Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Ghost says 'Boo!'

(boo: from the Latin for 'I alarm') 

His name was Kieron.

I don't even remember anymore how it was we became friends, probably because it happened so quickly and naturally, with zero effort on my part. That's beyond rare in my life even now and back then, at the tender age of eighteen, it felt portentous. 

In fact, it felt like nothing so much as falling in love.

I reflected on that in my diary at the time, and not a week later my parents delicately raised the question of whether their son might be a homosexual. (Delicately: "Are you a homosexual?!") I can't prove they read my diary, but the timing was awfully suspicious. Not that I would have cared if they had. As you've doubtless noticed, I'm not ashamed of what I share. Now you know that predates social media.

But the question was alarming. I was still rather homophobic at the time -- and all those mocking taunting schoolyard voices  would rise every now and again like a wave of neural indigestion: faggot gaylord cocksucking butt-puncher fudge-packer. I'd heard them all and many like them daily, almost hourly, from grades four through eight. On the question of Kenny Breadner's sexuality, my peers had decided that for me long before. And never mind that I spent my every night ravishing dreamy versions of every girl who so much as smiled at me over those years: that didn't signify.

Now here are my parents wondering if I'm gay. It kind of forces you to consider the question.

I had written about a "warm feeling" that had "started in my chest and suffused my entire body" after seeing a movie with Kieron. And yes, I know how that sounds. But I felt it, and strongly, and that had to be acknowledged and examined. I'd even written, immediately after that confession, that I had never had a sexual thought about him, and if my parents did read that they either ignored it or dismissed it as "he doth protest too much". 

I get that a lot.

It wasn't too long after when Kieron and I spent some time at my dad's place -- the only male friend of mine to this day who has had that honour. Yes, we shared a bed. No, we didn't share anything else but a wrestling match (and I know how that sounds, too, it sure sounded suggestive to my other set of parents downstairs). You can believe me or not, your choice. But I don't lie about stuff this personal and important. 

Here, let me muddy the waters even further with honesty. If Kieron had confessed to me that he was gay and further that he was attracted to me, I loved the guy enough that I would have given that some serious consideration and likely experimentation. I did so not four years later with another very close male friend, and determined that (a) I'm straight; (b) I could certainly appear bent in certain contexts. In this time and place us putatively straight men aren't usually given the tools to properly process love when it shows up for another man. It's kind of odd when you think about it, since it's also true that when it comes to women, straight guys tend to have less than zero trouble compartmentalizing sex and love. There's the woman you fuck, and the woman you marry, and for some reason I have NEVER understood those are different women for many. But as soon as a guy so much as hints at love of a male friend, they must be catamites and sodomites and just plain icky mites. Bizarre. I'm not quite alone in thinking so: I have one dear pal who regularly informs me he loves me, and I love him back, and I know him to be straighter than a ruler. I've never once thought of him in a sexual or romantic context. 

Anyway, back to Kieron, who also never intimated homosexuality or attraction to me, but whose relationship with me was intimate nevertheless. I felt like he was the first person in my personal history who really understood me. That's a powerful feeling, right there. We were close. I can't say what it is to have a brother, but when I think the word, I think Kieron. 

I haven't seen him or heard from him since my wedding night in 2000. 

He'd actually vanished from my life well before that, or perhaps 'vanished' is too strong a word: "faded" might be better. And oh god did that hurt, because he wouldn't explain himself. I would have much rather heard something like "you know what, Ken, I have come to realize you're actually a giant douchebag and I want nothing more to do with you". But he didn't say anything even remotely like that.  He just got more and more distant until I couldn't see him anymore, for reasons known (I hope) only to him.

Agony. I felt like I  had to be responsible for this in some way, and his obstinate refusal to tell me how was its own proof. 

We're a storytelling species. Perhaps there are others: for all we know, corvids have an oral history to make a bard weep. But we have a way of making up stories about everything, and then living as if those stories are true. I fall into that trap even now, on some of my more arduous adventures in overthinking. 

Maybe Kieron never came to think of me as a giant douchebag. There are many other reasons people get 'ghosted', after all.

Maybe Kieron was going through something so awful he couldn't share it with anyone, even me. The thought of that stings, of course -- there's nothing I could think of that I would have judged him for, at least without a whole hell of a lot of listening first, but maybe he didn't know that.

Or maybe he had gone through something so awful that it changed him. I know more than one person like that. I attended the funeral of a man  who was, to put it mildly, a right prick (really there to support his son and daughter-in-law) only to hear over and over in eulogies that 'before the accident' you couldn't have found a more generous and caring man. Hearing that rewired my brain a tad.

Maybe Kieron was just too busy. Actually, that's likely: he threw himself at university life with a will, seeming to want to explore it all. He changed his major three times in three years, eventually settling into pre-med (and we all know just how many milliseconds of free time that program grants you). Still, that hurts, when a solid dollop of previous free time got allocated your way. But let's add in a related reason: he outgrew me.

This is, I suspect, the most common personal reason to get ghosted. By which I mean, when there is a personal reason, it's quite likely that one. How do you tell somebody that without insulting the hell out of them? If there's an answer to that, I don't know it. Out of respect for the friendship that was, you don't end it dramatically. Instead you just let it...fade away on its own.

I don't want to make everything All About Me, but nor do I want to ignore the distinct possibility that I did  say or do something so crazily offensive that Kieron could no longer abide me. If so, I can't think what it might have been, and I spent days thinking about it, but Christ knows I can and often do miss how my words and actions can play out in real life where ideals aren't ideal. I felt, very intensely, like he owed me some kind of explanation, or if not me, at least the friendship, but is that true, really? We were still practically kids. Or at least I was. 

I don't think it was me, if only because Kieron made one more appearance in my life, nearly a decade later. My friend Jen -- she stood by my side in the wedding party, might have been my best man if best women were a thing -- somehow tracked him down and convinced him to come. For one night it was as if he'd never gone away, but a wedding night is not the time to get into deep philosophical questions on abandonment. I told him, more than truthfully, that I was overjoyed to see him and left it at that. He said the same and did the same. And after that night he vanished, never to be seen or heard from again. I of course asked Jen how she had found him, and her answer was rather vague. At any rate it felt presumptuous to even attempt contact, and so I didn't. But even now I wonder.

There are three occasions of which I can state with certainty I was responsible for my friend ghosting me. Both times I snapped and said something unforgivable: once I was blocked instantly and the other time a very close and warm friendship freeze-dried into something much less comfortable. All three occasions took place in the last five years, and both times I sat there stunned not at the consequences, but at the hateful, hurtful thing that had spilled out of me. Why did I say that? I didn't even mean that. Fuck.

I said three and enumerated two. I can't think of how to tell the third, even in the most general terms,  without severely compromising someone's privacy.  I've hurt her badly enough as it is. 

For a guy who spends his life in reflection, it can take an unconscionably long time to come up with the right words, and if the knee jerks in just the right way, they never get the chance because entirely wrong words spill out instead. Some things can't be unsaid. It took a long time for me to learn that little sour nugget, but learn it I have. Self-flagellation isn't attractive, either. I've had to settle for saying yes, I know what I said and did; no, I don't know why (although I dearly wish I did); yes, I know how much I hurt you, because I hurt myself  very badly hurting you;  and no, I will never do such a thing again. That was with the one person who gave me the chance to say such. Did she believe me? Who knows.  Finding myself in a position to say such three different times with three very different fuckups in yeah, about three years... it makes me wonder sometimes if I can believe myself. 

Yet another friend  -- again, very recently -- was doing a very Kieronesque slow fade out of my life and saying the same nothings about it. Everything was always "fine", but increasingly never fine enough to elaborate. Weekly discussions because monthly check ins became why are you even still my friend since you never contact me. Goddamnit that hurts. It catapults me right back to high school -- or to toddlerhood. 

Eventually I unfriended her.

Two days later I got a message from her thanking me for years of friendship and saying she understood. A part of me has been crying over that message since it was sent. 

I'm going to say this once more, not by way of excuse but by way of simple, earnest regret. There was a period there where I became a ghost of myself. A scary, spiteful poltergeist, horribly uncharacteristic (no: the true horror was considering that maybe this was in fact the real me...) 

It wasn't and isn't, but that didn't stop me from being hateful and hurtful more than once. Much more than once. A veritable host of people and events have conspired to pull me back from a precipice of fear, rage and disgust, and I have vowed to myself never again  to approach the edge of that cliff. I think it fair, I hope it fair enough to say that if I'm ever again the cause of my own ghosting, it will be the furthest thing from deliberate. 

Thank you for reading. 

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