In a previous period of my life, back when I would actually make an effort to meet people, I found myself meddling in several romantic entanglements that were neither romantic nor were they entanglements. The years would go by as cat would chase mouse and mouse would chase cheese, but eventually cheese spoils, mouse starves, and cat goes back to lounging in the sun. They were long years.
Eventually my lifetime of sexual frustration introduced me to a strong, goal-oriented woman who knew what she wanted, and as it happened to turn out, she wanted me. But alas, true to form, I was uncomfortable with this notion of “getting what you want,” and for better or worse, I let her pass me by. Excruciating is the pain of non-action.
In the midst of my frustrated loneliness and bouts of regret, I made the reckless decision to blow a large portion of my savings on airfare to Australia. Tickets were cheap, and I had an old friend finishing his degree in Sydney, with which I’d been wanting to reconnect. Alas I mounted the giant metal bird and fled my woes down under.
My friend and I had both been in the dweeb crowd throughout middle school and high school. Our lunch breaks would bring us to a chess board under a redwood tree in a remote part of campus until high school, when I moved my lunch breaks to the choir room and his chess was moved indoors. Eventually we both went off to college, me to Los Angeles and him to New York, but in his first year, he vanished off the face of the earth and resurfaced later in his birthplace, Sydney, where he worked odd jobs for a while before continuing on with his education. When I saw him at the airport, I barely recognized him. He had grown his hair out like a hippy, and he looked confident and healthy. Also, his Aussie accent was much thicker.
Of course it was a joyous meeting between the two of us, but it was also in the middle of his semester, and thus he had schoolwork. However, he found time in his schedule to entertain me and show me what there was to see around his home. Since I had arrived on such short notice, his sacrifice was especially selfless.
But I could not keep the aforementioned woman off my mind. My friend took me surfing (my first and only time). We went hiking in the Blue Mountains. I explored downtown and the opera house. We went to the beach. I took a trip to the Taronga Zoo. It was incredible. And all the while, I couldn’t help but blabber on and on about my failed romantic endeavor. Every morning when I woke up, I thought about her and my foolish missteps that lost her, and every morning, I’d feel pissed off and self-loathing and need to talk about it. So every day, whether be it in the mountains or the beautiful coast, I’d be kicking the sand pathetically while whining about everything that could’ve gone right but didn’t.
Then one day toward the end of my trip, after listening to me complain for the millionth time about my luckless love life, my friend said something like:
“Shut up. Please, for the love of God, shut up. Stop bitching about your goddamn woe-is-me woman stories. No one wants to hear it. No one. I haven’t seen you in years, you fly out here to stay in my house, and all you do is whine and complain about you, you, you? Go fuck yourself.”
He actually didn’t say this, or at least if he did, it was worded much more softly. But this is what I remember him saying because this is what I needed to hear. It’s not often you get the chance to reconnect with old friends, and when you do, you’d be a fool to blow it all on self-pity. Well, I blew it all on self-pity. Maybe I dreamt up that outburst on the plane ride back. Memory has a funny way of recreating the past.
That was the last I ever saw him. But who knows, maybe I’ll see him again next year. Or the year after that.
If I had known then what I know now about the scarcity of a solid connection, maybe I would’ve thanked him a little more for sacrificing his time for my foolish whims.
Years later, here I am.
I would’ve never foreseen living in Texas. On my wall, I have a yellowing photograph of my dog taken in April of 1993. Everyone on my “Important Contacts” I’ve only known for the last year and a half. Had I gone back in time and shown my “Recent Calls” list to my high school self, would it destroy the sense of importance he placed on his own daily life? Maybe. If my future self were to come to me now and give me a list of people I’ll never see ever again after this year, how much liquor would I need to cope? Hopefully not too much, because if there’s any one evil that must be destroyed, it’s the idea of eternity, and I consider myself being in a constant battle with it.
Sometimes when I’m sitting in my underwear eating ice cream out of the carton while watching South Park reruns, I have to force myself to stop and think: “This is it. This is the culmination of my entire life. Everything that has ever happened in my life; every friendship I’ve ever had, every journey I’ve ever made, through Europe, in Australia, around the American West, my education, my jobs, my tears and laughter – it all adds up to this moment right here: eating ice cream. In my boxers. Watching South Park.” That thought forces me to get up and do something. That is, unless it’s a good episode of South Park, or an exceptionally delicious flavor of ice cream worthy of being the culmination of my life experiences.
But if I’m lounging around and eating ice cream, how important were my life experiences? I can do that without having gone to Australia.
Last month, I was in the speedy checkout line at the grocery store and experienced a brief moment of camaraderie with some guy as we expressed our mutual indignation regarding a woman who was holding up the line by buying cigarettes, because god forbid people hold up the speedy checkout line for any reason. Once I bought my things, we both headed out to the parking lot, exchanged glances, and opened our mouths to speak, but realizing we had nothing to say to each other, closed our mouths and parted indifferently.
I live for these moments, although I’d like to believe he forgot about me as soon as we parted. I’d rather fade into his oblivion, where I belong. For some reason, I have a romantic infatuation with being trivialized. Isn’t it all trivial anyway? If so much of the past seems trivial to us now, then how can I say my present isn’t trivial as well? Is my lack of connection with some guy in a grocery store line any less important than my friendships from kindergarten with kids whose names I’ve forgotten and have never talked to since?
Is triviality necessarily a bad thing? Maybe letting go of the weight of life helps us live better present lives. Maybe if we realize everything isn’t that important, it’ll help us relax more. Or make us lazier.
It’s funny – every single animated show and movie I grew up on explored the meaning of friendship and stressed its importance, but now as I get older, I’m more confused than ever about what it means to be a friend. Once upon a time, a friend was someone you would invite over for a sleepover. Now a friend is someone you drive home because you really don’t want the bastard sleeping over.
Is a friend someone with whom common interest is shared? Most of my old friends have evolved to have different tastes than I do, but we’re still friends. We still call each other and hang out when we have the time or are in the area. If there came a time when I stopped calling my friends, would we cease to be friends? I don’t think so, as long as I wouldn’t mind being called in the future.
Then is a friend someone you can always talk to? That’s what I used to think, but sometimes friends irritate you, or there are things you simply can’t talk about. Surely some of my friends can’t stand me after a while. It’s all just a part of being an independent human being and needing solitude once in a while.
I always thought silent coexistences were depressing, but as I delve deeper into my life, I cannot imagine a relationship I’d enjoy more than one where mutually oblivious silence would not only be tolerated, but encouraged as a means of maintaining some semblance of individuality.
Maybe a friend is someone around which you don’t mind silence.
Or maybe a friend is just someone for whom I won’t call the police if I see them approaching my front door.
Why does it matter what a friend is? All I know is I hope to see them all again someday, even if we have nothing in common to talk about and are forced to walk down that dismal memory lane. And maybe next time I won’t constantly whine about my petty problems. Because, honestly they’re all quite petty, and surely nothing is for the last time.