It was just before the stroke of midnight on a Thursday. I was crawling into bed when I heard my phone buzz from the nightstand. I reached for it halfheartedly – its screen glowing with an alert that I had a Facebook message from a name which seemed obscurely familiar.
In between yawns, I opened the message and began reading it when, two sentences in, my breath sliced through the night air with a trail of broken whispers: “You’ve got… to be… kidding me.”
It was the current girlfriend of my ex-boyfriend – a nightmare of an ex-boyfriend, in fact. I had become familiar with her name a few months prior, after having received a screenshot of a conversation she launched with one of our mutual friends – a conversation which revealed her hunt for anything she could learn about my former life with her boyfriend.
I was initially flooded with feelings of spook, mostly due to the fact that I had spent more than a year with my eyes glued to my rearview mirror (and wrestling like hell to escape from his possessive grip). However, I quickly silenced my inner critic by reminding myself that she was likely a victim of his masterful ability to spark insecurity and jealousy where unwarranted. I was happily married, at peace and felt light years from the emotional entanglement of such relationship, so I brushed the discomforting feelings aside and forgot about it.
But, six months later, here I was – this time staring at a lamenting novel in my Facebook inbox. She introduced herself before pouring her anguish into me: a total stranger yet a ghostly figure so familiar. “I’m so sorry to bother you, but I had him arrested today and I need to know… Did he ever hurt you, too?”
My immediate inclination was to play no role – not even that of a measly extra – in the saga at hand, for I was more than three years free from such captivity. But, she seemed horribly troubled, and it was tugging at my heartstrings – playing a symphony of sound I knew all too well. She seemed to be a near carbon copy of the person I had been several years prior, in fact. I recognized the heaviness in her words – almost as though a phantom of my former self had popped up in my Facebook inbox as if to say, “What’s up, girl! Can’t let you forget about me!”
I felt like a veteran survivor of a storm she was barely pulling her head out of – a storm she claimed to be desperate to depart from. I wanted to extend a lifeboat by way of my words – assuring her that life was better on dry land. By helping her, I felt I was helping the broken and traumatised girl I had once been.
I answered her questions truthfully and encouragingly, to which she replied, “It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. I’m so grateful to have someone who understands the hell I’ve been through.”
For the months that followed, we kept in touch sporadically. She randomly sent me messages expressing excitement over a new love interest, while professing how thankful she was that I’d helped her “see the light” after being deceived for so long.
Each time I heard from her, I felt like her cheerleader – smiling brightly at the finish line and offering my most exuberant high kicks – chanting, “You survived the apocalypse, baby! Welcome to The Promise Land!”
Rosie Batty talks to Mia Freedman about her work combating domestic violence in Australia. Post continues after audio.
And, she seemed genuinely grateful – except every now and then something felt “off.”
“I just found out he has a new victim,” she wrote me one day. “I feel so sorry for that poor girl. So glad it’s not me anymore!”
I detected a hint of irritation, which she profusely denied. I thought, Why does she care? Why is she still stalking his social media accounts? And, haven’t we moved on to better things than discussing his whereabouts?
And, she’d occasionally steer the conversation in an unexpected direction – telling me how upsetting it was that he would often reference his relationship with me – going so far as the venture in the realm of intimacy. Still, I maintained a sense of protection for her. I had read that book, seen that movie and had the same stamps in my passport. We had sort of survived the same war.
As much as I was genuinely growing to like her personality, I could not bring myself to accept her steady stream of invitations to meet for drinks or dinner, however. Something told me to keep an “arm’s length” distance.
When she invited me to her house for a Super Bowl party, a dreadful feeling swarmed me – almost taking me by surprise. My instinct stepped forth, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Nope. Don’t even think about it, little girl.”
I felt conflicted and even annoyed by my inner warning – inclining me to rebel against it and say, “Ugh, it’s no big deal. She’s a cool girl. Don’t be so dramatic.”
Still, I obeyed its pleas even though her invitations and attempts at communication continued.
She tagged me in Facebook posts – sharing articles I’d written which recounted the abuse I had endured with him, while publicly announcing her feelings of being “bonded forever to [me].” My husband shook his head, saying, “Baby, I don’t know if I like that. It’s a little creepy.”
I agreed that it was extreme, but also appreciated the sentiment. It was as though every shred of compassion within me was campaigning for her sincerity while my gut feelings were sitting back – arms folded, brows raised and heads shaking – unwilling to elect her.
And, then the day came when my blinders were yanked off.
One night while crawling into bed, our mutual friend – the same individual who sent me the initial screenshot – sent me one of a different kind, prefaced with: Omg! My mouth is on the floor! And, I had to pour some wine.
There she was – smiling and snuggled tightly with the infamous ‘Prince Charming.’ Even more shocking, such photo was captioned with her poetic professions of everlasting love and – saddest of all – an engagement announcement.
I felt grievous – as though I was bearing witness to someone breaking a year of sobriety.
But, I knew then what my gut instinct had been trying to communicate to me all along: Her intention was not to be my friend. Rather, she had simply continued her hunt for clues by experimenting with a new – and more daring – route, in hopes of gaining further information for the dysfunctional relationship she had no intention of departing from.
Perhaps she was never befriending me at all but, instead, swindling me. And, if so, how could I stand in judgment of her? Because I know from experience that the tragic truth is this: It is most likely she was swindling herself all along…
Women share their experiences with emotional abuse on Twitter.