Spoiler alert: This random collection of words contains phrases and thoughts which might not be considered appropriate reading for children, and will likely offend those who are easily offended. It might also be offensive if it’s you I’m talking about in this essay, and if that’s the case, too fucking bad.
Today is a strange day for me. I’ve been planning to write another “You Can’t Say That” for some time, but just in the last two weeks, so many things have happened…some terrible things, some life-changing things, and some things I am unable to explain.
When I first sat down to write this, I knew (kinda knew anyway) how it was going to go. I was going to rant about people that piss me off, situations that make me livid, and possibly offer some advice on how to avoid such situations and people. Now, it’s not so cut and dried because the anger has cooled, the hatred is gone, leaving in its wake a small pool of pity, and only the sorrow from recent events has stayed with me.
If you aren’t already confused by what I’ve said thus far: congratulations. You and maybe three others out of the tens of dozens who read my essays are probably the only ones able to follow along so easily. For the others, I will break it down even further.
We’re all on a journey, see, and every day of our journey offers the opportunity to meet people and learn more about ourselves by our interactions with others. In this glorious technological age, we now “meet” even more people, and our horizons are constantly expanding from such interactions.
I have had the great fortune to meet many of my friends from the Kingdom of Cyberspace, and it has almost always been wonderful. You’ll always run the risk of a “meh” moment, when someone you meet in person doesn’t quite live up to the personality they shine out onto the Kingdom, and that’s okay. Many of us feel safer being larger than life online, and if that’s what it takes to get you out of bed, then so be it.
I have always been very proud of the fact that my online self is almost identical to my phone call self, which is identical to my in-person self. I like this because it’s so much easier to keep up with who I am if I’m the same person in every instance! Laugh if you will, dear reader, but deep in your heart of hearts you know you’ve had that dread of meeting someone and worrying, “…are they anything like they described themselves? Do they really have that xyz personality?”
It’s been about a half a dozen years ago that I met a lot of like-minded people in the Kingdom of Cyberspace: writers, artists, creative people who liked to do what I like to do – and it was a whirlwind adventure! These folks were scattered all over the world. I was happy to spend any extra time engaging with them and it sparked many bits of artwork and many more bits of writing.
Several of the new friends I met lived in England. One was a guy named Rich. No last names, folks, and it doesn’t matter. He didn’t go by his name online anyway. He was very, very good at writing about (and critiquing) movies.
After talking with him for some time, I decided to let him read some of my writing, and he promptly praised it, asking could he put it on his site. I didn’t mind. After all, I write not only to satisfy my internal need to empty my head of the story hurricanes constantly building up, but also to entertain anyone who reads my writing.
So, he did. He posted a lot of my writings on his site, and there were other people’s writings on his site as well, and it was all good and fine.
About that same time, I also met another friend. His name was Craig, and he was an author of (at that time) one book already published, and working on his second. Craig and I clicked immediately. We talked quite a bit about writing, about story ideas, about what was going on in the world, about lots of things.
From then on, there was a stream of introductions: I met dozens of people that shared my interest in writing and art and film. Many of those I keep in semi-regular contact with as they go about their lives in Texas, in Los Angeles, in Tennessee and Canada and England.
It was about 3 years into all of these friendships that I began to notice a strange and disturbing pattern with my friend Rich. He would drop off the face of the planet. Disappear for months. Then, he’d resurface and declare everything to be passably decent and would interact with people and then…then he’d do it again. Every time, the length of time would be longer.
This last time was almost a year.
When I would speak to Craig, I’d ask him if he’d heard from Rich. The answer was always the same. He had not. In the meantime, Craig had written his second novel and I was honored to be the one who created the cover for it. He was then off and running, working on his third book, a collection of short stories.
I know I’m leaving out a lot of this story, and I’m doing that deliberately. The fact that I’ve actually met Rich once, and hung out with Craig on several occasions does not have any real bearing on the point I will eventually make. Remember, reader, the title of this series of essays is YOU CAN’T SAY THAT and there’s a reason behind that. You can’t say that I didn’t use a little bit of couth when writing this. You can’t say that I didn’t try, and try, and try. You. Can’t. Say. That….at all.
Anyway, after sending message after message, email after skype text, and receiving no response, I did something with Rich that I very rarely do.
I wrote him off.
Bear in mind that the first several years of friendship with anyone often entails a lot of sharing, a lot of laughter, a lot of emotional support because you’re in a constant state of learning with this person and if they interest you and you interest them, then that’s just how it is. It’s not about romance, or flirting, or any of those things. Its about a meeting of the minds between two people who are just so fucking glad to know that someone out there in the universe understands the constant confusion lodged between their ears.
But it is possible to come to the realization that the person you were getting to know is not on the same journey as you, and in fact they have several stops to make along the way and in the meantime, you’re steadily cruising along… and when you turn around, they’re gone, off into some intricate labyrinth of new habits and new acquaintances and no amount of emailing or phoning or smoke signals will get their attention.
You then have a decision to make. Do you continue on, making excuses for that person, letting the dysfunction take hold…or do you let go?
After all, you still have your journey. You can’t put it on pause forever. So you keep cruising. And that’s what I did.
On March 20 of this year, I got a message from one of my friends in England, a close friend of Craig’s that had, in turn, become a good friend to me. Craig had died suddenly of a heart attack.
I was in a complete state of disbelief. That’s not how this tale is supposed to go, my brain reasoned. Craig is supposed to live to 99 and write dozens more books. At the time of his passing, he had already completed and published his third and final book, entitled BLACK.
Because I felt it was the right thing to do, I opened up a chat box to several people who were friends with Craig, including Rich. I told them what had happened. I didn’t expect Rich to reply because he was rarely around anymore.
And when he did read the message, there was no reply, for hours. When he came back to the chat box, he inserted a link to a thing he had written. I waited for him to say something, anything at all, as the other people in the box had already expressed disbelief and sorrow. Nothing.
I clicked on the link. Read a little. Closed the link. The annoyance that had built up over the last several years with this person that I had laughed with, brainstormed with, then asked after again and again, and finally gave up on…that annoyance had turned to anger.
I told him off in that chat box. I said things that I had held in for years, blasted out all the frustrations of dealing with him and then I was done.
It hurt his feelings, he said. He said I was judgmental. He was going through a lot and if I had paid attention I would have understood, he said.
I did understand. I learned a valuable lesson and I didn’t learn it properly until the death of my friend Craig.
I could sit here in my recliner with my laptop and tell all of you all of the sordid details that floated my way over the years regarding the other half of this now-defunct friendship. I could tell you all of the things that other people shared with me, things that would make your mouth drop open even if you didn’t know any of the people mentioned in this writing. You can’t say that I might have been tempted to do just this when the anger and hatred first burst forth.
But, as I mentioned before, the hatred is gone now.
What I’m about to say, you can believe or not. Everything I’ve written thus far is true, and I won’t deviate from the truth.
March 31st – just a few days ago – I was up in the early hours of the morning. I had hurt my shoulder days prior and it was uncomfortable to lay in bed for very long, so I got up and went to the sofa. I got as comfortable as I could on the sofa and closed my eyes. I’m sure within a few minutes I was asleep.
In a split second, Craig was standing there, in the doorway of my living room, smiling a little smile. Seconds later I surged up off the sofa much like a diver bursts back up through the surface of the water. I had no idea how to process what I had just seen.
Folks, I’ve never really had a reason to believe in ghosts – after all, the house I grew up in was haunted. Every single person in my family had seen the ghost of Odie Bates…except me. I figured if there really were such a thing as ghosts, they didn’t believe in me so I didn’t worry about it.
This occurrence happened only once, only for a few seconds, and in that microscopic amount of time, I picked up on several things at once:
- My grief was real and validated. If Craig had indeed visited for a moment, it was a comfort for me that he knew I was grieving. Even if it was “all in my imagination” as some would say, I’m okay with that…but since this has never, ever happened to me before, I doubt this was a moment of imagination.
- My anger toward Rich for being such a jackass was real, and validated, and honestly, after a few days, completely unnecessary. You cannot change other people, no matter how much you’d like to, no matter how much you think they need to change, no matter what. You can only change yourself.
- Not every friendship you have will last forever and ever. Not every friend you make is dedicated to that friendship as much as you are, and there is nothing you can do about that. You must decide your own journey as they decide theirs.
These are the lessons I learned in the last few weeks.
This has been an uncharacteristically serious installment of You Can’t Say That, and I would apologize except I’m not sorry at all. It took me days and days to make myself sit down and write this. I knew I needed to let these thought bubbles out so they could pop, one by one, and I could be rid of the nagging in the back of my brain to WRITE IT OUT DAMN YOU WRITE IT OUTTTTT….
I hope that you understand that not every essay I tap-tap-tap out is funny or edgy. Most of them are. I like humor. I like being goofy.
I also hope that you have the strength to hang on when it’s time to hang on, and to let go when it’s time to let go…and I wish you every kind of wisdom to know the difference.