Sunday, April 20, 2008

On Friendship

English class always gave me the heebie-jeebies. My goal at that particular time in my life was to grow my hair down to my ass, an end I'd selected for its unparalleled level of achievability-through-immobility. I sat in English class working diligently, follicle by follicle, while around me my classmates, under the leadership of the dour, moon-faced Mrs. L, squabbled over the bones of Euripides, Orwell, and Plath.

In English we were carrion, ghouls. We cracked open sprawling, complicated narratives and sucked out the marrow, which turned out to consist of boxy, nutritive statements like "similes use like or as" and "in Classical tragedy, the hero is the agent of his own downfall." We never used the word "hamartia," but it T-boned our explanations: the hero had a tragic flaw, some intrinsic seed of darkness that, by the end of the last act, had blossomed into chaos, blood, war, or fire.

If the tragedy issued from God or chance or the hero's idiot cousin Merv, it wasn't Classical. This never made a whole lot of sense to me. I didn't understand why the distinction mattered if the results were the same. I didn't understand the importance of trolling the tragic pantheon for its purest and most effective sorrow, as if tragedy were a supermarket and we were brand-conscious shoppers with double coupons. I was busy. I was waiting for my hair to grow.

Ten years and a layered bob later, there are no more English classes. There's only blogging, and the list of things I'm avoiding by blogging, including, at the moment: running, practicing, adding to the 'Kyzicos' section of my very mediocre novel, printing out Telemann pdfs, answering K's email.

Answering K's email. In which she describes her third trimester of pregnancy, her husband's job search, her church work. K my friend for years, who met her husband while I was living with her, who hid the books and pamphlets he gave her under her bed, at whose wedding I behaved badly. The priest was a short, jowly man who told me to genuflect more deeply. He doused us with incense and sermonized on the subservient role of women in Catholic marriage while I mouthed bite me, bite me during every Amen. I couldn't stop remembering K sleeping with her mouth wide open on the train to Glasgow, K snorting milk, that conversation we'd had three months back in which she'd explained how her views on homosexuality, on abortion, were changing. The ceremony ended. The bride and groom kissed. Everyone clapped and prayed and cheered. In the bathroom I removed, with great care, my bridesmaid's dress and crumpled it between my hands.

K's husband is a good man. He laughs at her jokes and appreciates her good qualities, which are numerous. I can barely speak to him. As a result, I barely speak to her. Every so often, when I get the better of myself, I email her a few lines, ask how she's doing. And because, unlike me, K is sweet and pliant and forgiving, she always writes back.

Good friends accept change in one another. They respect one another's autonomy and ability to make choices about career, lifestyle, and relationships. They do not allow the caustic agents of betrayal, disappointment, or hurt to dissolve a relationship of years' standing.

I am not a good friend.

A decade late, I sense the architectural sweep of it, those clean, formal lines. Classical tragedy is when you can't help yourself, when you fight against yourself and lose, when you forfeit your humanity to being human.

I'm growing my hair out again, not that it does any good. To future Ks -and to K on the wild, half-chance that you're reading this- all I can say is: I'm sorry.

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