I’m not your “strong” friend.
I generally don’t like discussing my problems with anyone and everyone. I am very selective of who I confide my hard, painful stuff to and even then it’s always bite sizes. 30 years of living have taught me that not everyone needs to know everything about me. Also, when I was 13 in boarding school a male teacher in hostel hit on me and my mom’s words that I should NEVER let anyone convince me anything they said to and/or did with me had to be a secret came flooding back to me when he asked me to keep it a secret.
I was 13 and obviously and justifiably distraught and felt SO helpless. This man was a Christian, married with a child or two and no one will believe me, I thought. So I confided in someone my 13 year old self considered a close friend and what did she do, go and tell the teacher that I had told her! My 30 year old self can understand that perhaps she also craved the attention that teacher always gave me and so she thought telling him would earn her brownie points. Fuck, I don’t know what was going on in her 13yr old brain but that broke me in ways my 30 year old self still hasn’t quite learnt how to recover from.
I finished my grade 7 as a recluse. A very drastic change from the smart mouthed, loud, cheery child I had been until that teacher hit on me. I cried silently scared of what he would try and do next after declaring that he wanted to get “groovy” with me. I didn’t know what that meant but it sounded dangerous and very scary. So I avoided him and since he was everyone’s favorite teacher in hostel that meant I couldn’t take part in any of the social activities we had in hostel because I did not want to be anywhere near that dangerous man.
One female teacher noticed the drastic change and asked if I was okay. I wanted to tell her how terrified I was sleeping in a dormitory whose door was never locked knowing a dangerous man slept downstairs and could come up whenever he wanted to but I couldn’t. She won’t believe me, I thought. In fact, NO ONE will ever believe me. So I just kept it to myself while my heart bled that the ONE person I trusted had betrayed me by telling him (for God knows why) that I had told her what was supposed to be our secret.
There is Sanele before that incident and Sanele after that incident. Sanele after that incident is 30 today but a part of her is still stuck at 13 carrying a secret she had no business being burdened with believing that the world is filled with dangerous men whose good reputations precede them and the one person she may randomly decide to trust and confide in WILL betray her.
I have always told my therapist that in High School I was a loner. There was my whole stream AND Sanele. I made up excuses for my High School self. Too smart, had “everything”, intimidated everyone. Some of those things may be true but the truth is Sanele just had her guard up scared another teacher would hit on her while she was so far away from home with nowhere to run to so no one had to get close cos she was all she had because God forbid history repeats itself, NO ONE would believe her.
I’ve struggled articulating why I hated that High School so much. It wasn’t the school so much as the male, LOUDLY Christian teachers (in a disgustingly Christian school) we had there. ALL of them were dangerous to me. Snakes in their little holes just waiting to bite me while everyone wasn’t looking. Four years of being on high alert when I finally left I didn’t remember how to unclench my jaw. And I just accepted a clenched jaw as a part of my reality. It didn’t have to. Never had to.
I make friends yes. But there’s almost always some invisible wall between me and anyone getting close because I still believe I am all I’ve got. I had a conversation with a friend yesterday morning that reduced me to tears because she lovingly reminded me that I did not owe anyone strength not even myself. I cried and I am still crying because for 17 years I have held on to a very isolating belief that when it really came down to it, I was ALL I had. Only I had my back. I don’t know if your imagination can stretch wide enough to imagine what a heavy burden that is to carry.
I’ve been breaking up with friends who consider me their strong friend because fuck, that’s such a heavy burden for ANYONE. I don’t want to be strong. I am NOT strong. What you think is “strong” is a coping mechanism learnt at 13 and carried around for 17 whole years. There’s no glory in that. I don’t want to be strong and I don’t have to be strong. Trauma made me that way. How are you not seeing that?!
I have been crying about everything and not judging myself for it. For years all I saw were male predators waiting to pounce just when everyone randomly decided to look away for a split second. What you view as strength is in fact fear. No one will believe me so I must protect myself AT ALL COSTS oh and ONLY I can protect myself. Sigh.
Lucky Mthethwa, fuck you.