Pause.

Two days ago, I felt both my breath and heart pause as I noticed the subject line of one of my emails. At first glance, I thought that the email, announcing a Facebook message, was simply spam and my mouse hovered over the delete button. But curiosity set in, and before I could stop myself, I opened this message that was sent at 2 AM and was completely thrown off balance.

I have been in love once before. It was hard, fast, and all-consuming. And whenever I told someone, they would shrug it off as a petty crush and nothing more. But I felt something – I knew something was there and the pull between us was indescribable. It wasn’t some big secret either, everyone and anyone could sense our chemistry. But we both came from strict households and therefore neither of us could ever dream of pursuing an interest. But the thing is, and it has been dawning on me more and more after reading this message, we may have been the best of friends, but I certainly wasn’t treated with due respect. And I think my love for him was what masked this unacceptable behavior.

He was intelligent, quirky, quick-witted, and had a thirst for knowledge that I found enthralling. I have always been clever, but in his presence, I pushed myself even further both academically and socially, tapping into potential I did not realize I had. He was the first person I spoke to when I woke up and the last person I said good night to before I went to bed. There was never a dull moment between us because there was always something to discuss, something to debate on. But with the wit, came the subtle insults. Crass speech that I didn’t particularly care for, but despite my protests, he would use regardless. Back then, I was the type of girl who didn’t utter a single term of profanity – so I understood that not everyone would abide by my moral standards. But it wasn’t just the speech, it was the words that were thrown at me. I had never cried over someone until he walked into my life. Words – hurtful, despicable language – cloaked in jargon so sesquipedalian, that I felt both insignificant and moronic simultaneously.

We were not in a relationship. We were not lovers, nor were we anything but close friends. But under that shield of “friendship”, I was in love with him, and so I took in what I could, without any reprimands and without walking away. All this time, all these years, I didn’t see it for what it was. I’m not sure – maybe because in my head, I associated it with solid relationships? Familial, martial – relationships of that sort. But in actuality, abuse – verbal, physical, emotional, mental – can happen between anyone and at any time. Certainly between friends, most certainly between close friends.

I fell in love with him, and for seven years of my life, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. As if I was looking through a window, I witnessed my demeanor shift and change and watched as my thoughts grew darker with every interaction.  I tried to move on from him as quickly as possibly. I tried to cut ties, and when that failed, I tried to become friends again. That chemistry between us, that never died, but now looking back, neither did his behavior toward me. My thoughts were discounted and my gender was used against me more often that not – I was patronized for the beliefs I held. Sure, there was some support – some words of encouragement, but just around the corner was another belittling statement.

Last year, with the end of school, I finally was able to let go. Gone were any feelings of love and respect. Gone were the feelings of pain and seeking revenge. I simply let go, and I’ve had such a happy year where I’ve grown so much.

Fast forward to Wednesday. His message was a six paragraph long apology detailing his sorrow for acting the way he did toward me. I’ve probably read this message over 50 times in the past 48 hours, agonizing over whether I should respond or not, and if so, how? My entire life, my “busy and exciting life that I am blessed with” as he so elegantly put it, was put on pause. My thoughts were naught by his words and figuring out what the underlying meaning was. Because you see, not only was this an apology to me – it was an apology to the entire female race. Someone he was familiar with had became a sexual predator and victimized mutual friends of theirs and he was suddenly hit with the realization that his misogynistic behavior contributed to this scenario. So this six paragraph long message is also a declaration of how he will stand up for women in this fight against sexual violence. And all of that, which, don’t get me wrong, is great and everything, had me utterly confused on why I was being associated with abuse given I have never been the recipient.

But it finally hit me. It hit me just moments ago. There is no ulterior motive to his actions. From what I can gather, there was no malice laced in his words. He just happened to arrive at a conclusion that I should have seen long ago. The friendship we had – as fated as it seem to be – was toxic. He never laid a hand on me, but his words were weapons enough to bring me down and force me into my own shell. Even his lack of communication, times when he would suddenly withdraw and leave me with cryptic sayings, was in a way, a form of abuse. He would leave and then come back, play with the strings that made up me and eventually, led to my unraveling.

As someone who believes in rehabilitation and second chances, I am content that he has seen the error of his ways and is trying to take steps towards becoming a better man. But I won’t be replying to his apology. There is no reason to – I’ve put the past behind me and his message only affirms my actions. I will never be the same person I was before I met him – that I know. But I will also never, ever put myself in a similar situation, and for that, I thank him.

– A.

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