[Language warning: As I have young readers, I feel compelled to warn everybody that there will be a small amount of profanity throughout this post. There is no way to write this one without foul language. If you are sensitive to profanity, consider skipping this.]
Believe it or not, this isn’t clickbate. All of this is true, though it sounds so surreal and unbelievable reading it back. Sometimes I cannot believe that this actually happened to me, but then I have panic attacks and anxiety attacks when I think about it. That is the harsh reminder of the best friend who fucked me up.
I went back and forth on whether or not to anonymize his name. He doesn’t deserve the anonymity, but I ultimately decided to use just his first initial because of my family. I don’t want anyone to make the connection between him and them, then proceed to bother them about it. They have been through enough because of this person, and they don’t need strangers bringing up the past.
When K walked into my life, he appeared to understand me in a way that nobody else really did. I spent so long being outcast by my peers, being completely misunderstood, and having only skin-deep connections. The first time he and I spent time together, he came over to spend the night at my family’s place. He was dating my sister. I didn’t talk to him too much while everyone was around. I was polite. I wasn’t rude and didn’t ignore him. I just made small talk, observed, and listened.
He and my sister seemed to be kindred spirits. My sister had just gone through a medical situation (the details of which I am withholding for privacy reasons) and he was coping with brain cancer. They both were kind, compassionate people who could lean on each other. Still, I had my guard up around him.
Soon, my family all went to bed, and K and I were left sitting on adjacent couches, fumbling through more small talk. Then, he asked my why I hadn’t gone to bed yet. We discovered that we were both insomniacs. So, now we really had time to talk. Eventually, the conversation became deeper and my guard dropped. I came to discover that he also was an outcast who was bullied and nerdy. The similarities in our lives and personalities were uncanny. It verged on freaky how alike we were. At one point in our friendship, he started joking that I was like a mini-him, a carbon copy, “K2.0.” After that, he always called me by that nickname.
K really fit into our family. He went to the movies with us. We’d go to festivals in our town. He, my sister, and I were constantly goofing around. Bunny ears, pickles, music–everything became an inside joke. He was invited on family trips, infiltrating himself into parts of our lives which would come to haunt me later on. Across this time, he would tell us about the grueling doctors appointment. We would watch him take pills which he claimed were medications to manage his symptoms and agonizing pain. He ranted about how terrible his parents were, which is why he was over at our house all the time. He must have done a lot of research because family members of mine were in the medical field and he even fooled them into believing he had brain cancer.
Then one day, he said he became terminal and his only hope was to move to a place where there was an experimental treatment. The night after he moved away, I bawled my eyes out.
I couldn’t believe that I was losing one of my closest friends to cancer. I spent weeks in a serious depression. I’d send him messages and wouldn’t hear back from him for days at a time. When I did get responses, they would be unintelligible and fraught with bad news about his condition. Eventually, I wouldn’t even hear responses from him, only from someone claiming to be his sister or mother or doctor. With them providing private and intimate details about him, I had no reason to disbelieve them.
When we received word that he had fewer than 6 months to live, my mom allowed me to get a tattoo commemorating him. (I was at an age where I could get one with parental permission.) He had a tattoo of a gray segmented lizard on his shoulder blade. I took reference from a picture of his tattoo, tweaked it, and added his nickname for me along the side. It was a very painful hour and a half, but by the end of that, I felt a closeness to my dying best friend which brought me so much peace.
A couple months later, my life came crashing down, but not at all in the way I expected.
My mom was the first one to tell me the the news. K‘s parents confirmed with my sister that he never had brain cancer at all. Everything he said about his parents and social life and experiences was a lie. His parents didn’t hate him. He was never bullied or outcast. He wasn’t depressed or suicidal. He was popular, on the soccer team, and everyone loved him. Everything I knew about him was fake.
It was really hard for me to believe it. Some other people never had physical proof that anything was wrong with him. I watched him put a needle in his leg and shoot something into his body. He had a case full of intravenous meds (or possibly illicit drugs; I don’t know). He seized right in front of my eyes. How could he have possibly faked the whole thing? But it was a lie. He was that good of a liar. He knew how to cover his tracks and manipulate people into believing him. He told us horrible things about his parents so that we wouldn’t try to talk to them. Everything he told us about his condition couldn’t be confirmed, but also couldn’t be denied. He fed on my deepest insecurities. He targeted my sister’s anxieties and weak spots. He knew how to work my family. He was a master manipulator.
I flew into a rage.
It was slow and seething around other people. But, when I was alone, I went into my room and punched pillows, ripped up papers, pulled the necklace he gave me apart until the clasp broke. I ended up with broken glass on the floor somehow too. I cleaned it up so nobody else would find out though.
There are blank spots in my memory, probably because I didn’t know how to process the information and events around me.
My friends say that I seemed broken and lost, but I compartmentalized the pain most of the time. It was like I wanted to forget it ever happened, move on from the pain instead of coping with it. I always wore clothes to cover my tattoo. I changed the topic any time his name came up around me. They say that I didn’t cut people off, but that I closed myself off from sharing personal information. What they didn’t know is that every time I was in the shower, I would scratch up my shoulder from scrubbing the tattoo, trying to feel clean. This tattoo tainted me. It was a permanent reminder that I was too trusting, too caring, and just a tool in K’s scheme.
My mom paid to get my tattoo fixed so that it didn’t have the nickname and had some sakura flowers instead (a callback to living in Japan). This took some weight off of my chest. I didn’t want to scream or cry every time I looked at my back in the mirror.
But the whole experience left mental scars and barriers which persist today.
Afterwards, I let few people in who hadn’t already been around for a long time. Even when I made friends, I often kept them at arms length. They could be in my life, but they couldn’t know the deep, important things. I would stammer through some lame excuse anytime someone asked me about my tattoo. It hurt too much to explain.
To this day, I still have a hard time trusting people when I first meet them. I question the things I hear. I ask for proof in many situations. The biggest difference is that I am more cognizant of this trait in myself, so I actively work to challenge it. I make sure this one jackass doesn’t keep me from living and growing and interacting with people around me. It is extremely hard sometimes. My brain tends to assume that everyone is a liar or has ulterior motives or a manipulator. I am not an optimist; I like to think I am a realist. My sister and my best friends help keep me balanced out. They give me hope.
There is one positive lesson I gained from this whole thing though.
While I protect my heart from harm by putting up barriers, I love and care very deeply about the people in my life. That may leave me open to people hurting me. I don’t ever want to change that about myself though. It is the thing that makes living worth it. If I become completely apathetic, then I wouldn’t be myself. I might be jaded and tough, but I will always love. I will always have a soft heart, and I won’t let anyone ruin that.