Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Wide Peace Beyond the Pain

The trouble with attempting to parse who among your friends is most like you is that you may not be able to stop.  I'm on my third pick.  What's worse is that the three aren't very much like each other, or indeed, me.  Usually a particular event or conversation will lead to me identifying one or another as the prime of the moment, but further reflection tosses the fish back into the barrel.

The true answer is that none of them are me.  No matter how familiar their choices, how sympathetic their circumstances, eventually there is a divergence.  A moment that makes me say, "That's not how I would have done that!"

I think about this not because I'm measuring my friends to my own stick -- everyone knows I'm not so crashingly enamored of my life to thing it a good candidate for inflicting on others.  Not to say I don't like my life, on balance: just that I'm not the sort of person to go shoving my gum into other people's faces and saying "Of course you like strawberry!"

With that established, let me tell you the tale of Jenna.

Jenna is about my age.  She and I have known each other for a good long time, but we haven't been engaged friends for years.  We do the modern thing: each of us probably stumbles across social media updates from the other every now and then and reads them.  "Oh, he's in Europe."  "Oh, she's bought a car."  We were excellent conversational friends back there in the past, but time has a way of complicating even simple friendships.

She was one of the first girls I noticed as a "person I might like to hang out with somewhat more often than the other ones".  She was intelligent and in good humor.  She spoke freely of her opinions (invariably stated as the facts that all young people assert with little evidence or experience).

This never turned into anything, however, because she started dating Dan.  Dan doesn't really figure in this story, except in the sense that he isn't me.  We went separate directions and didn't stumble across each other until well after college.

When we did again meet, she was much the way I remembered her.  She was still outspoken, but now she was a confident woman.  She was still funny, but her wit had sharpened into a fencing foil.  She was just as intelligent, but now she had a whole host of experiences that were new and foreign to me.  We rekindled the friendship one afternoon over coffee, and returned to our separate lives.

She lives in The Big City.  She works for a larger company as a cog, but she fights the good fight.  Our current friendship is what I'd call distant.  She doesn't actively engage with me, and the reverse is true.  Not by any conscious choice on my part: she just lives a great distance and her issues are not my issues.  Her weather isn't even mine.

For a bit, I regretted the quirks of fate that had put the two of us in particular places that completely obstructed us from being in each others' lives.  Sure, she was dating a long-term connection while I was moving through a thicket of dates, but I still got that "sorry for self" feeling that I get if I'm not keeping a sharp lookout and being presentable for company.

But the social distance between us only seemed to lengthen -- and not entirely because of the times and tides of fate.  I felt there was a deep down stream of anger in her.  Actually, it wasn't anger.  It was entitlement.  Society owed her for a reason that she kept wrapped around her heart.  It didn't show itself openly; catching it was more like seeing the sparkle of a coin buried in a carpet.  The first few times, I caught myself but didn't even devote a first thought.

Me: Weird.
Me: I wonder where all my quarters went.

Eventually, I frowned at it.  Comments she made about people were... heavy. Opinions seemed unyielding.  When she was in relationships, she baited fate and invited disaster.  When she was out of relationships, she became moody and fatalistic.  Outside of a relationship, her drinking increased.  Her incisive comments molted into snide ones.  The outlets of her idle moments brought no respite.  She would burn with a righteous indignation... and complete the day as a sulking nihilist. 

It was this stage that looked most familiar to me.  I recoiled with distaste from her more boorish behavior, but I secretly knew that the same spark was beneath my ribs.  When she felt the injustice of how the world had dealt with her, I came to and found my head nodding in agreement.  I thought to myself more than once, "Man, she and I are totally best friends, though we know nothing about each others' lives."

I fantasized about us joining forces.  We'd scarcasticate the existence of everything, drawing strength from each other.  We each understood what it was to be just outside while the party rages inside the glass.  We knew what it was to have the thoughts that nobody else seemed capable of thinking.  We'd critique the things that everyone else loved, because open love is a false emotion!  An emotion bred of insufficient knowledge of the world and its uncaring ways.  We would become the linguistic,  literary, and emotional carnivores in a plain of herbivores.

Kings at the soup line!

But I couldn't join her all the way.  My basic personality is positive, so I clanked oddly against the negative pillars of her moods.  The more she drifted towards the high end of the Haversham scale, the more I realized that though I identified with a lot of what she was thinking and feeling, I couldn't join her.  Enough of the hardships she enumerated were beyond my ken to allow me space to say, "I...don't think so".

Had we lived in the same corner of the U.S., we most likely would have gone to dinner and talked about all these things at length in pointless but frank conversations lasting until 3am.  From that, we'd have become lovers.  Or we'd have become mortal enemies.

Or more likely, we'd each realize that the other didn't -- couldn't -- understand.  For two people so similar, we'd come to the conclusion that the other was sadly mistaken about life and what it had to offer.  We'd lament the inability to convert the other to our own point of view.  Sure, they'll go on living, but what sort of life would that be?

We each would go forward with a mourning ritual for a friendship that wasn't heading in the proper direction.

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