What Do I Owe You?
This from a friend of a friend: “Why are you doing this, exactly?”
I was at a house-warming party, and it was just four of us left, including the hosts. Tim, who’s been in remission for his own cancer for over ten years, had asked some question or another, and I mentioned driving up to see Anthony. The friend of a friend made the odd challenge. Why am I doing this, exactly?
“This,” in this case, means driving five and a half hours (now seven-ish) to see Anthony, maybe put in some actual labor (painting, mowing a lawn), then driving back. And, for the past four visits, it’s meant getting sick. Psychosomatic issues, anyone? Well, that’s what antibiotics are for.
I’ve got strong feelings regarding the idea of friendship, even if I toss the word around more casually than I used to, when I used to feel strongly and was fussier about word choice. And admittedly, those feelings are in a state of evolution. Stasis for a long time, then an Incident, and a re-consideration.
For example, bad behavior. On my part.
Four good friends, two couples, I’m a part of one. The other couple, David and Mary, break up, but work on staying friends. Agh, but not disastrous, as evidenced by the fact that they’re still on good terms and still stay in touch. Shannon and I break up, also work on staying friends. Also Agh, also in touch, though not as closely as David and Mary.
We’re not terribly old when all of these events take place. And we’ve all been hanging out together all of the time. The long and short of it is that David and Shannon eventually hook up, and a year or two later, so do Mary and I. No big deal, right?
Not so much.
My friend Richard has never forgiven a mutual acquaintance for a similar offense. It meant too much to him at the time, and even if the hurt is not quite so raw now, I expect the memory of the pain is still vivid. Similarly, I don’t think David’s ever really forgiven me – even if he was the one to hook up with my ex-girlfriend first. That would matter if I were talking about precedent, but I’m not. David loved Mary in a way that I didn’t love Shannon, and I hurt him in a way that he didn’t hurt me.
I had a chance to learn from this incident, and on another occasion with someone else I forewent the hook-up that probably could have happened in the interest of not hurting someone else. Which is great for me, but it does nothing for David. My offense against him doesn’t change.
I do what I do for Anthony because we’re friends. I visit because it means something to him. How much, I’ve no idea, but I’ve long been convinced that what he’s lacking is precisely a greater presence of more people in his life, less time on his own. Is he easy to be with? Not always. But we didn’t sign up for easy.
I do it because it doesn’t just help him, it helps his wife. There’s someone else around, maybe doing work, maybe just hanging out and hopefully bringing some extra air into the room.
I do it because I have an idea of what friendship means, and I’d think worse of myself if I didn’t work to match my own expectations. I let down David. I let down Jen, a friend about whom I wrote memory play last year, Decaffeinated Tragedy.
I’m okay with this not being an easy answer.