I posted at the start of the month that I had stuff to say. I have had bags of time to say this stuff but I have been distracted by … by pretty much anything but blogging. (sorry) Time to make amends and I wanted to look back on what happened Halloween weekend and the attached feelings of utter shittiness which ensued.
My best friend from school came to visit. I had not seen him for some months as he’s in Grimsby, I’m in Darlington. Last time would have been July time or similar, I think, if not before. Last time he was here was for Tom’s Christening. That was in February 2008. So yeah, it’s been a long time.
I guess this a story of changing dynamics in a relationship, of growing up (or not) and moving on with your life (or not).
My friend, I think it can be said, has not changed in many, many years. For many years he’s lived in the same small town, in the same house with the same woman, worked at the same menial job. He’s had the same opinions, interests and outlooks as he had back when we were sixteen. I believe that for things in your life to change you have to make them change. You cannot sit back and wait for good fortune to find you. Fortune Favours the Brave, He Who Dares… There are mantras a-plenty to fill in what I’m trying to say. Please do not misunderstand this as me bragging about my wealth (none), success (minimal), or other positive. God knows I’ve wasted many years of my life; pissed them away on day-dreams and shite jobs; wasted them on relationships which were doomed from the outset. Drifted… I know that it takes different people different timescales to make their lives better, and some people simply cannot change their lives sufficiently despite many attempts and years of trying. I can respect someone who tries. I cannot respect someone who settles. Yes, for a long time I did not respect myself. I know this now, and it’s a vicious circle of course. When you do not respect yourself, is your life worthy of improvement? If your life is not improved who can one begin to respect oneself?
But what I cannot stomach is bitterness; bitterness towards others who may be making something of their life. I look to my grown up friends and I admire them their successes and efforts to improve their lives for them and their families. And I know that they look at me and are happy for me when I am happy and successful. This is what friendship is about. Appreciate their hard work and credit them with it. And embrace their successes.
With my old school friend this is not the case. From the outset, everything was very negative and aimed at me. When I told Terry of my visitor he said, ‘I better start to make up some stories then’ on account of his tendency to embellish and exaggerate the things he has done. His comment is not without justification, and it’s well known that he does this. I think it is one thing to ‘big up’ yourself, and I think all guys are capable and known to do this from time to time, but what I found really hard to stomach was his efforts to belittle me. Why? I mean, why would you try and put down your friend? It was never anything major, just petty little things. I’ll give you some examples.
On the Saturday afternoon we’re sat in a bar and having a couple of pints and we got talking to some girls sat near us. They asked us what we did for a living. He told them to guess.
They said, ‘are you squaddies’?
He replied, rubbing his unshaven chin, ‘what, with this?’
‘If you think this is bum-fluff, look at his.’ Hoiking a thumb at me.
Why bring me into it? Perhaps it’s just me, but if that had been my dialogue I’d have had a witticism or self-depreciative comment to throw back at the girl, I wouldn’t deflect it onto my friend. I let it slide. It was nothing major. But it was the start of what was to come.
That evening we went into town with another friend I know from work. The evening was a bit of a shit one if I’m honest. It started really slowly, and the banter was nonexistent. Not what I’m used to with my current group of friends. It became apparent just how far our paths had diverged. After we’d discussed football we became just a trio of lecherous old men eyeing up the talent in the bar. Something I used to do, maybe, when I was 21, but something I have less interest in now (I mean, I still look, but it’s not my sole reason for being there). After that, we started to discuss our past life. School days. He told Dave about how we had a fight when we were kids and he beat me up. Truth in that, but it’s not really a life defining moment for me. It was at the time, very defining, and it did set the dynamic for our friendship back then when your ability to kick someone’s head in was worth something more than just a criminal record. As he regaled Dave with tales of how, as children he got the better of me physically, I switched off. It wasn’t something that I consider to be important any more. Then out of nowhere can the following exchange.
‘You wouldn’t believe it, but I was two inches taller than Al when we left school.’ (I’m 6’6” now, and was probably 6’ then. He’s 5’10” now… go figure)
‘Yeah, I was a late starter.’ (self-depreciating old me)
‘Yeah, he didn’t start puberty until he was eighteen.’
‘Haha.’ (let it go)
‘…and didn’t have sex until twenty-one.’
‘Haha.’ (okay, have your fun, it’s cool)
‘…and didn’t start shaving until he was thirty.’ And now he’s got his hand on my chin, rubbing my stubble, ‘look at this bum-fluff.’
Then he’s got his hand all over my face. Hold the fuck on just a minute. Another guy, with smelly smoker’s fingers, has got his fucking hand all over my face. This feels a little bit uncomfortable. Can you get off please? We’re in a very loud bar and I had a broken arm at the time too. I try to back away from this fucking hand, but he steps forward; rubbing my goddamn face. This is starting to get me angry but he can’t hear me telling him to get the fuck of me now!
I’m an incredibly patient man. I do not lose my temper ever. I have controlled it since I was thirteen and learned the hard way that it’s one of the traits I inherited from my Dad (thanks mate!). My temper is terrible, and I have to control it or I’d probably be locked up for murder. But on this occasion I just lost it. With my one good arm I pushed back, my hand on his face this time. I probably have a reach advantage of about a foot, and a weight advantage of about three stone. He certainly knew about being shoved out of my face. I instantly regretted it, but there was nothing I could do, and at that time it just had to happen. What other choice did I have? Maybe I just appreciate my own personal space now that I’m 33 and not 13.
‘What did you do that for?’ What a stupid fucking question that was.
‘Because I didn’t like what you were doing to me and you wouldn’t stop.’
‘No need to be an arsehole.’
‘Me, the arsehole!?’
‘Yeah, no need to fucking do that, you arsehole.’
I’m incredulous. I’m the asshole for making him stop rubbing my face? It’s not like it was an enjoyable experience. How many other guys would appreciate that kind of attention?
Any other situation I would have left the bar. I was not putting up with this. But I couldn’t. He was staying at my house, and I wasn’t about to dump him in a strange town, and poor Dave was just stood by kinda shocked about the entire exchange.
‘Okay, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have pushed you like that.’
‘You’re a fucking arsehole.’
‘You’ve done nothing to take a piss out of me since you arrived and I’m fucking sick of it, mate. All you have done is sniped at me since this afternoon. You pissed me off. I never rubbish you like you’ve done me. I’m sorry I pushed you, but you had your hand in my face and what the fuck else was I supposed to do to get you off? Wait until you got fucking bored!? Yeah, fair enough, I’m an arsehole. Whatever…’
When I started writing this I was thinking, ‘man this is gonna sound really petty’. But thinking back to it now, reliving it, just how pissed off I felt all comes flooding back. It was wrong of me to hit back, I know that, but I had no alternative under the circumstances. As bad as this sounds, all I could think about from then on was getting the weekend out of the way so he would go home and leave me to my nice little pleasant life.
On the Sunday I talked to Barry and Terry about what had happened and about the constant negatives and put downs. Barry said it was something he’d noticed that day too. Perhaps I chose not to notice?
‘It must be difficult to be living is someone’s shadow’, was Barry’s wise assessment of the situation. My old school friend looks at my relative success and it highlights his own lack of. Is he checking himself against me and not liking how he measures up? Is that the reason for the sniping and the put downs?
The one thing I did take from Sunday was that my new friends, Terry and Barry in particular, mean more to me than that from my past. I realised that, even though we were very close at school, it was just for school, and after those four years we did keep in touch, but it was never the way it was in the first half of the nineties. I’ve been friends with Terry for twelve years now. That is a long time. I’m going to be Best Man at his wedding in 2012; we’ve been through hell and back together, real life stuff, not school days stuff; the breakdown of relationships, real relationships. He’s Tom’s Godfather. I put a roof over his head when he had no place to go, we will always discuss with each other first any problems we face. It’s a real friendship we have. It’s not just a memory.
Perhaps what I’ll take from this is experience is to leave the past where it belongs.