Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Anatomy of a Change

He was my best friend, the one guy I could count on to be around when I wanted company. Friendship was a nebulous thing to me. I knew what I wanted in a friend so that's what I gave, but what I'd gotten back throughout my youth was something else altogether. What I'd learned was this; when I was alone with a friend I was important, recognized, appreciated. When I was with a friend who was with other friends, I was a target, in the way. I figured it was me that had it wrong, that having friends was all about filling empty space with one's best option of the moment, to suit one's current mood and instant interests. I figured loyalty was regarded as silly and consistency of character was a standard for losers. But even with that attitude I couldn't figure out what was going on one afternoon as we tried to overcome boredom.

My house stood on a very tall hill, its basement windows looked directly into the second floor windows of Tim's house. The hill was sloped incredibly steeply, yet builders still had to make a small cut into the ground to make the neighborhood lots perfectly equal in size. So there was a 2 foot tall retaining wall of rocks and concrete between our homes that we would sit on when we couldn't decide how to spend a few hours of childhood freedom. We'd been talking for a few minutes, "Swimming?" "Nah." Let's go to the park." "Nah." It was the sixties version of "been there done that" and nothing seemed even remotely interesting. Then Tim stood to stretch and pulled a top from his pocket. Everyone had their time killing favorite toy; some loved yo-yos, some bought rolls of cap gun "caps" and would kneel for hours on a sidewalk, whacking little explosions out of paper lumps of gunpowder using dad's best framing hammer. Timmy had a thing for tops, but he wasn't about to play with the toy itself.

He stood behind me and unraveled the string which had a plastic fob on the end that could be hooked behind fingers so as to not lose the item. Then, he began to whip my head with the fob.

Of course I said stop it and various other words that could be interpreted as either commands or pleas. He just kept on as if he didn't hear me. It was absurd, ridiculous, and I felt a combination of emotions swarm me as if bumbly bees discovering a honey soaked Pooh. Within seconds I recalled every time he'd crapped on me, disavowed my friendship, "ditched" me or otherwise humiliated me in front of mutual acquaintances. And within a few more seconds I wanted to kick his ass. But he was my best friend; if I kicked his ass I would be faced with a change in my life and I hated change. I had nothing but chaos at home, I wanted some tiny bit of stability, some vestige of "normalcy" in my world. And counting all the kids I went to school with, all the neighbor kids, all the kids who hung around at Linden Hills park, Tim was pretty much it, the only "friend" I had... after a fashion.

It didn't hurt, it was a kite string he was whipping and the plastic was lightweight. It was amazing he could even hit me with it, had there been wind gusts he'd never have reached me. And yet, it went on and on, needling me, annoying me, forcing me to fight the desire to simply stand, grab him by the collar and pound his head into the wall between our houses until he was no longer able to make me his fool.

What I remember vividly is the wonder. That I had chosen a friend that would constantly poke at me was easy to downplay, even by 13 I'd considered myself an idiot in the selection process. What I wondered was why someone would get off on demonstrating his contempt for me rather than simply saying "piss off you bore me" and being done with it... and secondly, why I seemed incapable of doing the latter myself.

Eventually I did stand and threaten him. He quit, and then pondered aloud who would win a fight between us; like I had asked for a "friendly" boxing match rather than advised him that his body parts were about to be rearranged. I said nothing, walked into my house and never again looked for his company. It was three years before I had another friend, three years in which I learned to entertain myself in both healthy ways, and not so healthy.

Nothing's changed really, up until I stopped bothering I still chose as many abusive friends as not, and now because of my penchant to mistake need for care I tend to avoid people in the main. I'm sure my attitude would be considered neurotic in most circles, no doubt many would say "for God's sake grow up and get over it." But I can never stop the switch that triggers the question "how much compromise is too much, is this abuse or do friends simply treat each other this way and I'm over sensitive."

I know life's not all about me, I'm very aware that I have a limited role in the world outside my own skin. And it's always a struggle to find the line between giving too much and taking too much when I'm dealing with the other kids in the sandbox. But all I really need to do is remember Timmy and the top string, and when I feel that humiliated, that powerless to emotion, that unneeded, it's time to suffer change.

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