Friday, June 04, 2004

Friends from further afield

I'm a difficult person. I admit it. I have a very sharp personality, hostility tempered only by nonchalance and an adherence to certain forms of etiquette otherwise found only on PBS programs. I often refuse to engage in the give and take of everyday social interaction, not because I can't, but because I honestly think it is beneath me. I don't answer hanging questions. I don't inquire after sighs or pouts. I don't typically care about what you are doing. I don't like being hugged as a greating or parting expression. In fact, I don't even really like being touched. When it became okay to paw at people I'm not sure, but it is a development that finds little favor with this particular man. From this it can be easy to take away the sentiment that I don't really care at all, which is, of course, untrue. It isn't that I don't care, it's just that I don't care about the same things.

I have very few friends. The word has a stronger implication with me than is to be found in common usage; relationships generally termed as "friendships" I think of as "acquaintances." I regard my acquaintances very highly, but my friends are as close to family as you can get without blood or marriage. This is a principle distinction that, in everyday life, has little value. Each are equally welcome to my Henry Weinhard's Root Beers, each free to inquire after my time or property, each an enjoyable vessel for the squandering of a few idle hours. There is a difference though, and it comes from within me. That is, the responsibility I owe to another based on how I see them, regardless of how they may have come to see me.

Things have been pretty rocky with my old friends for the last few years, since the second year of college or so. Just about all of them have moved on, which isn't what really bothers me. Time marches on, and all things change. What ticks me off is that it seems they are largely incapable of even the most trivial gesture of solidarity or the slightest effort. Relationships are built on frequency as much as anything else, and if you can't find a few hours a month for a friend, perhaps you aren't friends anymore after all. What's worse, they are infuriatingly noncommital. It's one thing to just drift away. It'd even be fine to make a clean break. Unfortunate, to be sure, but better in the long run.

Of my old friends, two in particular are on my nerves. Sometime around 1999-2000 they became wacko Christian fundamentalists. Now I'm a firm athiest, but I generally see religion as an amusing handicap, no more dangerous than the inability to pick matching colored socks. Faith I regard with adequate respect, if more than a little suspicion. But when you hear people you used to know espousing insane views based on nothing more than a line or two from an old and moldy book, most of which was plagarized and rest of which is largely forgettable, it's disturbing to say the least. Worse, in my mind, is that with this religious conversion seems to have come the requirement that you have as little to do with your old buddies as possible.

Friend One I met in elementary school. I don't remember the exact grade, but his is the longest standing relationship I've had outside of family. His family was always pretty Christian, but he didn't turn into Jerry Falwell until recently. He's getting married soon, an act which I generally regard as a mistake. At twnety-three it seems unlikely that he is set to decide the rest of his life. I think his motivations are less highminded, and in my opinion, he'll be lucky if the marriage doesn't fall apart until after I finish law school. Then at least I can litigate his divorce for him. Admittedly, I speak from a precarious position. I've never met her, and even he I come to know less and less with every passing year. The real problem isn't that I feel so. I've always been opinionated, and most of my opinions are decidedly pessimistic. What bothers me is I no longer feel as though I've the standing to even raise the issue.

Friend Two I met at the start of high school. He was the things I wasn't, and from that came not friction but an odd sort of partnership. We usually came to the same conclusion, but even when we were not of one mind, we at least had a unity of vision as it pertained to the big picture. In the words of Jay and Silent Bob, he was near my "heterosexual life partner," a friend of incomparable value, and the kind of person who enriches your life such that it is difficult to imagine a time before. It isn't an exaggeration to say that I expected to know him for the rest of my life, but as it turned out, for him finding Jesus meant ditching old friends.

My other high school friends are important to me too, in their own ways. Each appeals to a piece of my personality, but more than that, the group of them represents myself as I would like to be. That sense of unity is one of the most profound losses of my life, short as it has been thusfar, and the genesis of so much that is currently who I am. I owe each of them a debt of epic proportions, tempered, as I hope it truly is, by the belief that they came to be through the same crucible. I'd gladly give any of them my last dime, but I worry that responsibility is all that remains between us. Worse, I worry that someday it may be that only I remain so tethered; a tragedy all the more terrible measured against the thing lost.

Of course, we're all still young. I speak in dread tones because I feel, in some sense, the frustration of being the only earnest player on a team of slackers. Though I try not to think of it in such terms, it is difficult to avoid a sense of bitter abandonment. I know that I am certainly not blameless, indeed I can only hope that I am not even more culpable than those I implicate. Ultimately, of course, blame is somewhat irrelevent. Unless it's all you have left.

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