Last week, I received a letter from an old friend. I hadn't seen Carol for twenty-five years. She wrote to congratulate me on my recent appointment of Professor at a university of great renown - she'd read about it in the papers.
Carol wrote of how her husband, Brett, left her only a few years after they married, leaving her with two young children. She confessed that at the age of forty-one, she was broke and depressed, and unemployed with zero career prospects.
And she apologised for having been so heartless when we were at school. She hoped I had forgiven her. Forgive her? Little did she know it was me who needed forgiving. I had stolen her future, taken what was rightfully hers ...
Carol and I grew up in a small town in rural New Zealand. Remember, in New Zealand twenty-five years ago, girls with unplanned pregnancies had no options, beyond giving birth, or visiting Australia for an abortion. There was also a tremendous amount of shame. Such girls would disappear to a city, never to be publicly spoken of again.
Carol and I were at school together, all the way from kindergarten to high school. We planned to go to university together as well. Carol was extremely bright, the first in class. I wasn't far behind, coming in a very close second.
But in the beauty stakes, I wasn't even in the race. Carol was gorgeous and everyone wanted to be her friend. Carol was invited to all parties, whereas, I was shy and podgy with erupting skin. I got to mostly stay home on my own.
When we turned fifteen, Carol started seeing Brett. He was seventeen and the handsomest boy in town. Brett was also cruel. He relished in ridiculing me publicly. And clearly, he didn't want me hanging around him and Carol.
Consequently, Carol and I barely spent any time together, other than at our secret place. A small, sandy cave in the forest that grew at the back of our adjoining farms. In the cave, we would meet after school to giggle and read books by candlelight. And there, by unspoken mutual consent, we never discussed Brett, or anything about Carol's new life. At the same time, we no longer discussed the future, or going to the city to attend university together.
One afternoon, I entered the cave to hear strange grunts and thumps. I saw Carol naked with Brett. Brett swore, "what's the fat, ugly *@#?! doing here?" Instead of defending me, Carol merely laughed. Humiliated, I ran away, crying tears of rage and shame.
I was devastated, and furious. How dare Carol have shared our very own secret place with someone else. Particularly with someone who didn't want to share with me. I was also jealous. At the tender blistering age of sixteen, deep down I believed that no one would ever want me in same way that Brett wanted Carol.
The next morning at dawn, I crept back to the cave to retrieve my books. At the back of the cave, a few packets of condoms were lying around. Without hesitation, and taking out the safety pin holding up the hem of my skirt, I punctured each packet a few times.
I have no idea why I did it, and I honestly didn't intend what happened next. Carol and Brett left school to get married on the quiet, and moved to the city. As a result of the gap left by Carol, I moved to the top of class, and was eventually awarded a scholarship to university.
I haven't yet replied to Carol's letter and I don't think I will. After all, what could I possibly say or do? It's far too late now to make amends.
(Names have been changed).
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