Sunday, February 08, 2004

One Musketeer

You remember that tight-knit group of misfits you used to hang with? The four or five or three so inseparable, wherever you went people knew the others were soon to follow? Remember that time when you left a flashlight on in the tent and crept out along the train tracks for the bonding experience of your life, just to see dead Ray Brower?

Yeah, me neither.

I’ve been rereading Stephen King’s The Body, the novella that made everybody’s favorite celebrity blogger famous when it got turned into Stand By Me, and finally traced the tug of longing that keeps bringing me back to the story to a social phenomenon we already know: some people have a group, and some don’t. It got me musing on yearning for the camaraderie of inseparable friends, even if just for a moment, which I’ve never experienced. And then it made me depressed, so I stopped. But here’s what I got to before then.

See, I had friends growing up – even had a couple of close friends, maybe even best friends, at various times in my life. I could probably sit and dredge up memories of these guys for hours. But it’s just depressing to do so: they’re gone, and I’m so bad at keeping in touch it’s probably my fault, and who wants to think about that? – and so the cycle goes.

So instead, in my memory I’m the kid who reads so much and so deeply that my strongest memory of elementary school is the time the entire class went off to gym and I didn’t even notice I was alone and missing gym until the lights turned themselves off later. I don’t drink much because I’ve got no drinking buddies; I smoke because it’s company, sometimes. I’m the guy who doesn’t go out much, and isn’t missed. In my worst hours I fear that the real reason I teach is that its easy to have confidence when you’re the one with all the answers – and the power to fail others.

There’s no trick to what went wrong. And the causes are clear, psychologically (a heady concoction of social anxiety and a lack of confidence driven by by astute self- and other-consciousness), environmentally (a slight disfunction at home and a root-tearing-up move to a new school district in second grade, when the teams and the rules of the game had already been established before you) and behaviorally (an earnest goofiness, the kind that attracts bullies.)

My name is boyhowdy, and I’m alone. My life is full of acquaintances, but bereft of blood brothers.

I sit with my teaching peers at high wooden tables in the dining hall and smalltalk my way through a short meal, but no one ever comes by for a beer.

Darcie’s the same way, but less comfortable socially. When we met in college, a party was raging around us, but she was holed up with our only mutual friends playing Pictionary; when I stumbled into their room in what, until that moment, I had intended to be my usual drunken rounds, I stayed until we left together…and now you know the rest of the story. In twelve years I’ve only ever met two or three of Darcie’s friends, and she’s never really had a night or afternoon out with anyone in the six years we’ve lived here; I, at least, do sometimes head out for music or a drink with one of a small number of folks, though but once or twice a year.

But it’s been a long time since college ended, and as much as dropping out so suddenly brought us together, it also insulated us from that world. While our friends stayed on, together, towards graduation, we were off and running, barely paying the phone bills with delivery jobs, becoming old before our time. By the time I went back to college I had too little in common with my peers to know them so deeply: four years older and practically married, with the girlfriend living down the hill – not much of a foundation for an active social life. The frequent trips down the hill pulled me from the deep and abiding relationships my parents have with their college friends.

And now? More than anything it’s the curious distance which develops here in a boarding school environment, where the role modeling never ceases, where all prospective soulmates are also the people you work with, which perpetuates distance. But where others seem to find peers and peergroups from other departments, keeping professional and personal separate, as a teacher of all of them, faculty and students alike, I’m just too close professionally to be a natural choice for friend – and lack the grace and nuance to make it work despite the uphill climb.

So if I’m not working, you’ll find me home – a place where we have each other, and that’s a whole lotta love, let me tell you. But sometimes I wish I had a gentleman’s club, a confidante, a loose band of brothers. Even a place where everybody knows your name would do.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:31 PM |

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