When you are detached from your family, your friends become your family. Whether they like it or not. It’s just something that comes with the territory of being orphaned by abuse and drug addiction. It’s a coping mechanism, really. You project your needs for brothers and sisters onto people who are the closest fit. Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t.

This is a story about the time it didn’t work.

Dear Sylvia,
If you ever come across this, I’m sorry. It’s not meant to hurt you, or to expose anything you said or did to the world. I just need to get it out, for myself. 

I met Sylvia when she started dating one of my closest friends, Earthan. He was a guy I had dated way back in the day. But it was ancient history and we had been solid friends ever since. I had known him for 10 years, he had seen some of the worst parts of my life. Some of the worst breakdowns when I was lost in a sea of confusion and anger. This was long before I was finally diagnosed with PTSD. Before that I felt like I was constantly teetering on the edge of losing my shit and never getting back, I blamed myself for being weak and wished I could be a stronger person like my friends. He had been there for me in dark times. I trusted him completely.

Sylvia and I became close quickly. She was funny and liked a lot of the same things I did, we both loved to draw. But what we really bonded over was having survived insane abuse. My friends have always been very kind and supportive of the emotional rollercoaster I’ve gone through in the last decade. But there’s a difference between feeling bad and knowing how it feels. Sylvia knew. She knew and she was suffering too. I immediately connected with her, I wanted to be there for her in the way others couldn’t be there for us. We had many deep, incredibly personal conversations punctuated with bouts of drawing rabbits farting rainbows. I loved her so much.

But it wasn’t always easy. I didn’t always understand her behavior or decisions. Sylvia told us she suffered from chronic pain, so much so that she walked with a cane in her early 20’s. She had been in a car accident as a teen and she thought her problems were due to getting improper triage. Despite this, she wouldn’t go to a doctor. Because “male doctors were perverted”. She later began saying she had Fibromyalgia, a condition that’s not widely understood by modern medicine. Her symptoms and level of pain seemed to go up and down and never seemed to have a clear source. Instead she drank Chinese herbal mixes that seemed to do little except make her loopy.  She also suffered from terrible nightmares and emotional instability. But she rejected any attempts to get mental health care. She said she didn’t believe in cognitive behavior therapy.

There were rules we had to follow while around her. A girlfriend recalled one instance where she was told she couldn’t talk about Lewis Carroll in her presence because she thought he had been a pedophile. It’s of course entirely possible that he was a pedophile, but the fact remains that he died in 1898. If you say his name three times in front of a mirror he’s not going to manifest in the glass and touch your butt. But we loved her. So we followed her instructions.

Sylvia had two sides to her: the sweet/bubbly girl that everyone loved to be around, and a frantic raving side that could strike at any moment. Because of this she held a tight control over our social circle. It was like walking on egg shells. Challenging Sylvia, in any way, meant you were an abuser. You were either with her or against her. And one day Sylvia decided I was against her.

My partner at the time was not very tactful. He didn’t consider himself part of the social group and thus gave 0 fucks about Sylvia’s rules. One day we were sitting in a cafe and well here’s the short version:

  • Mutual acquaintance had been a shit to me.
  • My partner says he’s a shit.
  • Sylvia defended his shitness because he had been abused as a child.
  • My Partner said that was a bullshit story he had sold them.
  • Sylvia loses. her. shit.

We had only been there for about 10 minutes, but the argument escalated quickly and before I could hold out my hand and say, “Hey, wait let’s all calm down and talk about this.” Sylvia jumped up, screamed hysterically about how he was abusive and ran out of my favorite cafe while we all sat stunned by her dramatic exit.

Earthan went after her, he always went after her. And probably still does to this day.

I was so upset, so completely blown away from the emotional 180 of it all. I couldn’t do anything except mull the argument over and over in my head. What? What did I say? But I was so kind, I was trying so hard to be understanding of her feelings. Why? FUCKING WHY?

It didn’t hit me until later what was happening. Not just one thing, but everything. The weird way she would “faint” except it was never how people really fall when they pass out. Her sweet baby voice that seemed to whisper to you silently, “Help me, I’m so little and weak and you need to protect me.” How she had 1,000 excuses for why she wouldn’t see a real doctor. It was all so obvious later I could have kicked myself.

But in the end Earthan cut me off. He cut a lot of people off…

I didn’t realize what was happening. I’m so sorry. I think even if I had said something, you would have never believed me. That’s how abusive relationships work, isn’t it? But I’m still sorry… please call your mom she misses you so much.

Losing one of my closest friends, especially as quickly as I did, was a shock to the system. I spent weeks trying to retrace my steps, trying to understand where the friendship had gotten off course. People began to take sides and as I started losing more friends I could feel my sense of family and belonging unraveling underneath my feet. At one point my ex boyfriend started telling people it was about him and that I was still madly in love with him.  It was a weird rumor that seemed to come from left field. I didn’t give two shits about my ex. It was Sylvia and my friends. I wanted them back and the harder I tried the further they seemed to drift away.  I was losing my family all over again and the pain of that was unbearable.

Years afterwards many of us wrote her off as a pathological liar. But I think it was always more than that. Sylvia was mentally ill, just not in the way she claimed. You don’t create a web of manipulation that complex without feeling you need to in order to sustain relationships. Sylvia lied to us. She manipulated us because she thought it was the only way she could keep people in her life. That in itself is a serious mental illness.

I’m not saying I forgive her. I’m certainly not saying I would ever be her friend again. I lost a lot of friends that year and that was the day in the cafe was what started it all. She punished me in a way that way extremely traumatic and to this day I have never fully recovered. But it also taught me a valuable lesson about people. They’re not always what they seem.


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