Ability to Listen

He says you have no friends. He says he protects you from being bullied. It was news to me, coming out of an evening conversation. The significance of the moment didn’t register at the time. Something to fight against was the thought in my head. The reason for these statements bouncing around the mind. She must be fishing for some kind of information about him. Attempting to gain more data about some conversation they had been having. The statements felt shocking. Without understanding the purpose of sharing the information. They didn’t seem real in the moment. Having not thought of myself as someone who had been bullied. There were friends in my life. At least, it seemed that way from my perspective. Who might not have been particularly fond of being around him. They probably hung around the periphery of my life for that reason. Not particularly excited about the individual I had become. Even still, many didn’t want to completely give up on my potential. The statements seemed to paint me as a pretty big loser. In that moment, those were the feelings rising to the surface. The minutes didn’t really incite anger, things like this had occurred prior. Not to the extent of this situation, but my role was to make him look good for women. Anything else would be met with consequences. Like the bullying, he was protecting me from. It would be turned on me, if acceptance from the lady was lost. The role of trusted sidekick was mine to uphold.

There had risen out of thin air a group at the bar. Not unlike other groups being formed in the past. Often referred to as friendships, though in his view, that didn’t seem the purpose. The reason had always been centered around his enjoyment. The enjoyment of conquest, attempting to achieve social domination. He was required to choose people wisely. Those helping fit into the role he painted for himself. Having women around looking upon him with mystical expressions. Envisioning him as some kind of god like figure. Doing it through the tools he had available to him. Blessed with a powerful physic, the gift was used to deliver negativity into the world. Developing his charisma, charm, manipulation, and bullying attributes. He looked to hold people under his thumb. Requiring them to submit into his whims of power and control. Once succumbing to his charm, providing the illusion of needing him inside your life. The power of his personality became gripping. Turning me into a good candidate for moving his life plot forward. Someone who could make him look larger than life. A person who bares the challenges of a physical disability. Who could use the help of someone looking after them. Part of the vulnerable population, susceptible to being bullied over my differences from others. The friendship provided him the look of a compassionate person. Adding to the appeal for others around, especially of the female persuasion. Whom he wanted to manipulate into fulfilling his every desire. Then, it would be on to the next.

Inside this world, my presence didn’t seem to change. My role felt valuable in order for his game to be carried out. It had become a place for me to fit. Following the trials of abandonment from earlier in life. All that mattered was fitting in somewhere. Having something social to partake in on the weekends. Feeling and understanding, people with cerebral palsy are often less likely to be included in social functions. Without seeing this actual statistic until later in life. It helped make sense of challenges accompanying social interactions. Causing the pushing of people away with anger and resentment to feel like normal functioning. The example of our friendship made an ideal place for my intended hiding style. Allowing myself to be protected away. At least the friendship was perceived to be protective. When in reality it was contributing to hurtful behavior, in the satisfaction of one person. Resulting in me pulling away from other social interactions. In the servitude of someone I cared about, while believing they cared for me as well. The actions of supporting him were, in my mind, unselfish. While his role appeared to be protecting me against others who might have been harmful. The news from her, highlighted the inaccuracy of those beliefs. Pointing out a friendship that was plaguing my life more than understood. Denial had turned into the overarching issue keeping our social interaction alive. The information presented on that spring evening was pointing out realities. The place for me thought to be firmly engrained, inside this friendship, wasn’t as it appeared. It was instead, showing itself to be a form of isolation.

This was the pointing out of a bunker mentality. Having most of my so-called eggs in one basket. Feeling as though without this friendship life wouldn’t be secure. With the loss of his protection would come pain and loneliness. Lacking the confidence in myself to handle the obstacles of life without his presence. Unable to stand up to the judgment of others possibly coming into my path. Having his intimidating stature around would ease those occurrences. There didn’t seem to be an understanding of whether emotional protection was actually happening. The judgement and bullying of myself may have been occurring anyway. Occurring from the exterior world, with me in such a trance of unrecognition. Having become so angry and numb, it didn’t matter what was happening around my world. Another item carrying importance was his acceptance. Remaining inside the bunker of his social network. The cost to my happiness unable to be seen even when pointed out. Until the night loaded with these statements shed light on the shadows being lived within. The actual happenings inside our friendship felt repulsive. The betrayal thick with consequence for missing out on something he desired. A situation that had played itself out neatly so many times before now. This time, the object of his manipulation had beaten him. Carving out the path of revealing the façade of our friendship, working so well to that point. Shedding light on the darkened places of behavior. There would be no shying away this time.

The words didn’t accurately touch me in the moment. Remaining steeped in the shadow of my sidekick role. However, they were challenging to agree with during the conversation. Difficult to agree with words like those being said. Usually the situation would have been completely different. On many occasions a subject of his affection engaged me in conversation. Most of the time, speaking of positive attributes within my personality. Often carrying undertones of making him the center of attention, me as the kindhearted sideshow. Myself, usually the subject of needing his support and protection from other cruelty. The cruelty of opinions about my disability. Those light-hearted comments from his targets had become easy to fake my way through, holding him up as the beacon of light. Enabling the process of making him look irresistible in their eyes to flow. We each seemed to be doing similar things to my personality. Belittling it behind the scenes of public interaction, while promoting him as someone uniquely special. This was becoming the first time the harmful situation started to register in my mind. Someone from outside any extended social circle was quoting negative comments being made. The whispers, had in the past, come from inside the social circle regarding his negative behavior. People experiencing his harshness towards them. In my phase of denial, I couldn’t understand the treatment on me was severe as well. It just seemed an attempt to pull me away from someone protecting me from bullying. The information was striking me as incongruent with our friendships cognitive schema.

For some reason, there seemed a wiliness to listen. Instead of sidestepping the comments being made. The words couldn’t simply be shied away from, they poked at my fabric. Causing feelings inside bounding beyond uncomfortable. The attempt was being made not to simply belittle me, to actually tear me down. A friendship had formed between she and I, unlike in scenarios past. A friendship seemingly to interfere with plans he had spun for their relationship. Plans she seemed to struggle going along with. The past would have seen me nod and smile in the face of any comment. Any disparaging thing resulting from his thought pattern was left. Left alone to float in the air and be interpreted however someone wished. These just appeared a couple steps too far. Something inside the brain went into an opposite direction from the past. Opposing the idea of his protection of me becoming bullied. My life had been spent in the same location. Growing up with similar people surrounding me since kindergarten. They understood my struggles with the disability. It had always seemed an important reason for escaping much of the cruelty that could have transpired in high school. The protection he seemed to provide was most likely imagined. To a large degree, the harm of the outside world toward my disability might have been blown out of proportion. Manifested to help him feel needed as a protective force in my life. When reality most likely dictated, he was a major reason for the abandonment of old friendships.

He was a pretty scary guy. Certainly, maintaining the ability to intimidate others. If the outward appearance didn’t have people falling into place. His way of manipulating with words helped his cause. Paired together, people tended to back away when he became upset. Watching the intimidation of others around him was appealing. He didn’t seem to deal with being messed with often. It was something craved for myself. With the intimidation came another factor. The other side of his social prowess. His charismatic way of pulling people in toward his circle. The problem being, he seemed to pull them in as something useful for himself. The whole exercise appeared to exhibit control over his social environment. Another way of acting that excited my senses for long periods of time. Through being his friend, I felt in control as well. His presence in my circle helped keep people on edge. I was the sidekick holding value in his life. He wanted to protect me in order to gain advantage from our relationship. The situation was working for me as well. Keeping the anger at myself elevated around my disability. Showing me value only as someone who could be used to gain advantage. It had all been working for us at nausea. The years rolling by, as the friendship toxified our environments. My perceptions about myself with cerebral palsy playing such a huge factor. My feelings of not being worthy of female respect or attention, upsetting many of my social constructs. I was blaming them in part, making objectification of women okay inside the mind. It was an ideal place for me to be, his trusty little sidekick. Promoting all the toxic objectification. Until that night began the dismantling of my interpretations.

I was being shown as one of his objects. One of the people he was controlling. Instead of continuing to play along on that night. Similar to the happenings from the past. My role of making him look like the hero ended. It would all stop with this woman. The person taking the time to repeat things he had said. Statements about myself, probably made time and again. Instead of nodding in agreement or remaining silent, leaving the quiet open for individual interpretation, I refuted the claims. Holding myself miles short of being angry. I spoke about growing up in the same town all my life. Going to school with the same kids, who seemed to understand my disability. Showing remarkable support around my physical trials throughout high school. And as for not having any friends, that didn’t sound rational, either. There were people who seemed to enjoy my company inside that vary bar. I answered without defensiveness, there were friends in my life. To the best of my knowledge. Maybe some phone calls were in order for the following day. You know, just to double check the information. It seemed like such an outlandish accusation to hear from a third party. Which, in my mind felt sincerely detached from reality. The conversation began a huge process inside my world. The words spoken that night were being listened to. Starting to make sense of comments from the past. Statements I wasn’t prepared to hear in those distant moments, so they were passed over with denial. At this moment, the information flooding into my brain, connecting with my thoughts. The time for justification was arriving at its end.

In the following days, bells kept ringing inside my head. The conversation was replaying itself over and over. Attempting to formulate some kind of positive reason it might have taken place. There continued to be no positivity found. Not a single way of spinning the results from the evening. The reality of having been bullied by someone I trusted. It left my mind in a continuous fog of shock. Contemplating the reasons, he speculated about such things. Mentioning them to someone steadily becoming a friend of mine. The answers for the conversation only turned up negative ideas. The words pouring from his mouth felt manipulative. Even bringing to mind forms of desperation leading him to the attempted insults. His feelings about her had evolved from speculation into clarity. As he continued to deny the existence of intimate emotions. At that point, things had moved into sunlight, past the obscurity of broken clouds. The rest would be up to my discretion. Letting negativity pass had often been my nature. Sweeping situations under the rug in hopes of different outcomes. Rationalizing the behavior as falling short of outright bullying. The fault being internally interpreted as my own sensitivity and misunderstanding. Clarity over personal actions to take, based on the event, didn’t come easily. They failed to come quickly, either. Time would help things be sorted out. One item was clear, serious damage had been done to the presumed lifelong friendship.

The truth seemed to be upon me, bullying had taken place. The actions were a part of my life. Not so much from the kids at school. While growing up in what I considered a pretty good school environment. The belittling was coming from the most unlikely of sources. Inside my mind, he might have been bullying other people. Talking down to them and behind their back. It wasn’t imaginable, he would be doing the same to me, talking behind my back. My place in defending him, giving up of myself to be there, participating in his games. It was thought in my mind as saving me from the angry wrath he used to manipulate and hurt others. The words finding air in that bar exemplified my naïve thinking. My special place inside our friendship didn’t exist. The person I battled to become important to, ended up having these things to say. Moving me into the category of being like everyone else in his life. It would be tough to swallow after years of friendship. But, the situation also provided signs of personal improvement. The ability to listen when these concepts were being shared. Without brushing them aside, like in the past, solely wanting to maintain the friendship at any cost, showed something. It showed the elevation of feelings about my own self-worth. Parts of me having grown in the development of an open to listen. An ability to accept being told something hurtfully negative. Then subsequently, starting the process of developing the information into improved actions.

That night was challenging. One of the most challenging of my life. While also being one of the most blessed during my time on the planet. Though the shock took some time to wear off, making way for clear ideas to proceed. Our friendship didn’t end on that night. However, the evening became the starting of the end. The friendship lasted almost twenty-five years. Exhibiting many highs and lows along the way, but never until that night did I realize the toxic elements. It seems easy to look back today, second guessing many decisions. Being able to see the signs of bullying far before this night occurred. Low feelings of self-worth being such a large factor in our friendship. Allowing my perspectives of cerebral palsy to fall onto such negative places. Leaving myself wide open for becoming the pin-ball for more than just him. Convincing myself of being unworthy of the true care and respect of others. The night changed so many things about my life. Even though, months went by before any consequential actions were taken. Today, I don’t speak with him any longer and only on occasion speak with her. There will always be a thankfulness for her willingness to speak up that night. No matter what her motive might have been. The subsequent years have shown, the night began another transformation in the way I view all relationships. I appreciate her for that.







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