36. Friends, Part II
I took a one-week summer. That's allowed, right? Hopefully it's not lazy of me to take a week off from a blog, but boy I've felt lazy these past 10 days. The heat is relentless here in Nashville, coupled with an unwavering humidity hovering around 90% for four days straight. My head is swimming, AC units are on full blast, and my blinds are angled down, holding back the wave of battering sunlight with all its might.
When I was a kid, I used to look up into the sky and pray for a friend. This would be repeated every so often to the ceiling above my pillow throughout grade school, as I lied there unable to sleep. I remember one big break up following my sixteenth birthday, as I pulled into our deep driveway and looked up through my windshield at the bright, luminescent autumn moon hanging overhead. I said it again, out loud, to an empty night, "I don't care about relationships. I just want a friend."
It was then that I started hanging out with my childhood friend, who was on the tennis team with me, and had been since middle school. He was a quiet kid who had few companions; I hardly ever saw anyone around him when we sat in the hallway for the free hour when it rained or it was too cold (for Texans) to play outside. When the girl that I had been palling around with moved up to varsity my freshman year, thus ending the already short list of things we had in common, I found myself also alone in the icy hallway. I went up to him, and seeing that my presence made him physically uncomfortable, I stayed anyway. It was a short time later that I learned he played bass, and a few weeks from then that I convinced him to come over and jam with me.
From there, we were together pretty much all the time, but he always kept his distance in other ways. I would have to call multiple times in order for him to answer, and convince him to come over for band practice, or to hang out in general, even though we had a great time when we did. I have no idea why I put that much effort into our relationship; all I knew for sure was that I liked having someone I felt like I could partner with, like two musical warriors crossing the great divide during the zombie apocalypse. I joked that I had to force him to be friends with me.
We played talent shows; band contests with our faithful, big-hearted, game-for-anything drummer; and recorded three studio albums over the course of nearly six years. When I finally broke away and moved to Boston for what turned out to be six months (where he said, then and there, that he wouldn't come with me), he still flew up that fall to see me. We went to an apple orchard (which was an entire story in and of itself), where he witnessed but never commented on the most depressed, and the thinnest, I had ever become.
Over six years, from age 20 to 25, we would check in from month to month as I clawed my way through Nashville, doing my best to make it. He came up for birthdays, first mine, then his 21st, where he got drunk for the first and only time I've ever been privy to see. When I met C and we got engaged, I called him. He said he was happy for me, and that he had found someone as well.
I know what you're thinking: this is ground I've already covered in Part One. Be quiet; I am my father's daughter, and I tend to retrace my steps. Chained to my pursuit of linear storytelling, sometimes I fall into the snares of redundancy. But it's not because I don't care, it's because I care too much. The reason I'm repeating myself is because of what's just happened this past Tuesday, the day before our July 4th holiday. The week previous I had gotten into a deep train of thought on the long commute home from my final tuning of the day. I thought about the people who were special to me, and those who I wished were in my life who certainly wouldn't be if I moved overseas without reconnecting. And that, of course, led me to thinking about my childhood friend. Without a plan, I did what any cornered child would do in an unsolvable conundrum: I called my mom for help. She listened, and said she would do her best. After two and a half years with no response, that evening my phone lit up with a Facebook message from the man himself.
You did nothing wrong. It was completely me. It began as a missed text message. And then it just went on too long, and I never knew how to respond. It's the worst thing I've ever done. I'm so sorry.
We would meet up again when I came to Texas in August one final time before leaving for Switzerland. And then, this past Monday evening, I get a text:
I know it's last minute, but my girlfriend and I are coming through Nashville on our way to North Carolina. Are you free tomorrow?
Nearly throwing my phone across the room in a panic, I replied yes, and promptly moved my appointments around to be wide open beginning at 12 noon the following day. We met at Hattie B's; her girlfriend was nice, and talkative. He had not changed one iota since high school. And I could tell by the way he looked at me that I hadn't either. Everything was eerily the same, like a time capsule, except the two humans that emerged had a beard and taught improv comedy; and lactose intolerance coupled with a few too many gray hairs for her age. He and his girlfriend ended up coming over my house, and we sat on the floor in my cavernous, furniture-deficient one bedroom eating pizza and watching Rick and Morty until 11pm. I opened one of the nicer bottles of red I had left in my collection; he drank half a glass and told me that he thought it was nice. All I could think of was the winter of our freshman year of college, trudging through the snow to the McDonald's on campus, fingers crossed for the golden Monopoly tear off that would make one of us a millionaire; or for my 19th birthday when he surprised me with a chocolate cake and a party in the lobby of our dorm; or every Saturday morning when we would go to the local breakfast place in Denton on our only true splurge of the week, getting huge plates of scrambled eggs and a cinnamon roll that tided us over until the following week, when we came back and did it all over again. He was the very same guy I'd known since I was 15.
His girlfriend asked me about myself, and was very patient with me when I launched into some memory of days past, smiling when the story would inevitably circle back to present day. "You know, it's funny" I said, looking across the table, "It's just the way things have always gone between us; since the very beginning, I've had to force him to be my friend."