Without This Woman, I Would Have Lost Myself To Abuse

The longest relationship I've ever had is with my best friend. I met Sarah when her family moved to my town. On the first day of 10th grade, she tapped me on the shoulder in Spanish class to mouth, “What the hell did Señor just say?” We’ve now been inseparable for 22 years.

In some ways, we were and remain an unlikely friendship: She's Christian and I’m earthy-spiritual. She’s girly and I’m grungy. Sarah was dubbed Class Cutie and I was branded Most Talkative. What we had in common is that we both felt deeply, painfully unseen by our mothers.

When I named what had happened to me abuse, Sarah nodded, as if she’d always known and had been letting me get there on my own.

With Sarah, I felt as though a close friend — someone I deemed “better” than me — validated my existence when it seemed as though my mother would rather I not exist. Sarah saved me.

When I was hurting myself just to have some sense of control over my small, pathetic life, Sarah understood. When I named what had happened to me abuse, Sarah nodded, as if she’d always known and had been letting me get there on my own.

I don’t remember the occasional petty fights over high school BS, though of course we had them. What I do remember is how she saw value in me and planned for the future with me. I remember feeling like I might not make it out of high school alive if not for her.

Stacia Fleegal

When we reached young adulthood, a half-dozen moves around the country between the two of us required fierce commitment to stay in touch. I took my angst and hit the road — college, grad school, living with this boyfriend and then that one.

We both faced early pregnancies. At 20, I made a choice she never would have, and one that caused major tension between us. A few months later, she called me with her own news, and to say that she understood that no one knows what they’d do until they are in that situation.

Sarah is not my surrogate mother. She is not my mentor. Instead, she is a contemporary who dispenses advice from our shared front line.

Sarah chose to have a baby, and I raced three hours across the country to hold her beautiful daughter the day she was born. Years later (years I spent swearing I’d never have children), my son was born 15 weeks premature and she raced three hours to the hospital to sit worrying and gazing with me beside his incubator.

While I navigated my escape from an abusive relationship, Sarah held my hand as she had when we were 17, but from a state away this time. My first stop after I left was her house.

Stacia Fleegal

At a time when the abuse of women is more visible than ever, I feel a renewed gratitude for my relationship with Sarah. She is one of my few constants. Our ability to laugh together at literally anything is a balm, and when the world makes me so tired and angry I could scream, I can text her one word and she gets it.

Sarah is not my surrogate mother. She is not my mentor. Instead, she is a contemporary who dispenses advice from our shared front line. A loving and platonic partner who truly sees me and still chooses me, Sarah is one of my life's greatest gifts.

Bustle's "Without This Woman" is a series of essays honoring the women who change  — and challenge — us every day.

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