Enforced friendship.

When I moved to Newcastle, I knew that it wasn’t safe to have friends. Friends were discouraged, not allowed. Friends were difficult, because after so many times of giving them the brush-off because you’re not allowed to go out with them, they start to wonder why. Friends were difficult because it’s too hard to keep a secret from someone you have a close relationship with. You feel guilty. You feel duplicitous. And you can’t be a friend to them because you can’t let them in.

Also, having friends, or going out with them for the evening, or even taking a phone call or a text message from them, can result in a slap or worse.

So when my ex and I moved to Newcastle, and when I joined the choir, I resolved to do my normal trick of keeping myself apart. Separate. I’d be friendly, and guarded, and caring, and a nice person, but in such a way that no one would even realise that they actually didn’t know me very well, actually hadn’t been let in. There is no way I was going to take the risk – on so many levels – of having friends.

Ha. I’m smiling as I’m writing this because – well – best-laid plans, and all that…

I didn’t get a choice about having friends. Certain people simply decided that they would be friends to me. And that they would allow me to be their friend. That’s not to say that there was any disrespect in that. They respected my need for privacy, the secrets I was frantically trying to keep even as those secrets became more and more obvious – black eyes are almost impossible to hide. They respected that I could not be a good friend to them, even as they acted to be good friends to me. And after Emancipation Day (one year ago yesterday!), when I seized my life and my freedom, they celebrated and mourned and raged and laughed with me. They are angrier than I am about what I went through. They worry about me, and nag me to eat, and infuse me with life when things are bleak. For the longest time, and possibly without knowing it, they were light and strength to me when I had none.

The point, though, is that I thought I was in control. I thought I could keep people out, remain isolated and lonely and safe. But the Universe, the Creator, the Sustainer and Source of Being, had other ideas. I didn’t get a choice. The Word decreed, “You will have friends.” And so it was done.

And I’m profoundly grateful.

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