Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Misguided Quest For Permanence

MORE ADMINISTRIVIA: Okay, so for now the Breadbin will be a sometimes thing, an occasional indulgence. It is much, much busier at work than it has any right to be at the moment, and typing for free doesn't appeal as much as it used to.

"Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant, did you ever notice that?" 
--Stephen King, "The Body", filmed by Rob Reiner as "Stand By Me"

I am two years removed from half a century old and I am still learning things about myself, and piecing together whence some of my oddities and weirdities come. 

Eva has noticed there's always a reason I feel the way I do about things, even if that reason is specious. I've told you how my risk aversion stems from watching, on more than one occasion, someone take a reasonable risk resulting in a truly terrible outcome out of all proportion to the risk taken. You don't expect someone to fall from a hight of less than four feet and end up paralyzed.  Watching a kid die on the playground can ruin playgrounds for you. Spending your early childhood observing both your parents throwing anything near to hand at each other with vicious intent makes the Swedish Chef and other casual depictions of violence deeply unfunny and at times almost unwatchable. My mother was a very good woman, but when I was young she was an extremely jealous woman, and that has caused me to look deeper into jealousy than most, and consciously reject it whenever I can. 

And so on.

Something else clunked into place almost audibly this morning as I reflected on a friend who is drifting away from me and has been by slow degrees for a year or so. 

This is far from the first time this has happened and it's also far from the last, I'm sure. I'm not talking about the friends who dropped out of my world in an instant, thanks usually to something I said or did, occasionally because of something they said or did. No, this is a slow fade, an evolution leading to divergence.


I had no real friends from age zero to eight. There were cousins and there were mom's friends' kids Marc and Dana, but the former were family and the latter were rarely seen and I was ill-equipped to interact properly with any of them. I got into the habit right early of escaping the warfare downstairs by retreating to my room, closing the door, and burrowing into a book. The outside word dimmed to insignificance, which was, of course, the point. 

I had one friend in grade two, and a closer one in grade three. But although Mark and Gordon both lived less than a kilometer from me, I only ever saw the inside of each of their houses once, and Mark never saw the inside of mine. 

In the summer between grade three and four, our house in Bramalea was sold out from underneath us in the divorce proceedings and we moved two hours west to London. I can't think of a word sufficient to describe the pain and suffering of that first year in the Forest City. Although, to be fair, my "differentness" was beginning to assert itself back in Bramalea and people were starting to take notice, not in a good way. Grade four, though, that was a whole new level. It was then that I learned I was a "spazz" and a "quad" (it took several years before I discerned those meant "spastic" and "quadriplegic"), along with the old standbys "nerd", "geek", "dork" and, of course, "faggot".  I was stuffed into garbage cans, lockers, and toilets. My glasses were broken. My notebooks were repeatedly stolen just as take-home notebooks were beginning to be a thing in my scholastic career. This became such a favoured tactic of the tormentors that by grade seven I stopped taking notes entirely, committing everything to memory instead. 

I still don't know how Tim appeared, nor what in the name of seven hells possessed him to befriend me. We were polar opposites: he was in every extracurricular activity you could imagine, and he had a passion for birds I couldn't even begin to understand or appreciate at the time. Yet all the same we became friends, Real friends, with sleepovers and snow forts and all those "normal" childhood things and experiences I'd had no idea I was missing. It was only when Tim showed up that I truly understood how desperately, achingly lonely I had been. 

That may sound strange to you. I had been a superficially Popular Kid for most of grade three. But as I said, even the closest of my Bramalea friends -- Gordon -- with whom I shared the recess attentions and affections of four young women named Laura, Sonia, Anna, and Catherine...(it comes from somewhere, folks, it always comes from somewhere)... in hindsight, Gordon and I were never really that close. He and his family made one trip to London after I had moved. I still recall showing him Springbank Park. That was the only bright spot for me in a year of misery, and I never saw Gordon again. We reconnected briefly on Facebook about ten years ago. There was an opinion expressed that I found offensive; I asked, as was my policy at the time, for a clarification or retraction and he doubled down on it, so that reconnection didn't last. 

Tim went off to Saunders Secondary and I went to Oakridge, but long before that time we had grown apart anyway. His parents never liked me much (a recurring theme in my life)...even less so when I developed a prepubescent crush on his sister. I never did anything to advance that, but then, I didn't have to. It gave Tim's parents all the reason they needed to drop the hammer.

After Tim, I went through another period of desolation.  It wasn't until Westminster, my second high school and seventh school altogether, that I began to make friends in earnest. I lost contact with Craig and Darlene both, and when we found each other again it was almost as if no time had passed. That, I have come to think, defines the truly deep friendships, the ones that involve real love. (Men aren't supposed to say they love each other because gay cooties. Whatever. You know it's love and so does he.) Of course, just as I was really hitting my stride my parents had to pack up and move again. I made several more friends at I.D.C.I, including two who stood by my side at my wedding ten years later. One of those two is still very close, even though he is physically far away and is about to get a whole lot further away next month, when he moves from California to Leiden in the Netherlands. 

And then there was Kieron.

Kieron was somebody I felt an instant affinity to. He was tall, dark haired, with an olive complexion, and he spoke with a hint of a British accent. We got on famously for a year. He's the only male friend of mine who spent time with me at my dad's place  -- we got into a wrestling match there late one night in the bedroom that I'm sure raised a few eyebrows downstairs. Nothing remotely sexual ever happened between he and I, although I loved the guy enough I would have considered it had it come up. 

He moved away to Queen's University in Kingston and I went to Wilfrid Laurier here in Waterloo. We stayed more than in touch: we visited each other a couple of times. I still recall he and I getting almost irretrievably lost on the way back from seeing a movie (I think it was FLATLINERS) at Fairview in Kitchener. I didn't know Kitchener at all yet and in my defence, it's as if somebody dropped a plate of spaghetti and named the noodles in this town. King Street and Weber Street run north, south, east and west here, and even though they run broadly parallel, in some places only a block or two apart...they cross each other three times. 

He was the first of my close friends to just...fade. He found friends and vocations of his own in Kingston and our correspondence withered away to nothing. This bothered me. Immensely. In my world, friendships this close weren't supposed to atrophy and die. I asked him on several occasions if there had been something I had done, something I had said. He politely declined to answer. It's me, I thought. Of course it's me, I'm now good enough to make friends but not good enough to keep them, what the hell is WRONG with me, etc, etc, pity-party-pin-the-guilt-on-the-Kenny. Jen, another Ingersoll friend who has her own story, managed to track Kieron down nine years later and he attended Eva's and my wedding. For a night, it was as if nothing had changed -- and then Kieron disappeared again and I haven't seen or heard from him since. It hurt, again, but what do you do? You have no choice but to accept it. Of course, at the time, I was framing it as "I must care more for him than he does for me". 

It's happening again to me now, a friend I first made in 2005 or thereabouts is slowly but surely withdrawing. Our politics are different (although not irreconcilably so) and she's got a rich, full life with her partner and a bunch of other friends she has made, and when we do contact each other it's still amicable, if distant and a bit cool. I have asked her if there's something I have done that I could maybe undo (because yes, I am still insecure that way)  and she has strenuously denied it and then continued to drift away. 

I caught myself thinking something even worse then the boneheaded I must care more for her than she does for me, and that was if it wasn't something I did, it must be something I AM. That was quashed ruthlessly and quickly, and I wondered, not for the first time, why -- despite my often repeated words to the contrary, almost as if I was trying to convince myself -- it mattered so much to me that my friends stay friends forever. 

It's bloody obvious, isn't it? Obvious enough it shouldn't have taken anywhere near so long to realize.

Don't get me wrong. My parents never should have married in the first place. Any love they had for each other curdled before I was ever born. I shouldn't even exist.  My mom was still my mom and my dad was still my dad, and I love(d) them both (maybe not as well as I could (have))... but I blamed myself for the divergence. That's a heavy trip for a five year old to lay on himself. Couple that with a rootless existence growing up...I never felt comfortable in any one place, because I seemed to have an incredible knack for making enemies, and then when I DID feel comfortable, I moved again, and again...I remember writing in my diary in 1988 that I was a missile whose guidance systems were seriously out of whack. 

It affected me. In many ways. Most of them bad. Perhaps the worst of them was (and is) an all but paralyzing craving for stability at the expense of nearly everything else in my life. And...of course that extended to my friends. If they rejected me, no matter the reason, well....that's a rejection. That's instability. That's a judgement on me.

This is, of course, bullshit of the purest sort. It stinks.

The length of a relationship -- any relationship -- is no metric by which to measure its success. Witness how many couples hate each other, but stay together "for the kids", or because one or both of them thinks the alternative is even worse. Consider too the friends you had when you were a kid, who aren't in your life for whatever reason now. Does their absence now IN ANY WAY invalidate the friendship then? OF COURSE IT DOESN'T.

Friends drift in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant. And the thing to do is cherish them while they're there. NOT so that they'll stay, either. I'm beginning, finally, to really take to heart that friendships can have seasons.  That one or both of us will serve a positive purpose in each other's lives, until it's time for someone to move on. That moving on is always going to hurt a little. In some cases, it's unimaginable to me even now: there are some bonds so deep I'd be traumatized if they severed. But even those are not my business to try to cage and keep permanent for the sake of permanence. If I serve a purpose in your life, I'm glad to. If I no longer do...please know I love you still and wish you well. 

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