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  • Robert Farago

Friendship

No excuse for a recluse?


According to the Spice Girls’ Wannabe, “Love don’t last forever; friendship never ends.” Call me a pedantic atheist, but I’m here to say all relationships have an end point. I know: that’s not the point.

Some people form lifelong bonds under the banner of friendship. The most important requirement: the ability to forgive. nickiswift.com tells the tale:

Just like any other friend group, the Spice Girls also had to go through misunderstandings over the years, with some being more intense than others. Mel C once told People that she got into a small altercation with Beckham at the 1996 Brit Awards, which led to her being almost kicked out of the band.
In 2019, when Mel B confessed that she hooked up with Halliwell back in the day, the latter got upset and was clearly disappointed that her former bandmate would even say such a thing. 

I can attest to the power of forgiveness. Back in tenth grade, I made a friend named Steven King. (Not that Steven King.) I’d steered clear of Kinger for nine years; he was one of many XXL classmates prone to violence in a boy’s school where bullying was a varsity sport.


We’d both signed-up for Music Appreciation, a class chosen for my love of music and the lack of intellectual effort required to get a good grade.


One day after class, Kinger asked me if I wanted to get high. I’d never smoked weed before, but what the hell. My home life was hell. In a cloud of blue smoke inside a Ford Pinto station wagon, a friendship was born.


Kinger became my constant companion. My bodyguard. His presence allowed me to be the sarcastic son of a bitch that’s informed my entire life. My entire career.


Our ganja-fueled friendship was deep and complete. It kept me sane and introduced me to a previously unknown concept: fun. Skip ahead to a gig at a Grange somewhere in rural Rhode Island…


Known formally as the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the org promotes farmers’ economic and social well-being through education, advocacy and community involvement.


In other words, it was an extremely rough crowd. My bass playing was rougher still, but I remember my musical debut as a minor success.


After the show, my other friend Pat sat down at a piano and played some of our favorite songs. A young lady crowded in and started crowing “Play some Neil Diamond! Play some Neil Diamond!”


Mr. Diamond stood for everything our group despised about contemporary music. (An assessment betraying an epic level of snobbery.) At some point, I snapped.


I said words I’d never said before or since: “Shut the fuck up bitch.”


The next thing I knew I was hoisted by my own petard. Literally. An enormous teen grabbed me by my shirt, lifted me off the ground, cocked his ham-sized fist at my face and said “What did you say to my girl?”


This was it: the moment my BFF bodyguard would rescue me from my big mouth.


Nope. Kinger disappeared. I managed to talk my way out of a crushed orbital bone, but I realized that Kinger was a paper tiger. Guess what? We laughed about it.


I wasn’t about to let his character flaw upend a friendship that meant more to me than the prospect of a hospital stay.


I dialed back my public obnoxiousness and continued my friendship with one of the two people I trusted with my inner struggle to make something of my life. To be somebody.


Kinger’s life didn’t end well, at all. I couldn’t rescue him from his demons. No one could. But he and Pat set my interpersonal template: extremely close and extremely limited friendships. As in one or, at the most, two friends.


That changed four years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.


Ignoring travel restrictions, I made Austin’s Casa de Montecristo my daily hang. A group of twenty-somethings – most California immigrants – gradually filtered in. Our steadily growing number gathered around a poker table and formed what y’all call a friend group.


We met every day for months, including weekly parties at my house. We ate, drank, smoked cigars and played the dozens around my fire pit. It was a pleasure I’d never known before.


Nothing was too good for my friends; I let one member stay in my condo rent-free for months. I felt accepted and, dare I say it, loved.


At some point, I said something stupid about the alpha’s wife to another member of the group. “If anything happened to him, I’d be all over that.”


I hadn’t flirted with his wife. I had no designs on her whatsoever. Somehow that turned into the idea that I wanted to go into business with him so I could steal his wife. A ridiculous assertion with no basis in fact.


He confronted me. I apologized profusely. Whether or not there were other factors in play, I’ll never know. But after that conversation I was shunned.


No one in the group wouldn’t sit with me, talk to me or even look me in the eye. I was devastated, plagued by the same feelings of guilt, self-doubt and worthlessness my parents and brothers instilled in me from my earliest age.


Were they ever my friends? Not if you accept the idea mooted and demonstrated by the Spice Girls: that friends fall out and reconnect, based on acknowledged offense, shared values and experiences.


I’d like to say that I got over it. That I didn’t let the psychological impact of that instant ostracization stop me from forming new bonds with new groups. But it did. I’m back to where I was in high school, on the outside of friend groups looking in.


I recently learned that victims of childhood abuse often end up with the belief that there’s something fundamentally wrong with themselves. I’ve made a lot of progress overcoming that belief, that feeling.


Meanwhile, going through life on a largely solitary basis, a lone wolf if you will, is a familiar and comfortable modus operandi. I don’t need large amounts of external affirmation to feel good about myself. Some, but not much.


Still, the experience has taught me a valuable, late-in-life lesson.


I now understand that there are friends, and there are friends. That some people, maybe even most people, manipulate others into a position of trust without committing themselves to a long term, loving commitment. When push comes to shove, they neither forgive nor forget.


I knew that before. I knew that friend groups are, in the main, a bond of convenience. Yes, there are groups that don’t answer to that description; army buddies spring to mind. But I dropped both my guard and my standards, drawn in, made careless, ignorant and I believe arrogant by my own neediness.


I won’t make that mistake again. Don’t get me wrong: my heart is open. But so are my eyes.

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