Virtue304.2

For more than 15 years, Annie has photographed her friend Hannah.

Hannah & Annie, Friends 4 Ever

A series of photos, journal entries and drawings that document the dramatic yet also totally ordinary adolescence of a loyal friend and survivor named Hannah.

NEITHER ANNIE FLANAGAN nor her friend Hannah remembers precisely how they met and became friends. They went to the same middle and high schools in D.C. in the late ’90s and early 2000s—small schools where everyone basically knew everyone, with lots of pot-fueled parties and aimless after-school hangouts. “Our becoming friends was really gradual,” says Annie. “At some point, we realized we both liked to get stoned and walk around. That was it, really.”

A note from Annie to Hannah in 2004. The two would stop speaking for two years soon after this was sent.

The two were soon inseparable. Hannah didn’t mind that Annie always had a camera around her neck, with which she would capture random moments, from sunbathing and lemonade stands to make-out parties and poolside cigarettes. “I’m a Leo and I’m happy to be the center of attention,” explains Hannah, who asked that we not use her last name. “I got used to the idea that being alive around Annie meant having her take my photo.” One of Annie’s favorite pictures of Hannah is from 2004, when the two, with some other friends, decided it would be fun to get stoned, go into the woods, take their clothes off, and pose for pictures. In the photo, Hannah is about 18. Her face is turned away from the camera, her body covered by her hands, framed by the dark night and strategically placed leaves. The focal point of the image is Hannah’s hair, a glorious, gleaming mass of copper tumbling down her back.

A lot has happened since that journey into the woods.

A page from Annie’s journal, 2004.
After a hurricane hit D.C. in 2004 and knocked out all the power in their neighborhood, the two friends decided to head outside to take pictures.

Buddies Laura and Hilary relax during the summer after high-school graduation, 2004.
Annie’s friends Lindsay and Sofia in 2003. As a teenager, Annie experimented with different types of cameras, taking pictures of friends in her D.C. neighborhood.
Hannah and friends Sofia and Anna on a weekend trip to a Delaware beach, 2004.
A page from Annie’s journal, 2004. She says now that many of her friends were on the spectrum for eating disorders.
Annie kissing a boy in ninth grade, 2001.
High-school friends partying, date unknown.
Annie’s friend Sofia tends to her in a local park, a favorite hangout, 2001.
Hannah and Annie were prescribed Adderall and other drugs by doctors in the late ’90s. In a note from 2003, Hannah’s friend Sofia pleads with her to take care of herself.
Hannah during a power outage caused by a hurricane, 2004.
Hannah, wearing a shirt with the words “Jail Bait” on it, kisses a local boy during a trip to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, 2004.
High-school friends Danny and David arm-wrestle at a backyard house party during Annie’s summer break from college, 2006.
A photo Annie took of Hannah and her friend Jen, 2004–5.

Annie and Hannah’s story is not just about friendship, but about survival. Both women suffered sexual assault and abuse at the hands of men: Annie was raped twice while in college, and Hannah spent four years in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, a period during which she was isolated from most of her friends and family for long stretches of time.

Hannah’s toxic relationship began in high school and bled into college. It wasn’t physically abusive at first, and she read her boyfriend Mike’s overprotectiveness and jealousy as evidence of his love for her. She tried breaking up with him once during college, after coming across a list of warning signs of an abusive relationship, but it didn’t stick.

An anonymous partier snorts Adderall or another prescription drug in college, 2006. In high school, both Hannah and Annie had been prescribed Adderall to help with a diagnosis of ADHD.
Sofia, Hannah, Jen, and two male friends. This photo was taken at one of the group’s last social gatherings after Hannah started dating Mike, who didn’t want her to hang out with friends.
A February 2006 photo of Hannah and her boyfriend Mike, taken before Hannah and Annie’s estrangement. In later years, Hannah would tell Annie that Mike beat and raped her, sometimes with a smile on his face.
“I thought I could help him. I thought he loved me. So I stayed for a long time,” Hannah said of her relationship with Mike.

One morning in May 2009, Mike woke Hannah up at 6 a.m. to start a fight, ordering her to sit on the couch and not move for hours. “He’d been beating me up all morning, and he was getting tired and more lenient,” she says. “I saw a chance. I asked him for some orange juice, knowing that when he opened the fridge, it would block his view of the door, and I could run for it.” Hannah bolted down the hallway of their apartment building, yelling and pounding on doors. He ran after her, grabbed her, and started dragging her by her hair back to their apartment. A neighbor intervened, Hannah pressed charges, and her boyfriend ended up spending five weeks in jail.

Hannah in a New York City hotel room in June 2006; she and Annie would soon stop speaking to one another.
A letter from Hannah to Mike, written in 2008. She never sent it.
In 2006, Hannah’s mother took a photograph of her daughter’s first black eye. Hannah chose not to press charges.
By November 2009, Hannah had left Mike and reconnected with Annie. As this portrait demonstrates, she’d also been pulling out hair from the top of her head, complaining about a sensation that worms were crawling around in her.
A poem from Hannah’s journal, written sometime before 2008, detailing the pills her doctor had prescribed, and others she would rather try.
Hannah, seen here in 2012, shaved her head to prevent herself from pulling out more of her hair. Victim advocates at domestic-violence shelters say that it can take as long as ten years to recover from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Suicidal and suffering from PTSD and survivor’s guilt, Hannah made a list of pros and cons of staying alive in 2010, a year after she left Mike.
Hannah asleep in bed with her then-boyfriend, Joe, on a day in March 2010 when Annie would accompany her to a doctor for PTSD treatment. Joe supported Hannah throughout her ordeal.

Hannah reached out to Annie not long after she left Mike. “She just let me talk for hours,” says Hannah. “To be able to tell this story and have someone not question it at all, to just believe me—that helped me start to trust my own mind again.” At some point, Annie started combing through old bins of negatives and journals that she had saved since middle school. “I started compiling her story as a larger narrative, looking at the forces that defined us as young women. It’s not like you just jump into a shitty, unhealthy situation out of nowhere. I wanted to go back and piece it together—to look for the ways in which we’re conditioned as women to appear vulnerable, the ways in which we’re taught that our bodies aren’t our own and aren’t worth protecting.”

Knowing what the two women would endure as they got older, it’s impossible not to go back and scour the images of their adolescence for hints of trouble to come. There’s the page from Annie’s high-school journal with nothing but the word “fat” scrawled over and over. There’s the shot of Hannah, eyes half-closed, leaning in for a kiss from a guy with frosted tips, who never shows up in the diary again. But are the stories in these pictures a series of missed signals, or simply one version of the road map we expect all teenage girls to navigate on their own, hoping they’ll make it through with minimum damage?

Annie took this photo of a wall in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while on the phone with Hannah in August 2014.
Annie and Hannah, 2013.

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