Having a Friend in Witness Protection

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I have a friend who says our circle of friends is like family to her. Yet, she keeps parts of her life, like if she’s dating someone or whose car is parked in her driveway, private. Are you kidding me? We’re girlfriends! If we can’t tell each other about the men, mess and mistakes, who can we tell?

I try to tell myself, “That’s just Janet.” I’ll call her Janet because she’d be horrified if I exposed her actual first name (which is as common as Janet), the same way she freaks out if anyone tries to take her picture.

If you ever did and put it on Facebook (which she’s not on), that would be a serious breach of boundaries. So, I doubt she knows that once her picture—taken with another friend and a koala bear when we all went to Australia—was up on Facebook for 24 hours. It’s not like she was tagged or anything, but she would’ve considered that exposure beyond bad.

I try not to push Janet because she’s truly my friend in a step up, be there, invited to our family gatherings, damn, I know how much she cares about me, and more importantly, my sister way. They were friends first and Janet acted as a sister to Jayne (my sister’s real name) throughout her painful journey into widowhood.

Maybe Janet’s in the witness protection program. That’s ridiculous because she and my sister have worked together and been friends for at least a decade, sharing that same circle of friends Janet claims are like family. So, I have to let the idea that she’s in witness protection go.

It’s unfortunate because that idea makes it easier for me to forgive Janet for hiding behind her fortress of it’s none of our damn business if she’s seeing someone or gets a promotions or if her dog dies, which it did a few years back, but Janet considered that her private pain.

Janet will tell us everything about work and talk about sports and…well, that’s mostly what we’re privy to. No religion, although I know Janet’s Catholic and attends regularly.

No politics. I agree we probably disagree, but I consider politics to be societal issues and all of us to be mature, compassionate, intelligent women. We’re in our fifties, for God’s sakes!

Janet doesn’t go to movies that might make her cry. She holds her emotions in like tears are a form of terrorism.

But, a few weeks back when her other dog was lost and I came to help her look, she fell into my arms and cried big, sloppy tears. I love my dog with that intensity, so I get it. I wonder if Janet knows, although it hurt to see her in pain in that moment, I felt honored she exposed her humanity. The dog was found and Janet’s walls resurrected.

I used to be private like that. I kept my personal pain protected. I didn’t trust people not to judge me or still honor me if I wasn’t my happy-girl identity.

Fortunately for me, everything broke—my heart, soul, illusions of security, and wishes for financial stability. I lost it all and found myself. I didn’t find myself hiding my pain and tears behind closed doors as I’d done for decades.

Yet, I’m not saying my way should be Janet’s. I survived the darkest depths because friends and family pulled me out of life’s water when I was drowning. They helped me in unimagined ways that humbled me and allowed me to accept my vulnerability. In years past, I might’ve been tempted to say, “Me? No, I’m not drowning; I’m swimming!” Finally, I was so helpless I accepted help.

I do not wish that situation on Janet. I do wish she knew that we women, her friends, will never judge her for her mistakes, fears, insecurities, or failures. We’re old enough to know our best intentions can sometimes land us on our ass.

I wish Janet knew how much I wish I knew her better—the real her, all of her. I wish she knew how cleansing and healing tears can be and the connection that comes from shared vulnerability. I wish she knew if it was up to me, I’d bulldoze her damn walls and plant a garden with flowers just for her.

Janet doesn’t ask me. When I ask her anything beyond her safe zone, she makes it clear in her eyes and tone, or cold silence, there’s a line we don’t cross. If it was just me, I’d understand, but others in our circle of “friends like family” feel the same.

Still, Janet loves us all. She’s shown up consistently in her words and actions. Lately, I’ve seen her dancing, both literally and with light in her eyes. It makes me wonder if she’s met someone. It makes me sad to think even her joy is private.

Because I love Janet and consider her a true friend in spite of the walls, I give her space. I tell myself, “That’s just Janet.” Besides, she’s in the witness protection program.


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