22 May 2021

Friends For Life

(Originally published July 15, 2012) 

I had a friend in high school that I used to run around and get into trouble with. No surprise there: that was the reason for having friends and probably still is. We'd drink, drive fast, consume questionable amounts of questionable substances, and then pass out, usually after miraculously returning to his house and watching some crappy movie for the 500th time. We played in a godawful punk band together. We were close. Really close.

What I remember most about him was that we continuously promised--in the way that only drunks and 16 year olds getting drunk can promise--that we'd be "friends for life." At some point after the 15th Budweiser or the second pint of rum, chased with Coca-Cola in a parking lot or a park, we'd swear it: friends for life.

The last time I saw him, the conversation, while having sparks of our old camaraderie, seemed a bit awkward, strained; too-polite. We were still friends, yes, but that bond had grown transparent, stretched thin by time and distance. I haven't spoken to him in years. I scarcely know what he's doing now. I don't know what we'd talk about now. The old times are just that: old. There's little point in rehashing them except for the sake of stale sentimentality and forced nostalgia. The life of our friendship for life seems to have more or less expired.

"Friends for life" is just one of the scores of illusions that must eventually surrender to reality, but of the lot, it's a relatively benign fantasy, like thinking oneself capable of starting a revolution or making the world a better place or any other college essay topic that should never be committed to paper. Far worse is the idea that one knows more than one knows: the absurd melodramatic adolescent world-weariness that, unfortunately, is often allowed to exist long after its expiration date. Any American over the age of 18 who has ever written about "their soul" can be said to display symptoms of this. Nobody--and I mean nobody--gives a rusty fuck about your soul, except, perhaps, psychotherapists who'll happily listen to you rattle on for as long as you like on the subject while inwardly rolling their eyes and charging you by the minute. Friends for life at least suggests real sincerity between two people. That's worth more than a million imagined revolutions.

What nobody tells you when you're 16 and swearing friendships for life is that you live dozens of lives when you're alive. No one lives just one life: not even the most boring of people. The life I had then is incompatible with the one I have now. I am geographically distant, but more so than that, my heart is simply no longer in the same place. I am not my 16-year-old self anymore.

That doesn't mean I've changed all that much. It simply means that my priorities have shifted. My considerable frustration with the world hasn't decreased: it's matured. I no longer have any fantasies of ruling or changing the world. I simply want to keep its ugliness as far from me as possible. Nostalgia holds no real draw for me except, perhaps, as a literary tool: I'm quite happy to keep my past in the past. That may seem irreconcilable with my tendency toward "golden-age thinking," but I never had any illusions that my childhood or adolescence were idyllic or that I was living in the "best years" of my life.

None of this negates the lifetime friendships I've had. Lives within lives end. They meet little deaths that, like all deaths, we may feel acutely at first but eventually become accustomed to and learn to accept as new lives flourish in their receding shadows. It's notable that the friendships that remain clearest to me are the ones I've had with people who have actually died: the ones whom death has polished with the illusion of perfection and wiped free of all blemish, all real humanity in all of its awkward imperfection. When our friends die, we too, drink from the waters of Lethe and forget the past as it actually was.

I don't look back to those days of stupid mistakes and bad ideas with any kind of sentimentality, nor do I judge them as terrifically idiotic. They just remain details that, for me, seem to have lost their richness and hue, having paled under other experiences; other lives. 


Anonymous said...

This. Right in the feels. When I read things like this, real things, the only conceivable thing I can think to do is thank the author. It feels good to say it to someone alive, rather than whispered thanks in the dark after finishing pieces by those long deal. So thank you.