- In 2016, I moved to London. At my farewell party in Johannesburg, my father told me he hoped I would get married soon because he would worry about me being abroad without any family.
- I have always tried to convince him that I also love my chosen one while I really appreciate my biological family.
- And naturally, as the youngest and only daughter, I value my female friendships above anything else. Then my best friend stole R75 000 from my dad.
Late last year, my best friend, travelling companion and neighbour of 30 years, tricked my dad into loaning her R75 000 for a hospital bill and then ghosted us. It took a while to realise that this is what had happened, and it took even longer to see that I was going through the five stages of grief.
Like anyone, I have lost touch with people who impacted my life and outgrown old friendships, but I have never experienced a sudden, utterly acrimonious break. In some ways, this was as traumatic as a car crash. I was suddenly mourning a dead friendship.
When my friend texted me from the hospital, neither I nor my father thought twice about it. This was a girl with whom I grew up in the same neighbourhood. My father who is a gynaecologist delivered her two younger siblings. She is a generous, extravagant, intelligent and - I thought - all-around, accomplished businesswoman. So, my father loaned her the money she needed, there was no reason to even think she may not pay the money back.
For as long as any of her friends have known her, we have seen her go from strength to strength, opening one successful business after another. None of us had any reason to believe that the glamorous picture she had painted of her life, which we often got to see for ourselves, was anything but.
However when she was due to pay back the money her texts became more sporadic and then stopped altogether. Eventually, she sent me a proof-of-payment slip which she said if proof she paid the money back the money into my dad's account. Shockingly the bank later told my father that the proof of payment was fraudulent.
She never answered a single call from me or my father after that. Bizarrely, she sent me screen captures of her phone, apparently indicating that she tried to return our calls, but we missed them. I kept trying to reach her through email, WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook. The messages ranged from pleas to get in touch to concern about whether she was in any sort of trouble. Once, I texted, “I just want you to know that you have broken my heart. I thought we would be friends forever.”
The more I tried in vain, the more frustrated I was getting. I also felt guilty for causing this problem for my father, who was already under pressure as a doctor in a pandemic. With my permission, my father went to her office to investigate. There, he was met by her former colleague, who said that he had kicked her out after discovering she was stealing from their company.
He spelt out a series of criminal acts she had allegedly committed, which he learned about after a former business partner refused to work with him if he was associated with my friend. When my father told me everything she had done, I was shocked and then numb, and then very angry.
As my father and I started looking at debt collectors and other legal ways of getting our money back, we still informed her every time that we were pursuing these avenues unless she got in touch with us. I messaged her often to say that she didn’t have to handle things this way, all she had to do was talk to us, and we would work out a manageable schedule of repayment. At this point, it wasn’t really about the money, it was about betrayal, disappointment and utter disrespect.
Though not an official stage of grief, this is the strongest and most prevalent, weaving through all the other stages and tying them together like an evil thread. I felt guilty about inconveniencing my father, but I also felt extremely guilty about the kind of friend I was. How could I have been so blind to this double life she was leading? Did I choose not to see? My trust and reliance on her led me to believe that we would always be friends. But was I using her?
In my eyes, she was a Superwoman, someone who was capable of everything. I often told her how much I admired her, but maybe I was putting too much pressure on her to fulfil that image. I also realise that this is not ordinary behaviour and that she must suffer from a mental illness that doesn’t allow her to feel empathy or remorse. And personality disorders tend to stem from trauma. I know she had a difficult childhood and was working through a lot of insecurities. I once asked her if she felt like she had to do all these things for me to justify being my friend. She laughed, and then I told her I felt like actually, I did not do enough to deserve her friendship. I still believe that. When I realised that I had lost a sister, depression set in.
Towards the end of last year, I was sleeping all the time, overeating and was generally unmotivated to do anything. I would have been confiding in her about my pain in any other situation, and she would have been there for me as always.
I am totally aware that this experience is not the worst thing that has ever happened to a human being. So many people have lost so much more in much worse ways. So why even write this? I cannot say that I am not motivated by malice and revenge. I want to hurt her the way she hurt me. I want her to face repercussions. But mostly, I want to feel seen and heard by her. The lack of communication is devastating; to think that she could just cut me off - and cut off our mutual friends - without any feeling is unimaginable to me. If she acknowledged this privately in any way, without gaslighting, I’m not sure I would be writing this right now.
During this pandemic, my father was relieved I was home. “I would have been worried about you there alone in London without family,” I told my dad, as I always do, that I have friends like family. “Oh yeah, what about her?” he asked. I can see how hurt he is.
I still trust my friends. I am really so lucky to count some of the most remarkable, magnanimous, funny, kind and hardworking people among my chosen family. I still don’t deserve them.
I am just not there yet.
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