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Last Sushi | 2017 | Childfree Anxiety


I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.  

-T.S. Eliot

An Accounting of Best Friends, Past and Present

In the interest of privacy and safety, I will not include names where unneeded or contemporary. Instead, it is a chronological list, mostly of pronouns. Girlfriends, though they served effectively as best friends, are likewise excised for obvious reasons. In addition, when sexuality beyond a few initial kisses entered the picture, those friendships always bore the weight.

There were many overlaps in these friendships. It is my privilege that I could gather two or three of these people together and watch them interact during sleepover parties or nights wandering town. Never in my young life had I felt so excited for the future, so in tune with what I believed the world could be. I wish that I had more pictures, more to remember them by and share now. They largely existed in a specific time and place. Like most species - aside from the invasive - they could not thrive outside their context, chronological and social rather than geographic (though geography often played a role in the endangerment and extinction).

(Below, I say the friendships ended, but I don't mean anything so directly lethal. I am still friends with most of these people. I like their status updates and want always for their happiness. They have given me memories that I will always cherish. I merely mean that the friendship is not what it once was and little could change that. They are not people whom I would call at midnight, ones who would necessarily go to the drive-in. They are people whom I forget when planning parties. They are people I do not necessarily expect to see again.)

He was a boy I knew in high school. The way I remember it, he invited me to sit at his lunch table when I was a freshman and he was a sophomore. Friendships are easy to foster then and we became fast friends. I had people I called my best friends before that, but they didn't really seem to count for much once I started high school.

We had a similar sense of humor, liked the same music, and a shared cultural milieu. We were part of the self-declared freaks of our school and that alone was almost enough to unite against the world. This felt like enough.

The friendship met its end the summer when I was moving from junior to senior. I was away at Summer Scholars, a program for gifted teens, for two weeks. He used the opportunity of my absence to help my then-girlfriend (my first really serious one) decide to be his girlfriend. Prior to this, he made clear that he wanted her enough to openly resent and mock me, a fact even my mother noticed, so the friendship was already poisoned and growing weaker. Losing both my girlfriend and best friend in one fell swoop of disloyalty dug into me then and left me uneasy and untrusting for a while.

They dated years longer than the passionate seven months I spent with her.

She (a different she from my above mentioned girlfriend, who was positively a best friend prior to our dating) was someone I met through a girl I had dated for two months. (In truth, I dated that girl for one month, because she was grounded for the other.) When that brief relationship ended, she and I remained friends. She was a reliable companion for the next decade as we went on adventures, watched bad movies, and talked incessantly on the phone.

The friendship is not over, but neither is it healthy. Maybe we have drifted too far ever to be that close anymore. Her problems have taken a vital, if troubled, girl and transformed her into a near recluse trying to find her way back into the light. I haven't seen her in years though we know one another's addresses. It would take only forty-five minutes to be at the other's apartment, but we don't go.

He was a year below me in school and too charming to everyone. He was a star of the school, of a long pedigree. We hit it off quickly, sharing time on stage in drama, where he was the leading man and I was relegated to painting sets and tuneless background roles once the school went from Shakespeare to Rogers & Hammerstein. We spent much time wander in the night, having philosophical conversations at playgrounds, having small escapades as we transitioned from high school to college.

Our friendship efficiently ended when, one day, he disappeared to another, distant state. I am not being hyperbolic about it happening so quickly. I called his home shortly after he left and his father broke the news to me, his voice betraying that he was told to limit what I knew. He left in part to be with his girlfriend, but the rest of him (most of him) left because he was largely done with his life in New York. As I was a part of that, he was likewise done with me.

I began to wonder at this time if I was just inclined toward flaky people and what that meant.

I met him though a girlfriend I adored and was not fair to (different girlfriend - I had too many). I had seen him in a play where he played a mad doctor or something similarly frenetic, the same play where I first saw her. It was a manic enough performance that I liked him immediately. There are some things you cannot fake, especially in a drama program that poor. This was a time before social media, so it was no easy feat to track either one of them down. When next I attended a play there, I quickly attached myself to the girl. She brought me to his house within the first month of our relationship, where I exclaimed with delight at seeing him again. He was the boyfriend of her best friend and we quickly hit it off through proximity and mutual interests. He suggested a few books to me that I recommend to this day. Whenever we got together - never frequently enough - we spoke at an almost indecipherable pace until we had brought the other up to speed.

I didn't know when the friendship ended or why. It was never easy to connect with him. I think he had the sort of mental unease one just takes as an artistic temperament, something with which I found congruity. He stopped responding to my calls until I stopped leaving them. His absence felt pointed, once I realized it, and I wonder to this day if I did something to offend him and, if so, what.

She was the mad doctor's girlfriend. I do not think we were best friends until a year after they broke up and he vanished from her life. (He was so good at vanishing for small stretches that it was hard to know when he did it for good.)

Now, it is hazy to ever remember our friendship. I know I spent a lot of time at her house, that it was one of my primary destinations once I could drive. I remember that she was a lifeguard at the town pool. I know we once watched the mountain across the Hudson River burn so avidly that I thought it would jump over the water. We tried dating, because we got on so well and because I didn't know how not to date a girl whom I liked this much platonically. It lasted under three hours before she arrested my dread at harming the friendship by saying it wasn't right and annulling it, for which I liked her so much better.

As for an end, I'm not sure. We just stopped calling one another as much. Her crew started to attach itself more firmly to my younger brother, where some remain to this day. She went to college far away, I think, though I would not swear to it. I just knew that we seemed to have forgotten our closeness and never noticed it was gone until it was too late to pretend we could get it back.

She was someone I met at one of my geeky summer camps. She sang and I was in love with her. The next summer, our simmering friendship caught fire. I paid high bills to my parents because I would talk to her so long on the phone. She was beautiful, poetic, talented, and passionate. Fostered differently, she might be your favorite singer right now.

Our friendship didn't end all at once, but it did end. She went through a dark period and I didn't understand what was happening. When I saw her, infrequently, I felt as though my whole life was on the cusp of greatness. Then, I started to feel sad and confused whenever I would get one of her inebriated calls. She now seems to have a cozy and satisfying life. I know I do not now deserve her friendship, if she was inclined to offer it. When she needed me, I was freaked out rather than understanding.

In another world, we care for seals in our Maine home, but it is not in this life.

He was the boyfriend of my then-girlfriend's best friend, until he was not. He would come from work to my girlfriend's house to hang out and make fun of television until visiting with his girlfriend. My girlfriend assumed he was my friend, I assumed he was hers. I believe in the breakup - mine, not his - he gravitated toward me by dint of my being both male and the aggrieved part. He was an acerbic, chain-smoking, comic book geek, so of course I thought he was cool when I was in my late teen/early twenties.

The beginning of our end was when he met another one of my best friends. He wanted to vet her in order to fix her up with one of his friends. The version told in polite company is that they fell in love. The perhaps more accurate version is that she had sex with him and he left his girlfriend for her after cheating a few more times, for which all partied blamed me, even though my sin was only in being friends with the three of them.

Their relationship lasted years. They moved in together. Then they broke up. Then they got back together. Here, there is a he-said/she-said situation with consequences. Depending on the party asked, it involved emotional and physical abuse, death threats, stalking. He disappeared on a train to a different state, cutting all ties with me for fear that it would bring her back to him. From what I've heard, he went so far as to change his accent and the team for which he was a sworn fan, just he could be different than the man he was with her.

I did not agree with his exodus, but I understood his reasoning, which is much more than some have given me. When I tried to reach out to him last year, he wordlessly blocked me. I like to believe it is because he is still frightened of her and not because he persists in blaming me that they dated, but I am comfortable with the notion that I will never know for certain.

She was someone I loved on sight, when I saw her waking from a nap in the lounge at our college. We kissed a few times, for just about a week and despite the advice of a coin flip. Then, a philosophical difference - one that was next to nothing to me and crucial to her - made certain we would not kiss again. I was grateful for this because she proved to be one of the sweetest people I had ever met and I wouldn't want her to bear the sting of a relationship that went wrong. She disappeared into a boyfriend from time to time, figuring out what she wanted in life. We let her. She was my sister and deserved to explore, even when she returned to us even a touch sadder for it.

It was a man who finally took her away and three and counting boys who kept her there. She was born and raised to be a wife and mother. Once she began to fulfill that role, she was never happier. She moved to the city, then across the country. I will always love her, but we are never again going to hang out in her bedroom as though we have no cares in the world.

I met her during a summer job. She was my supervisor, but we were friends almost immediately, joined in opposition against an inappropriate coworker. By the end of the job, we were certainly best friends. She was older and, when I met her, I did not feel worthy of her. I harbored a small crush for years because I had never met someone who was so much themselves in a world that demanded conformity. Our connection was never romantic. I just held curiosity for her.

We would eat at restaurants, have long discussions about love and literature, go to movies. Her parties were events around which I directed my calendar. She gave me hope that writers could be discovered in this Podunk.

That friendship, I think, began to wither when I stopped having that crush on her. I wonder if, in the back of her mind, she had always kept me in reserve. When I figured myself out enough to think I was worthy of esteem and respect, at least from friends, when I had confidence enough to be emotionally honest as well as verbally so, her interest in me began to dwindle. Maybe I flatter myself or confuse the order. It is entirely possible, since I am telling my story from an obviously subjective stance. I only know that we are no longer best friends.

He overlapped with the abovementioned men, the two who disappeared on different nights. I had seen him in a play, felt immediately drawn to him when I saw him in college, and then couldn't find him until years later. He was my escape when I had otherwise trapped myself in the wrong job. I looked forward to seeing him every Tuesday night, roaming around a town I had never appreciated before. With him, I went to improvised electronica shows and crashed parties where I fit right in. We sat on roofs and watched the stars.

He moved to the city and that was it. I didn't begrudge him for a new life, with a woman he loved. (They broke up after a few years. Both have moved on.) By this point, I knew the script. He is happy now, with a new woman. He plays music often.

I met Daniel shortly thereafter, because I thought a dating site I had otherwise ignored after finding Melanie would be the ideal place to find a new friend. I do not feel the need to go into the details beyond that, because he has a name and a story whose next chapter happens in a few weeks.

Through Daniel, I met Hannah, whose name I use here because it seems otherwise unavoidable. She was Daniel's close friend, roommate, and, as I later realized, former girlfriend. I had previously messaged her on the same site, seeking friends to break me out of my panic at being trapped in that horrible job. We exchanged a few messages and then she stopped communicating, a fact to which she admitted when I met her in person. I do not know what exactly was so immediately captivating about her. On paper, I think we might not have connected. However, she became my newest sister.

Our friendship ended when she joined the Navy, as I think she knew it would. We exchanged a few letters, handwritten and earnest, but there was no chance we were going to be siblings again. Her life here stifled her, limiting her to jobs she didn't like and men she could barely stand outside the bedroom. Leaving was the best thing she could have done.

We reconnected after years. She was glad of my progress, worried I would become a broken man as I waited for Melanie. We do not talk often about much beyond mental illness.

There were interstitial friends, ones whom I loved a little, but never long enough. They moved onto other lives, or I did.

I never knew someone so pure, but I never felt worthy of how she felt about me. Our paths diverged.

She adored me until the moment I made a bad romantic decision, after which she detested me.

She was one of the loveliest people I ever met - a type I didn't realize I had until I met her in person, an awkwardly confident Audrey Hepburn - and recognized me from a play before I could recognize her. She is in France now, with her husband and baby. There was a decade between the last time we spoke and when I found her on the internet again.

I spent a summer driving around with her - she had a car and I did not - intermingled with us fooling around, even though she swore she was a lesbian. We never dated more than six non-contiguous days in our lives. We never loved one another, but we had that one summer of beaches and tentative witchcraft. When school resumed, we were never as close, as we never had been close aside from hormones. For that summer, was she my best friend mostly because she kept my company in an enclosed space and I was single (she, I think, was not, but it didn't seem to matter)?

The tragedy - sincere tragedy - is that I am sure there are others who assumed I was their best friend or who were likely my best friend but I have forgotten to mention. If I have neglected their inclusion, what does that really mean about our friendship?

What of all the exciting new minds I met at my Summer Scholar sessions, who felt like kindred spirits then, some of whose improbably lyrical names I remember unbidden even now? We all tried to meet up at restaurants afterward, to keep the spark glowing, but it never worked out. We packed years of friendship into two weeks and, aside from a few lucky connections that lingered, we ceased to be friends (to say nothing of best friends) at the closing ceremonies. We never would have articulated it that way, but it was the nature of the thing. I knew them through song and poetry, the former soft and the latter uncomfortably raw. We put on small plays under the direction of a conspicuously braless Bard student. We stayed up far too late under inadequate supervisions that saw one of our number lose her virginity to a counselor - or so the rumor spread, though neither of them cared to contradict. We had crushes and tiny relationships, explored a campus that felt perfectly ours. Slept through classes and ate too much at the dining hall. Went on trips memorable only for our chattering on the bus. If you had asked me a week and a half into the two-week program, I would have perfectly identified a half dozen erstwhile strangers whom I was certain would now be a constant force in my life, almost all of whom I literally never spoke to again. Perhaps it is better, a compact and hyperactive friendship and then a clear end in which neither party is guilty of fading away. I cried the first time I returned because I couldn't be the person I was with them, that I couldn't continue the existence we had shared. I did not cry the second time because I knew it was coming. That no doubt made me more reserved, as adolescent trauma is so apt to do.

Through social media, I have kept tabs on a few of these people. They are doctors and museum directors now or married with a gaggle of children. Their lives, at least their curated ones, seem lovely and I wish only the best for them. Even though our interaction was abbreviated, a snatch of song where I craved a symphony, I will always hum their developing melody. Maybe that alone makes them, collectively if not individually, my one-month, non-sequential best friend.

Maybe a friendship lasts a couple of crystal weeks of one's teenage years. Maybe it lasts a decade before becoming pen pals and annual visitors. It doesn't die, but the volume gets turned down that, I suppose, other songs can be heard.

Soon in Xenology: Faces. Daniel leaving. New friends.

last watched: Supernatural
reading: Sleight of Hand
listening: Die Antwoord

Last Sushi | 2017 | Childfree Anxiety

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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