Today is the birthday of a friend of mine from high school. I haven’t seen her in years, but I never forget that this day is her birthday. As many do, our paths diverged after high school: I went to university; she went right to work then soon became pregnant with her first child. Being from a religious family, they made her choices for her. She would marry the boy she barely loved, or knew well, and raise a family. That boy became an abusive husband and father, who beat her during both her pregnancies and whenever else it suited him; facts she hid from me for a long time.
When she first told me, I felt outraged and wanted to do everything in my power to punish him and to change her situation: she and her children could stay with me as long as necessary so she could figure out what she needed and wanted to do for herself, for them. She never left him because both families and her religion forbade it. Family elders and their priests counselled them, but the abuse never ended. It evolved, becoming the thing that controlled her life, isolated her, made her ill, and a shadow of the vibrant person she once was.
All these years later, I still become overwhelmed with grief and anger, and well up with tears when I think of the smart beautiful funny girl she was and the hopeless woman she became. There is nothing I wouldn’t have done to help her leave him and nothing I wouldn’t do now. On the odd occasion when we talk on the phone because he’s not lurking somewhere nearby, the topic and the possibilities of how she could leave still arise, but the fear she feels for herself and her children outweighs all else. So, I tell her to keep herself safe and reluctantly hang up and wait for the next time she calls.
I don’t know if she received the birthday message I sent to her by text this morning. I didn’t get a reply. I can only hope she did receive it and believe that telling her I love her makes a difference in her day, and in this fraction of her life. When you love someone that’s what you want for them: goodness and the best of everything. Even when you know, the chances of that happening are slim. Nevertheless, just in case, I’ll send another birthday wish into the universe for my old friend with all the love in my heart, and I’ll pray that she’s keeping safe.
Elton John – Friends