Friend of Your Youth

What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.

~ Aristotle

Kay and I were friends. For two years, we sat side by side for an hour each day in drafting class, mechanical pencils and straightedges in hand, designing dream homes or drawing specs for bolts. We swapped erasers as often as we swapped stories about high school crushes and who we planned to ask to the prom when the time came. We airbrushed signs on whiteboards in honor of our favorite hair bands and talked trash about the fledgling basketball team, my job at McDonalds, or hers at a local pizza place. And then, in late May of 1987, during the senior picnic, having drawn all we could draw and said all we could say, having for a brief moment shared a blanket and some lunch on the high school lawn, we went our separate ways.

Jay and I used to be friends. In college, we hosted a Christian radio show together. Radio Free Jesus. Interspersed between vinyl cuts by Resurrection Band, Daniel Amos, Randy Stonehill, Petra, and the occasional Amy Grant – offered just to keep the natives from getting restless – we talked about God and relationships and Jesus Rock. He ran for some local political office as a staunch Republican and I helped him hand out buttons on street corners. He lost. Eventually he graduated, got married, and left me to solo the show. We crossed paths once or twice, back in the late 80s, before I myself moved on to another locale several states away.

Aristotle held true friendship in high esteem, for he saw within the concept a bond forged between two people whose sole interest lie in maintaining and exemplifying the goodness of the other. He wrote, “Friendship of this kind is permanent, reasonably enough; because in it are united all the attributes that friends ought to possess. For all friendship has as its object something good or pleasant — either absolutely or relatively to the person who feels the affection — and is based on some similarity between the parties.”

Were Kay and I really friends? Jay and I? I believe so. Are we still friends? We must be, for Facebook tells me so. She tracked me down. I tracked him down. I get to see pictures of their kids and know where they are headed on vacation or what they had for breakfast. I watch the numbers rise as I add more friends and feel the smile on my face widen with each accepted invitation. Each “How have YOU been?” message. This is what we do nowadays, search for friends and add them to our stream without giving much thought as to what kind of friends these people really are.

Unless you’re me, of course. I think about shit like this way too much. And wonder what it all means. To wit, I recently read an interesting passage in Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer-prize-winning novel All the King’s Men . . .

The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he does not really see you. He sees in his mind a face that does not exist anymore, speaks a name – Spike, Bud, Snip, Red, Rusty, Jack, Dave – which belongs to that now nonexistent face but which by some inane doddering confusion of the universe is for the moment attached to a not happily met and boring stranger. But he humors the drooling doddering confusion of the universe and continues to address politely that dull stranger by the name which properly belongs to the boy face and to the time when the boy voice called thinly across the late afternoon water or murmured by a campfire at night or in the middle of a crowded street said, “Gee, listen to this–’On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble; His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves–'” The Friend of Your Youth is your friend because he does not see you anymore.

And perhaps he never saw you. What he saw was simply part of the furniture of the wonderful opening world. Friendship was something he suddenly discovered and had to give away as a recognition of and payment for the breathlessly opening world which momently divulged itself like a moonflower. It didn’t matter a damn to whom he gave it, for the fact of giving was what mattered, and if you happened to be handy you were automatically endowed with all the appropriate attributes of a friend and forever after your reality is irrelevant. The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he hasn’t the slightest concern with calculating his interest or your virtue. He doesn’t give a damn, for the moment, about Getting Ahead or Needs Must Admiring the Best, the two official criteria in adult friendships, and when the boring stranger appears, he puts out his hand and smiles (not really seeing your face) and speaks your name (which doesn’t really belong to your face), saying, “Well, Jack, damned glad you came, come on in, boy!”

“Sure, I’ll be your friend. We can catch up for a moment or two and share pictures and tell each other what we’re having for breakfast.” But eventually, this Friend of Your Youth gets lost in the feed, becoming nothing but a blip that gets shoved down the page as new updates pour in. And often, like Jack Burden, we’ll reach for our hat and head out the door, either disconnecting them or hiding them, wondering why we stopped by in the first place.

I’ve heard stories of people finding long lost friends and actually prolonging the reunion, reconnecting in ways that mean something so much more now than they did way back when. Romances have blossomed, hands-on physical contact taking the place of pixels and status updates. I imagine these are rare stories, however, rising to the top because we want all this to mean something. But distance and the piling up of years make any genuine connection with most Friends of My Youth impossible. And so we settle for this.

Maybe this is my “Great Sleep” rearing its ugly head, for I tend to pull away in the face of superficial contact. I find no pleasure in merely scratching the surface. To me, it seems more like pulling the scab off of a wound that could have healed long ago if I’d just refrained from pestering it so. Maybe I want more than what Facebook is giving me.

Or maybe I’m just thinking too much . . .

[photo credit]

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21 thoughts on “Friend of Your Youth

  1. I’ve thought along similar lines, that little of who we were is who we are now. I don’t even have much of that feeling of happiness with facebook, knowing that brief contact with someone I have so little in common with is unlikely to go anywhere.

    How about this — even physically there isn’t much left of who we were when we were young. A person recognizes us because of the same facial shape or way of talking, but most of the materials we were physically made of have been replaced by new materials. We really are a different person.

  2. Thanks for reminding me of how blessed and lucky I am to have the friends that I do. At the end of the movie “Stand By Me,” the narrator says: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anybody?”

    Change that age to 14 or 15 and it applies to me. I’ve made a few good friends in the decades since then but there’s something about the people who “knew you when …” that always has access to an extra special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because they were able to look beyond the awkward, gawky teen. Maybe it’s because they helped me see what they saw.

    And still do.

  3. A number of people have lamented that FB should have levels of friend: acquaintance, friend, buddy, etc. I view my FB “friend” list as people I know well enough to put there (and people who have added me who I feel compelled to add for whatever reason, such as a client who is a FB addict).

  4. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as well lately as I add or am added by many friends and aquaintances from the past. I have been lucky in my ventures- I’ve seen three old friends (one several times) and talked to others quite a bit since getting back in touch. I’ve also gotten to know a couple of people better that I didn’t know so well or at all really when we were in school together and its nice to know we can all grow past the childish cliques we grew up in. That quote is so incredibly right on tho that I agreed out loud when I read it. As always Brian, you have hit the nail square on the head. Thanks so much!

  5. Oh boy, I’m going to go against the wisdom here. I think people never really change much, that at the core we are who we were when we were five. Yep. Five.

    I notice the friends who were attention seekers as teens are still at it. Those who want to know more about you and really really care, they were always like that.
    People never change. They change jobs and move up or down in socioeconomic status, but who they really are is who they always were. At least the part I give a shit about.

  6. you may think too much, but it’s better than the alternative! i’ve had mixed interactive success with FB. and that’s ok… i’ve found that the people i’ve genuinely reconnected with have tended to be the people i grew up with – from about 7-12 years old… we are all basically the same people.

    i have also discovered a few gems… people who were fairly quiet, off-radar in school, but we’ve got lots of resonance now… that’s been fun!

    i’ll take the good with the superficial and annoying. and now that i can block the ‘gaming’ messages? it’s more pleasant…

  7. FB can only and will only scratch the surface. I still have a FB page, but rarely go there. I can’t help think that it’s just too much for too little. Going to FB is like waving to someone you think you know, but don’t stop to see if you really do.
    Do people change from youth? I hope so. For the better? It depends.
    Glad you were thinking too much, it got me thinking, too.

  8. It may have been another blogger who said this to me the other day, but you never really leave a place or a person – you always take a piece of them with you as you go.

    Friendships change, as do people – it’s always sad when you lose touch with people, especially if you get tired of being the one who’s always making the effort.

    But perhaps in some ways it is better to have the memory of that time to take with us. I miss each and every friend that i no longer see, but i hope i am a better person for having known them

  9. I’m in the minority, I think. People drift in and out of my life and I’m pretty okay with that. I relish what we had and I’m happy to have reconnected with people who knew me way back when I wasn’t “Aunt Becky” but simply “Becky” or even “Sherrick” (my maiden name).

    I’m proud that they remember me, I’m grateful to keep in touch with them and really, I don’t care much beyond that. Could I call them in a pinch? Probably. Maybe they’re not as close to me as we were back then, but I don’t care. Still my friends.

    I understand why you feel the way you do, please, don’t misunderstand me, but to me, I’m satisfied in knowing that people who knew me back when still know me now.

  10. I think it’s the use of the word “friend” that gets me…My former boss, a woman who hadn’t spoken more than a dozen words to me in the past three months friended me. WTF???? I accepted and then deleted her a few days laters (She has since been fired!) I see others with hundreds of “friends,” but I keep mine to a manageable minimum.

  11. I’ve had some people “friend” me on Facebook and then I wonder why they did it. In high school they barely said two words to me, and NOW all of a sudden they want to be my friend??? I think for some people, the reconnecting they do on facebook is a popularity contest. It’s almost like they haven’t left the high school mentality and they need to be the one with the most “friends.” It’s sad really…

  12. Bubba, I think you think too much. You know as well as I do, we’ve got “aquaintances” all over this country. I mean… we’ve moved about as many times as we are years old! But there are those few life long friends than may change with age but their connection to us never lets go. Garsy has Jen. I have Janet. You would have to name yours. Love ya Bubba.

  13. I think a lot of the cyber friendships that we make are illusory, shallow. I know that’s not the party line and maybe I’m just being a pessimist. But unless I can touch someone, see their face, smell their scent – it just seems that something is missing. Facebook is a distraction, a way to make us feel less lonely while pulling back further from real relationships.

    God, I’m in a good mood today.

  14. I agree with you. About superficial contact. I abort. I won’t be friends with people on damn Facebook and TheSpace unless I actually am their friend. I’m not going halfsies on this. I’ve got about seven friend requests just sitting there all the time from people that keep on trying to add me, and all I can think is, “Goddammit, I don’t want you all up in my bizness. We weren’t friends or even acquaintances. What kind of bullshit is this?”

    It’s dumb.

  15. This post really made me think. A lot. Because some of my dearest friends are those that I’ve known since childhood. And I seem to have a hard time forging new, close friendships with people I met in adulthood. This post gave me a little insight into why this might be. Thanks for writing it.

  16. I have yet to foster a beautiful friendship (old or new) from social kindling a gadget like facebook has to offer. Perhaps i was too cynical, from the beginning to ever achieve success. You can’t see me laugh or cry on facebook…only imagine it, and let’s face it, the majority of those in the developed world have pandered away their imaginations to almost nothing.

    My friendships have survived marriage and kids (two great gifts, don’t get me wrong!) only through beers and non-virtual conversation on my back patio.

  17. These thoughts swirl through my head too. I’m not trusting of internet friends, of old relationships mostly dead, but a “FB Friend Request!” breathes life into it for a few moments. It’s… unusual and sometimes disturbing… but I continue to do it. The rush of the “find”… then what? There are a few relationships [old and new] I’ve cultivated through the internet and FB, but I struggle.

    Sorry I’ve been away. Hope you’re well. 🙂

  18. Interestingly enough, of the “friends” on FB who have taken my “How well do you know me?” quiz, it is a friend from teen years, with whom I am more friendly through the medium now than then, scored highest on the quiz. How does he manage to know more about me than perhaps even family members or newer, IRL friends? It’s an interesting phenomenon…

  19. I found your post because I was looking for that quote in “All the King’s Men.” I saw a story on CNN about these five friends who in 1982 who, at age 19, took a picture at a lake house that they’ve recreated every five years. They sit in the same position for the photograph and you can see how they’ve aged over the years. One man said the photograph tradition was what has kept them together over the last 30 years. Sometimes I think that our friendships in youth are more pure. We don’t care what the friend is going to be when she grows up, how much money she’ll make or what political party she’ll favor. Most “grown-up” friendships are more calculated it seems. Facebook allows us to do what no other generation has ever done: find out what ever happened to that sweet little boy I knew back in that old house on Bleaker Street. I guess it is a little depressing when that sweet memory is replaced with something less.

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