Over the years I’ve realized that there’s nothing quite like friendship, nor anything quite as special. I was a particularly difficult teenager: I privileged my own emotions in a way that was selfish, masochistic, and volatile. I didn’t have mood swings so much as I had the kind of moods that dug a hole instead, clawing away at my feet until I had a hole so big it made climbing out of it difficult.
Moods like these often tested my friendships: some gave up on me while others persevered. Some left my life while others chose to stay in it. And those who stayed in it have shown me compassion and kindness at a level only romantic relationships could ever dream to aspire towards. But love was difficult. And friendship – if you let it – can be so incredibly easy.
I knew what true friendship was at the age of 17. As a guy I’d always have difficulty communicating with other guys; it was a different sort of friendship, one punctured by excessively casual attitudes towards sex, and they only ever seemed to want to have fun, and so nothing could ever be remotely serious. And then I met a girl named P, and another named S, and together we formed a trio of sorts.
P was incredibly intelligent, and so was S. But P was intelligent in a way that made her sparkle, while S’s particular intelligence was of a dark, dulling quality; the more P knew the more she seemed to glow, while S only seemed to grow increasingly skeptical about the life that revolved around her. I had intelligence too, but with none of the curiosity that seemed to drive P and S towards reading more, knowing more, dispensing with more knowledge. I was simply content to be in their company.
I remember the day S told me that she was cutting herself, just small, barely noticeable cuts on her upper arms and her inner thighs. I remember looking at P, a little speechless, not fully sure what to do with that information. If S and I were in a relationship, I might have done something about it – but as a friend I felt bound to simply hold on to this piece of information, to simply accept it and nod my head. A week later the three of us hung out, and I began to cry. I told her I was under a lot of stress, and under a lot of sadness as well.
A month later, S and I were standing at the side of the road, waiting for the lights to change. Just before it did, she turned to me and said, “I love you, D.” I smiled and told her I loved her too. And then we crossed the road together.
There are two different kinds of love, I realise. One is that love we’re taught to love – it’s the love between heroes and heroines, of romantic comedies – it’s the kind of stuff that we sometimes confuse with sex, with sexual desire. The other love is the love that simply hands itself to you: all it asks is that you have wide enough hands to receive it. This other love is the love between friends.
Allow me to relate one other incident. I have a friend I’ve known since the age of 10. We met in church, just two kids who liked sulking at the back. We shared our fantasies at the time, and liked to pretend we were older than we were. For some reason we remained friends, even after we’d started to attend different churches. We kept in touch.
When we turned 21, the pressures of adulthood made us tired, fatigued, prone to temper tantrums. We kept discovering new things to be disappointed in the other about – about how we were changing, about how we weren’t – about how we were meant to be adults now, but a part of us will always remain as children, sulking at the back of service.
Once we had a fight, a really bad one: the kind of bad fight that lovers would break up over, but because we were friends, we simply stopped talking. During our silence I’d look up articles on the Internet, about the particular pain of losing a friend: how it was sharper than losing a lover, how it was strangely more painful, more total. It was a blow that struck both soft and hard on the heart.
We didn’t talk for a total of four months. One night I remember, just looking at her picture. I used to text her all the time, with random, inane observations about the life that was happening around me. But now there was nothing but a void, a vacuum into which thoughts get sucked into and become lost forever. Friendship was meant to be easy, I thought. So why was it so hard? And then I realized: friendship is easy. It is easy. Friendship isn’t hard.
I typed her a message. “I miss you,” I said. “I’m sorry that we fought. I think about you all the time. I hope we can talk again.”
She sent me a reply almost immediately afterwards. “That’s funny,” she said. “I was just thinking about you too.”
Fifteen minutes later she was sending me links to funny videos on YouTube, something about talking ponies and a candy mountain. It was hilarious. And that was all it took to get us laughing again, loudly and raucously like children. #throwback