A Friend Lost to Grooming

Walter Mwasi Williams III
5 min readFeb 6, 2024
Image by Md Nirob Bhuiyan from Pixabay

We were both 14 years old, sitting in the back of an English class, watching an ancient adaption of Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice & Men’. When the scene of Lenny’s Death finally arrived the film somehow lacked the same gut-punching, level of tragedy as the book.

“I wish someone had done that to me at the beginning of this.”

Hecuba groaned irritably from somewhere next to me.

“It would have hurt less.”

I started laughing. Our teacher was not pleased. We were both told to stay after class to discuss our conduct.

That’s how our friendship began. Soon, Hecuba was one of my best friends. Be it school drama, teen angst, dating mishaps, hopes, secret crushes, disappointments, family stuff, or music, we told each other everything. When the moment something funny, troubling, or upsetting happened, each of us would immediately think to tell the other. In a rush, we thoughtlessly changed clothes in front of each other. We were that close.

One Fall night, we were 16, hanging at her house, listening to a mixture of R&B and grunge. We were both bummed out about recent break-ups. Teen angst always had a way of making those types of situations feel a lot more cataclysmic. At some point while talking about the basketball jerk, she broke up with, Hecuba began crying, so I hugged her. After she stopped, I returned to where I was lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.

“Hey,” she said. “I know things suck for you too. So, thanks.”

“You’d do the same for me.” I replied.

“See! This is why you’re like family.”

Hecuba explained emotionally.

“You’re like this sister I always wanted — ”

Sitting up, I looked over to find her wide-eyed, with both hands over her mouth. Hecuba didn’t seem to know what else to say. Not until I wiped at my own tears.

“I’m so sorry.” Hecuba offered.

“No. No. That was very sweet. Thank you.”

I laughed despite still trying to dry my eyes out of embarrassment.

“Then why are you crying?”

“Because I was having a shitty day. And hearing that was really nice.” I explained.

“Jesus. You scared me.”

Hecuba, and I, laughed for a short time through our tears.

“But seriously. Don’t you dare tell anyone about this!”

My demand only caused our laughter to increase. We sat there a few more hours, avoiding talking about what, and who, was causing the hurt. Laughing about movies, music, and mutual friends.

That was our friendship. I felt a kinship I couldn’t fully express or articulate at that age. I admired Hecuba because she was incredibly intelligent. She was the type of kid who breezed through classes with little effort, completed assignments ahead of time, and read multiple books a month. By the time we reached our senior year, she was offered two full scholarships by two separate universities. She had a phenomenal mind.

It was easy to believe we would always be friends, one day talking about dating, jobs, and life as adults. Maybe it’s just too easy to believe all sorts of fanciful things at that age. Change did eventually come, and it was terribly unkind.

Vetala was in his 20s when we met him. With a tricked-out car, money to spend, fashionable clothes, and seemingly endless wild stories, he seemed bigger than life. As if demanding the spotlight, he became the center of attention everywhere he went. It was strange when Hecuba introduced him to us one day, but also flattering someone as seemingly awesome wanted to hang with our little group of wandering teens.

“He’s my boyfriend.”

Hecuba confessed in secret to me several weeks later. We were sitting in my room, talking about everything, and nothing, while I played a PS One game.

“Wait.”

I paused the game I was playing, sat my controller down, and looked over. She was beaming. I was quietly stunned.

“We are dating.” She continued.

“Yeah. I got that. When did this start?”

“When we met after school. He pulled over to talk to me while I was walking home.”

“Oh.”

I honestly didn’t know what else to say. Yet, my expression must have said everything and more, because Hecuba’s smile faded.

“He’s a really nice guy.”

“I’m not saying he isn’t. It’s just — isn’t he like, you know? 20?”

“Vetala is 25 — ”

“Whoa. Hecuba, that’s sort of a lot — ”

“He really likes me. I can tell. And he’s super nice. Please, just try to see things my way.”

“Nice, isn’t the problem — ”

“Please. I need you to keep this a secret. As my friend. Trust me.”

Hecuba, and I, stared at one another in a brief communicative silence. Both clearly hoping the other would relent.

People tend to remember the most pivotal moments in their lives. Situations that had major impacts because of choices made, or consequences of choosing not to act. I still remember this moment vividly. It is calcified, and preserved, by a layer of thick regret. I agreed to keep one of my best friend’s secrets and we hugged.

I made an awful mistake I can never take back.

Vetala was a loser. He was an adult who hung with teens because it was easier to impress us. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood a disturbing number of men play this manipulative game. The image he presented to us was all a prop. The clothes, the car, the money, his glib charm, all of it just smoke and mirrors of an insecure, manipulative, mean-spirited man who required constant attention and praise.

Hecuba was young, vulnerable, naïve, had a rocky relationship with her religious mom, and stepdad. His approval and attention were like a drug to her. It wasn’t long before she would do seemingly anything to prove her love to him, and he always required more proof of her devotion.

By 18, Hecuba, and I, were no longer friends. Vetala created this whole illusionary dimension of “Us vs World” where everyone who loved, or cared about her were just jealous, and out to destroy their love. Our last conversation was an awful argument that hurt like hell. I learned he was jealous of our friendship and believed it was secretly something more. It was never more than platonic love, but it still broke my heart.

Hecuba’s parents kicked her out of house when she became pregnant. Moving in with Vetala, she gave birth to a daughter, but several months later, their place was raided by the police because he sold drugs. Unfortunately, not only was she arrested with him, but their baby daughter was also taken into protective custody, and those scholarships were rescinded.

There is no happy ending here. She never left him. The relationship remained abusive. Vetala ruined Hecuba’s life.

I wanted to be a good friend. I thought I was doing that by not telling her parents or another adult. I wish I had told them. Maybe Hecuba would have hated me but also there would have been a chance to stop it all.

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