You Gotta Have Friends
I've been thinking a lot about old friends lately, mulling over getting back in touch with some of them and weighing that against the waste of time it usually is when I do. I don't really have that many old friends per se; what I have is old acquaintances. During the times I shared with them I considered them friends, but after life has moved on and the memories begin to fade I don't feel that I was ever particularly close to them.
I think that's largely my fault, a legacy of how I grew up. I moved a lot when I was a kid, never spent too much time in any one place until we moved to Los Angeles, and even here no moss ever grew under my feet. A quick list of the states I've lived in, beginning at birth and continuing to today: Illinois, Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, Tennessee, Florida, Colorado, California, Nevada, California. I'd been in 15 schools by the time I hit 10th grade here in LA and I've completely lost count of the homes I've had. When I moved out on my own at 17 I kept right on moving, taking off to Reno for a 3 month stint at one point before I returned and finally "settled" in LA but kept on moving inside the city limits. There was even a one year period where I lived in three apartments in the same building, two of them twice. Poppa was a rolling stone, and he put some o' that moving mojo on me.
When you move around as much as I have, there are two ways you can deal with it. You get good at making friends or you get good at being alone. I did the latter.
Maudlin but illustrative moment time: I lived in McMinneville, Tennessee for the first semester of 6th grade in a one-bedroom apartment with my dad. I don't recall that I made a single friend during that time. I'd go to school, where I kept to myself, then hang out at my dad's dental lab until he closed up shop, then we'd go home and I'd spend the evening playing in the bedroom with my toys. Occasionally I'd go to the town library and read books, and sometimes I'd go play with this dog that always showed up in a field behind our apartment building, but that was it for excitement in that town for me. I don't recall that this particularly bothered me.
So as I said, I got good at being alone. Once we finally put down roots here in LA, I got to experience the new phenomenon of going to the same school for more than a semester or two. I got to see the same faces long enough for them to become familiar. I got to stop being the new kid. But I still felt like the new kid. I still do sometimes, to this day. My legacy.
I also started making friends. I'd made friends before, of course, but I always moved away before they could run their course. Now that I was sticking around, those courses were run. Sometimes I've thought that moving away was better. You see, I don't think I was very good at picking friends, or perhaps I wasn't good at being one. I hadn't had much practice either way. But what ultimately happened was that my friends would hurt me, sometimes deeply, and turn their backs on me.
The worst example of this was at the end of my senior year of high school, when my best friend of two years, Rick, punched me out at the birthday party I'd organized for him and told me he was sick of me and didn't want to see me again. I cried like a baby the next day, begging him to be my friend again. I hated myself for that weakness then, and I still do today. But I learned from that, I toughened up. I next saw Rick about a year later when a mutual friend brought us together, but there was no rekindling of our friendship: I didn't want one.
A few years later, in college, I had a similar experience. I was Editor-in-Chief of my college paper when I got sick and couldn't get out of bed. The paper still had to get out, with or without me, so I told my friends Derek, Larry and David that they were my eyes and ears while I was out. I stayed in daily contact with them, making decisions and issuing orders over the phone, and they got the paper out. When I came back a week later, with two more issues to go in the semester, I walked into a coup. My senior editors wanted me to resign as EIC; I wasn't running the paper adequately. My senior editors were Derek, Larry and David. Derek and Larry were my two best friends.
They had enlisted the staff advisors in their cause, and requesting my resignation was practically a mere formality. I refused to resign, called an Editorial Board meeting, and called for a vote of no confidence. My friends voted against me. The one vote I knew I could count on, a girl who had a thing for me, abstained due to conflict of interest, which made it a draw. That left it in the hands of the advisors, who fired me but offered me a passing grade in the class anyway. I insisted that if they were going to fire me they had to fail me. So they did.
Afterward, I caught up with Derek outside and asked him why he'd organized the coup. I thought we were friends, I said. How could you betray me like that? I can still see him standing two steps above me, just the hint of a grin creasing his face as he said, Roll on, dude. Roll on. I still don't know what "roll on" meant, exactly, but the underlying meaning was clear: Fuck you.
There have been other friends between and since those two stories, but those were two of the most hurtful because they were my closest friends. These and other friendships have pretty much all ended badly, with some kind of betrayal or hurtful words being said. I can draw only two conclusions: I'm not very good at being a friend, and I'm not very good at picking friends.
Wow, have I rambled here. I ended up writing far more personally and in greater detail than I'd intended. That's fine, though, because I started this out thinking about getting in touch again with an old friend -- Derek -- and I've decided against it. That's what thinking out loud does for you; it helps you gain clarity. Looking back over this, I guess those "old acquaintances" were quite a bit closer than I'd given them credit for. They'd have to have been to have hurt me so deeply.
It's been a long time since I've had that kind of friendship. I have two friends now, neither of them particularly close. We talk on the phone occasionally, and I have lunch with one of them every month or so, but aside from that we rarely see each other.
I've reverted back to what I learned early on: you get good at being alone.