A couple of years ago I kept a post-it hanging next to my phone: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time!” This was something Maya Angelou had said to Oprah, and I posted it after I heard her paraphrase it back to her audience on an episode of her show.

Recently during one of her “Lifeclasses” on the OWN network dedicated to this topic, I heard Oprah repeat this message again, following it up with “… and when they tell you who they are you better well believe it.”

At the time when I posted this original sentiment on my wall at home I was working my way through a very difficult time in my life. I had been hurt by a group of friends, and my husband and I decided to step away from this formerly close-knit group of people with whom we had spent much of our social time with for the past few years. Some of them we began hanging out with when our children entered the school system, others we had watched our children grow up together since they inhabited their infant car seats.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a much-needed decision as my husband and I began to evaluate who we had become, what we wanted from our friendships and what this group of individuals had come to mean to us. This decision was by no means an expression of superiority over the others, we did not step away from them because we felt we were better than any one of them, but we stepped away from them because they no longer fit into our lives the way they once did.

As I said to one of my friends from the this group: “I appreciate everyone in this group as individuals and at times I’ve enjoyed spending time with each and every one of them at times, but I don’t like who some of those people become with the power of the group behind them, and I didn’t like who I was becoming as a member of the group.”

Even more difficult than stepping away from the group of friends I had held so close for so many years, who encompassed every social memory — from Friday get-togethers on our porch and bonfires, to holiday parties, girls weekends, birthday parties, etc — I had for a very long time, was reconnecting with myself. I spent many hours soul-searching and figuring out what type of person, friend, mom, wife etc. I was. I had to admit, that though I saw myself as a friend who would do anything for any of her friends, that I still wasn’t always the best of friend. I had to admit that although the gossiping that often accompanied our get-togethers made me uncomfortable after the fact, that I was just involved in it as everyone else.

I’ve looked at what drew me to the group (or crew as I often refer to them), and what made me want to escape their company. That was probably one of the most difficult tasks in this whole renaissance I’ve undergone lately … I had never felt completely comfortable in a group of females growing up. Maybe it is because, looking back at my childhood, I might now consider myself one of the “mean girls” in middle school that I see my daughter encountering now that she is knee-deep in adolescence, and I knew how girls in a group could be. I wasn’t mean in the up front, “I’m going to kick your ass …” kind of way, but I remember mocking people behind their backs for the type of clothes they wore, or for the hairstyle they were sporting (obviously, I never looked in the mirror, because the “fros” I was sporting in the ’80s, and even a semi-mullet in high school, left a lot to be desired). I sat back and let others be the openly mean ones, while I sat back and watched from the sidelines, even laughing once when someone took my crutches and poked another girl with them, and then claimed no responsibility in the incident because “How was I supposed to go get my crutches, when I needed them to walk?”

In middle school I was probably one of the worst of the bullies, I was a bystander, but often I was a bystander who not only did nothing, but who also did her fair share of antagonizing.

This all changed for me in high school, as I came face-to-face with some mean girls during my freshman year! I faked sick to avoid them, and by self-esteem began to suffer. I looked to boys to boost my ego, and though I wasn’t sexually active, I reveled in the attention freshman girls often get from upper classmen boys. By the end of freshman year I had pretty much eliminated my “mean girl” ways and was a much more humble, semi-invisible person in the hallways, and that was OK with me. I hung out with my friends, played sports, got good grades, had a steady boyfriend or two, and virtually tried to stay under the radar.

Then, in the summer before my junior year, I was raped. Suddenly, I had been thrown full-force into the adult world, and I wasn’t liking what I was seeing. The pettiness of high school. The “friends” who no longer knew how to talk to me, and the fact that many of them were still caught up with the frivolities of high school, while I was meeting with police and DAs and preparing for a court case that would happen in a year. I was angry with my friends for not being who I needed them to be, and I stepped further away from them and closer to boyfriends who didn’t make me feel like a freak and who, I felt, in some way gave me a little more control in my life. And although I made some close friends in college, life went on like this for WAY TOO LONG.

In fact, it went on like this in milder forms, even after marriage, until I met up with this group of friends. Finally there was a group of women who I could bond with, and share with, who would love me for who I was, the good, the bad and the ugly. Sure we would bitch about each other with others from the group, but that’s what friends did, right? It was all in the name of caring for each other and being there for each other, no matter what. You couldn’t spend days and hours at time with each other without getting on each others nerves at times, and sometimes you just needed to vent.

Initially, I gravitated towards those in the group, who seemed to be the most tight-lipped. You can trust her, she doesn’t say anything about anyone, but I also liked to spend times with those who seemed to “say it like it is.” Something I felt I was very good at. When the quieter ones started to open up to me about others, I saw it as a sign that we were getting closer, we were bonding, and they trusted me with their secrets. When I had something to say, I would say it to those who claimed to “say it like it is,” but as we all know looks can be deceiving. Was I becoming a “mean girl” in disguise by being a part of this group of women.

I began to see cracks in this group of friends, long before I fell into the divide myself, but as Oprah warns, I didn’t want to admit to what I was seeing. People were showing me exactly who they were, but I remember thinking things like, “I know she talks about everyone when they are not around and complains about their kids, but we’re close, she doesn’t do that to me.” Or “Boy, it seems like whenever someone isn’t around, the conversation seems to focus on how that person is bothering everyone.” Hmmm! I saw people for who they were, some better than others, and I accepted them for who they were and welcomed them into my home with open arms. I might take a break from them, or vent about them from time to time, but everyone did, so I made excuses for why that was OK.

Had I been willing to see everyone for who they really were, I might not have ingratiated myself into their lives and let them into mine as much as I did. These people aren’t bad people, they aren’t inferior people. Just the opposite. Many of them are hard workers, great parents and good friends to others. That was hard to admit after I stepped away from them. It would be so much easier if they were rotten people who no one liked, but that wasn’t the case. The case was that I wanted them to be something else for me, and that wasn’t happening. For some reason I became more negative than I felt with this group. I often left feeling guilty or having said something that I didn’t mean or that I didn’t feel good about repeating. I betrayed trusts in this group, and others trusts were betrayed when private things were revealed to me. This wasn’t where I belonged, I just didn’t want to admit that, until they demonstrated to me how I fit into their lives, and how insignificant I was to some of them, and how, though I would do anything for many of them, that wasn’t the case in return. I realized what it was that I wanted and really needed out of my friendships, and it was very different from what I had involved myself in for many years. And as a result, I was hurt by people who did to me exactly what I had seen them do to others, and perhaps what I in some ways had also done, by being involved with them.

I realized wanted friends who knew me and loved me faults and all. I wanted friends who I didn’t have to see everyday and in fact, hadn’t seen in years, but we could always pick up like we had never left each other. I didn’t want a big groups of friends who did everything together, I wanted friends from all walks of life — friends that I grew up with and friends that I had only met recently, friends that held my political beliefs and values and ones that were so far from me that they challenged everything I believed about the world and myself, and that made me think! Friends that made me a better person and who, for the most part, were positive.

I am slowly building and rebuilding that network of friendships and much of the way that I am doing that is by believing what people are showing me — the first time.

One such friendship comes from a friend that I have known since preschool. She was one of those people who was so different from me, and who at times (especially the “mean girl” days), I didn’t have much to do with, but who was alway there for me, regardless of how many years had passed. She has always showed me who she is, as has her family, and once again they welcomed me in with open arms this past October, when they were getting together as a family during one of the most difficult phases of their life. You see, when I visited my friend and her family in October, it was during one of her visits home to see her mom who had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, but who was fighting the fight. We talked and caught up and reminisced a little, and when I left that house I realized that even while facing death my friend, her mom, and her family were still showing me exactly who they were, as evident by her mom’s minimization of her state of health and inquiring how I was doing as a result of dealing with my son’s severe concussion.  Did I mention she had laid out a cookie tray, too? My friend’s mom, Barb Badeau, passed away on Thanksgiving.

Now, I am searching for ways to repay this friendship, a friendship that I have often taken more from than I have given, but a friendship that I will always treasure. So here it is people, I  know I have very few followers, but for those who do read this blog, I would like some help in paying it forward to a family who has spent their lives giving to others. A fund has been established in memory of Mrs. Badeau at https://www.berkshiretaconic.org/makeadonation/index.php#. The money raised will help fund reading programs at Craneville Elementary School in Dalton where Mrs.Badeau spent the majority of her teaching career and to support music and reading programs in Berkshire County if it grows large enough to allow endowments. When you go to the website above, if the Barb Badeau Memorial Fund does not appear in the drop-down menu, click on other fund and write “Barb Badeau Memorial” fund on the line provided. It doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference, and this would be a wonderful way to show your support for my blog and for a family that brings so much love and happiness into others’ lives.

“People show you who they are the first time, so believe them!” Invite those into your life who reflect the type of person you want to be, and the type of life you want to live. As Oprah has said over and over again, and again during this Lifeclass episode, you are responsible for the energy you bring and the energy you allow to be brought to you, and Mrs. Badeau and her family (as well as many of the friends new and old who are in my life) have brought the type of energy I need to “live the fullest life I am meant to live.”