and that child passes away before his/her time.
Now you will be grieving for the rest of your life. Do you now tell others that it is better to never have children to begin with? If you could choose again, would you rather not have the excruciating pain of loss? But then you will no longer have the wonderful memories you gathered while you were raising a beautiful child?
Now picture this:
Your marriage of 30 years suddenly ends up in divorce.
Do you now believe that marriage in general is a bad idea? What if the first 25 years of your marriage was good, sometimes even a great marriage? What if it was only terrible the last five years or so?
What about this?
Your stepfather abused you as a kid.
Does that now mean your whole childhood is scarred? What about the other wonderful things that did happen during those years – your mother loving you unconditionally, spending wonderful times with your friends, great school memories, excelling in sports, etc.?
It’s almost as if we choose to let specific experiences and events influence the way we view our whole lives.
We choose the narrative we tell ourselves and others.
We can change our story at any given moment. Maybe it really is all just about perspective, about choosing to heal, about working through things and choosing to let go.
And to forgive.
I once had a precious childhood friend. We met when I was nine years old, and she was one year younger than me. I’ll call her Anja, for anonymity’s sake.
We were great friends. Or so I believed.
We spent a lot of time together, wonderful memories were made and we were both convinced we would be friends for life. Even when I changed towns, moved away, moved back again, we still remained firm friends. We wrote each other letters, postcards, sent SMSes, emails, etc. We kept in touch; we were always able to pick up where we left off. No time nor distance could kept us apart.
Then she stopped talking to me.
She turned cold towards me.
I was twenty-two, she twenty-one. The trail abruptly went cold. Just like that. I was left wondering why, what I did wrong and how she could just cut me off like that.
This happened 7 years ago.
Throughout the years I would often wonder about her. When I saw on social media that she was engaged to be married, I left her a message congratulating her. But I knew it would be in vain. She did not respond.
So I let it go.
It was this unanswered, undealt-with issue. The relationship had a giant question mark all over it, but I knew I had to just let it be.
About two years ago I was sorting out my hand-written letters and printed-out emails that I gathered over the years. Most of them were birthday cards, others get-well-soon cards, some were pen-pal letters. A lot of them were poems from my grandmother and father, drawn-up pictures my mother drew for me, some where short-and-sweet letters from my brother and sister.
In the midst of all those letters, I found a shoebox of letters Anja had written to me throughout the years. I had kept every single one of them (yes, I used to be a bit of a hoarder). I started sorting out through them; I read the first one. It was written when we were both still in high school. It was handwritten, as most of her letters were.
Her first sentence stopped me right in my tracks.
She started off by saying, ‘I am definitely inviting you to my wedding! I wonder who I’m going to marry… Have I met him yet? You seriously need to come to my wedding!’
That stung really bad. This promise was probably sincere at the time, but now it was water under the bridge.
I read another letter, and another one. And then I stopped reading. It hurt too much.
I threw all her letters away.
One day, on a blue Monday in July 2019, out-of-the-blue, I got a message from Anja.
In her message she addressed two topics. The first part of her letter she wrote about the friendship we had in high school:
It is probably strange for you to hear from me. The truth is that there were a few things that hurt me over the years and I made my heart hard towards you instead of talking to you about it. I always wondered why in your books you always said that you did not have any friends and that I do not even exist in those books…
In almost all of my motivational talks I’ve done, as well as when I wrote about my school years, I’ve talked about my school experiences and the traumas I went through. It is especially when I visit the high schools that I focus on bullying, rejection and suicide.
This is what I shared with the students:
‘I had great friends in primary school; it was when high school started that it became an overnight hell. The boys voted and decided who was the most beautiful girl in the school, and they chose me. The girls didn’t like it one bit and decided not to be friends with me anymore. Jealousy and Comparison was now their friend. I was too afraid to go outside during break time; I would take my lunch box and my book, and sit in the bathroom all by myself.’
This statement is partly true. I did have a hard time in high school. I struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide.
As for the bullying, it was in fact only one girl who bullied me: Jacylin.*
And so this was my response towards Anja:
You are completely right – I always (wrote and) talked in such a way as if I did not have any friends in high school – but that was not the full truth. I had you – as well as a few others. After I finished school, I was still working through the traumas of high school. I had the perspective that if there was a drop of dirty water in the bucket, then that meant the whole bucket was dirty. But in reality it was only one rotten apple – Jacylin – that made it hell for me. That made me ‘think’ I did not have any friends.
I think if you had just shared this feeling you had with me sooner rather than only now, then I would’ve gained better perspective regarding this. Then I would’ve spoken and written differently…
My perspective was blocked because of what had happened with Jacylin. You are so right, you were my friend and you were a good friend. I have such good memories of our friendship.
Throughout the years I have worked through my healing, and I have started remembering the good things about my high school years. I ask your forgiveness regarding this matter. It wasn’t my intention to hurt you.
I have experienced in my life that when I block out the traumas, I also block out the good memories as well. This is the miracle of getting healed: The more I forget the bad stuff about high school, the more I’m starting to remember the good stuff. And there is so many good things in this life!
In Anja’s second part of her letter towards me, she became very personal and attacked me in my character:
It wasn’t nice when you showed off how beautiful you are, but meanwhile I was struggling with my weight and pimples. You wrapped my guy friends around your finger and by the time everyone went home, they were in love with you. And here I would stay behind as the ugly duckling. I was too pale for anyone to be interested in me. I have to admit that it was probably something you didn’t do on purpose; I didn’t make it clear to you what I was struggling with. But at that time you only talked about yourself and you didn’t ask the necessary questions that would’ve given you some insight into the situation…
This part of the message left me dumbfounded. I was stunned by what she wrote. I had no idea what she was talking about. I’ve never once ‘wrapped’ any guy around my finger. That was not who I was, and I am still not like that today. And I’ve always strived to let the train go both ways when I’m in a conversation with my friends; I ask them questions about their lives and I try to help and support where I can.
Those who really know me, will back me up on this.
This is Anja, a girl who knew me for over ten years, and yet she comes out of nowhere with these surreal accusations.
After I read Anja’s message, I walked around the next few days in a haze. I read her message to me over and over, trying to make sense of the second part. The first part about the high school was correct, but the second part? Where on earth was she coming from? Did I make people feel inadequate, unworthy, unseen? Am I like that today?
In my head, I replayed all the conversations I had had with Anja over years. I tried to figure out where and how I could’ve missed it. Was this really how she saw me? As someone who was vain, talked only about her beauty, was so self-centred and self-involved?
Why then did she remain friends with me in the first place, if I made her feel like that?
On the same day that I received that message from Anja, I was at Checkers to buy cat food for AllyCat.
As I walked down the pet food aisle, I noticed an elderly lady reaching out her hand to get cat food off the shelf, but she was struggling.
I went up to her and helped her to get the product off the shelf.
She thanked me and asked how much the food cost.
‘It is R19,99, tannie,’ I said.
‘Fantastic. I will take it. I recently adopted two little kittens, one Siamese and one Ginger.’
‘I also have a cat; he is white and he’s already 11 years old,’ I replied.
‘Ah that is great! Cats are the most wonderful thing ever!’
As the lady started walking away, she noticed the flowers in my trolley.
‘Who is the flowers for?’ she asked.
‘It is for my grandmother. It is her birthday on Friday.’
‘How old will she be?’ she asked.
‘Seventy-eight, I think,’ I responded.
‘I turned 80 just the other day,’ she said.
‘Wow! You look amazing, auntie!’ I said.
‘You see, it is the cats I have that makes me live as long as I do, and they keep me young…’ she said as she slowly walked away and left me standing there in the aisle.
I burst into tears and thought, ‘Maybe this is what I need to do. Withdraw from the world and live with cats. It is better this way.’
The very next day after getting Anja’s message, my friend Alzabeth sends me a message. In her text she says, ‘Thank you that I can share my life with you… I know I can trust you with my heart…’
That exact same day, I receive a message from my grandmother’s neighbour. Her granddaughter had recently done an oral report on me, as her ‘role model’, for school. She sends me the video of her doing the report.
I tell myself over and over, firmly but strongly:
Focus on the good, not the bad. Focus on the good, not the bad.
Rupi Kaur, a poet, probably sums it up in the best way:
I hear a thousand kind words about me
and it makes no difference
yet I hear one insult
and all confidence shatters.
After I responded to the second part of Anja’s letter (where I apologised and told her I had not meant to hurt her or make her feel inadequate in any way whatsoever), she replied and said, ‘About the guys (that I mentioned in my previous message) … it was just that one vacation when you visited me.’
So I tried to remember what vacation she was talking about. I had to think really hard, as it was over seven years ago that it happened.
Then I remembered.
She was talking about a specific time when I was visiting her, after she had returned from working overseas during her gap year. It was also the last time we were together, the final memory I have of her.
I remember my last summer with Anja. I was twenty-two years old, the happiest I had ever been. I was in a good place, with myself and where I was in life.
But as it turns out, she had been in a bad place.
The problem hadn’t been with me, but with her.
From what I gathered in her message towards me, at that time she felt miserable, without confidence, unsure of herself. It was more a reflection upon herself and the things that she needed to sort out within herself.
It wasn’t about me. At all.
Anja doesn’t know what has happened to me in the last couple of years. She doesn’t know about the two operations I had, the panic attacks which led me to being admitted in the hospital, selling my car because we couldn’t make rent, my broken engagement, living in the US for nine months, burying my father, moving back to Bloemfontein, family trials, etc.
It is seven years later. In Anja’s last message to me she writes the following:
I wanted to make everything right again, one day on a rainy day. It took up till now to do it. Sorry about that, old school friend of mine. I am sorry that I had to hurt you by talking about these things. This happened long ago and I know that a lot of things have changed since then. I wanted to bring it to the light so that the light can shine upon it and that it can bring something new for us both. So hopefully your last message to me is not the end and not a final farewell.
It took Anja seven years to bring the question mark to a period mark. This relationship culd now come to a closure.
The number 7 symbolically represents closure. The definition of closure is that it is ‘an act or process of closing something….’
I now know, it wasn’t because of something I did or something I said.
The book can now be closed.
We need to be kind to each other, even in confrontation and in the midst of asking for forgiveness. I have received my answer regarding as to why Anja grew cold towards me ‘overnight’.
The ones who are the closest to us should cheer us on, regardless of where they are in their lives. Because I know that I cheer others on, regardless of where I am in life.
We should have the capacity to cheer on the ones who get married before us.
The ones who have children before we do.
The ones who have a fulfilled job.
The ones who are happy with who they are and confident in the way they look.
That is true maturity, and true friendship.
* Her name has been changed as well.