I remember when the Barnes & Noble in my hometown shut down. Hundreds of sad books, never adopted into the home of a loving reader lay sprawled out, picked apart by several bargain-shopping buyers’ oily hands. My 11-year-old eyes scanned the aisles of books, each one adorned with a bright sticker announcing a 50% to 75% off discount! While my mother and little brother browsed around the barren store, I landed upon a stack of books titled Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, a compilation of stories from teens around the world which guided readers on how to navigate life as a teenager. From relationships to puberty, these books had it all.
After begging my mother to buy them — after all they were discounted — I quickly engulfed myself into the narratives of several other angsty, curious pre-teens and teens. My personal favorite edition was titled “Friends. Best, Worst, Old, New, Lost, False, True and More.” I still have it sitting on my bookshelf in my childhood bedroom.
In 240 pages, this edition detailed all sorts of friendships, ranging from girls fighting over boys, dealing with eating disorders, and some even dealing with the death of their best friends. Thinking about it now, this book helped me understand and learn how to deal with a particular friend of mine.
When I was in middle school, a friend of mine revealed to me that she had been sexually abused by her father. I was shocked. I was scared. I was angry. I immediately told her that we needed to tell someone. I assured her that my mom would call the cops and he would never do that to her again. She cried. She begged me not to tell anybody. She said that her dad was a good guy, that he loved her and that he loved their family. I didn’t know how to react. No good man would ever abuse a child like that.
This news created a huge emotional toll on our friendship. I used to spend the night at her house all of the time, but I immediately stopped coming over after she told me. I also felt like I was carrying around boulders on my shoulders, keeping her secret deep inside. She was my best friend, I couldn’t betray her trust by telling adults about her abuse if she had asked me not to. There were some nights when I just cried. I didn’t want her to keep going through what she was going through, but I didn’t know if revealing her secret to others would only worsen the situation. It was too much for a tween to go through.
I kept her secret for several years. I waited to tell my mother until my friend had moved away. By then, it was too late. My mother was so angry at me. She was mad because something could have happened to me, she was mad because we could have done something to help my friend. To this day, I am still mad at myself for not telling anyone.
There is a line in Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul that reads “Oftentimes you have to look back through the lens of time to realize how fortunate you truly are.” Though throughout the years my heart has hurt thinking about the situation, I am incredibly honored to have been the person my friend had come to, to be the person who she could be honest with. At the time, I was making the right decision as an 11-year-old with no experience dealing with sexual abuse.
I have learned not to be too harsh on myself for not speaking up, but it is still hard. I hope my friend is okay. I hope that if she ever reads this that she reaches out and that she forgives me for the choice that I made.