I know a lot of people who divide relationships into friends and enemies. Anyone they know and don’t hate is a friend, and anyone they know and hate is an enemy. I’m not quite that simplistic. I divide people I know into friends and acquaintances. I have no enemies. There are some acquaintances I wouldn’t mind seeing fall off a hundred foot cliff, a few–given the chance–I would push off a hundred foot cliff and a couple I’m trying to think of a way to get them to the top of a hundred foot cliff, but I have no enemies.
I’ve never had many close friends at any one time. People say I’m hard to get to know, but once you get to know me it’s better than winning the lottery. (Okay, maybe I made up that last part.) I hand out friendships sparingly. Knowing someone and not wanting to kill them doesn’t make them a friend. It’s the experiences you have with them that make the bonds. Unless you’ve been embarrassed to death with someone you can never really call them a friend.
I used to go to high school wrestling tournaments with a guy I knew–we were both rabid fans of the sport. Once we had traveled a long ways to a tournament, and after chugging down a few sodas on the way, when we arrived we had a desperate need to use the facilities. We rushed into the men’s room, which was crowded. I grabbed a urinal and did my business. I glanced to my right and saw the guy I came with doing his business. I said to him casually, “You realize you’re peeing in a sink?” He jumped back, but when you really have to pee, once you start it’s hard to stop. He peed on the floor, the walls, himself and perhaps a couple of other people. Later I asked him why he thought someone would put a mirror over a urinal? Primping he said. I haven’t seen him in years, but he will be a friend for life.
The first writing I ever did that someone besides teachers saw was a Christmas play two friends and I wrote for our church when I was a sophomore in high school. (I started out as a playwright.) One of the guys, Ray, would pick me up some nights and we would ride around in his car. If he’d just had a fight with his girlfriend, he would see how fast he could go down this winding gravel road. I remember huddling on the floor of the car pleading with God, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, and Confucius to make him slow down. He was born with a defect in his heart and never knew it until one night, forty-two years later, when it decided to kill him. His father asked me to be a pallbearer at the funeral. I told him it would be an honor. Burying a friend like burying your parents or a sibling is a milestone we don’t want to reach, but usually do. Both of us wanted to be writers. As far as I know he never had anything published and never saw me publish even my first short story. I’ll consider him a friend forever.
The reason all this has come up is the longest continuous friend I have ever had is staying with me for a few days. We met in high school and for the last forty-five years or so have been in constant contact. Not bad considering he has lived all over the country and for the last thirty-five years or so has never liver closer than five hours away. We are definitely friends. He is the one I wrote about in the blog post THAT SINKING FEELING. I could tell you hundreds of embarrassing stories about him and he could tell you just as many about me–which is why I don’t tell the ones about him. It’s kind of like the Soviet Union and the United States during the cold war. Nobody started firing missiles because it would bring mutual assured destruction. Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors,” and mutual blackmail makes good friends.