atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#659: Oh, shut up!

I just opened a container of sour cream. Mom made Mexican lasagna tonight and I was having a post-shower meal.

Under the cap: "A friend is like a rainbow: always there after the storm!"

STFU. Okay? STFU, before you make me barf.

I am really down on the idea of friendship, companionship, and "relationships". I have read and seen and heard all sorts of these platitudes in my life, took them to heart, believed in them the way I believe in God and Jesus.

And continue to have faith in them because I'm not ready to be such a cynic, but I have never actually experienced that kind of friendship.

Maybe my expectations are unrealistic. I don't know. But I can illustrate my point by discussing the life-crisis that struck me in late 2003.

It was not a banner year. I spent 2002 unemployed, trying to find a job; on 1/2/03 I started a new career as a certified nurse's assistant. It was hard work, painful (both physically and emotionally).

In early 2002 my friend Darla's father had to be convinced, by a social worker, to go to the freaking hospital, where the ER attending described him as a "train wreck" with a blood glucose reading of 360 (3x normal), diabetic neuropathy and atrophied leg muscles to the point that he couldn't walk, and he'd spent the last month in the same chair without getting up at all. You can do the math on what that means.

Darla had lived upstairs while all this was going on. Knowing her father I bought her version of events, but now I have to wonder...but screw it, I don't care anyway.

With her father in a nursing home for good, Darla's siblings gave her an ultimatum: pay for the utilities on that drafty old wreck of a house (the heating bill alone: $400 per month) or move out.

I offered her my spare bedroom. Half of my rent and half my utilities was about $400 per month. She accepted. We were "together" anyway, boyfriend-girlfriend, so it even made a kind of sense, especially since my unemployment was running out and I faced moving back to Illinois if I didn't find a job and soon.

I did this out of friendship; I was giving up my art studio/computer room so she'd have her own bedroom--I knew it was important that we each have our own space. She didn't have anywhere else to go, anyway.

Fast-forward to July of 2003, then. We were helping a neighbor get into his apartment; the guy fell and I tried to break his fall, and ended up breaking my little finger. It needed an ORIF--open reduction internal fixation--and I had a stainless steel pin sticking out of it for six weeks. I couldn't work as a CNA, they wouldn't put me on light duty, and there wasn't anything else I could do. So I basically ended up out of a job. I was still on the payroll but I had no hours, and no guarantee that I would have a position when my leave was over.

In October, when I was cleared to go back to work, there were no hours for me. And no other nursing homes were hiring, except for the worst "stack-'em-like-cordwood" place in the county--a place which was notorious for using up CNAs, paying them shit wages, and spitting them out when they couldn't do any more. I wasn't going to work there.

But I couldn't get a job anywhere else.

Meanwhile my relationship with Darla was getting better, and we'd discussed the things you usually discuss when you're in that kind of relationship. In late November, with her birthday approaching, I was going to go hock some of my tools to buy her a "promise ring", a kind of "engaged to be engaged" ring. I asked her for her ring size, telling her of my intentions, and she told me "no".

Over 40, fat, plain, and I was the only man who had ever expressed an interest in spending his life with her. Okay, whatev.

But it pretty well ended my existence in Iowa. I hadn't worked since July, and was ineligible for unemployment; I had no money and no wherewithal to get a new place to live, nor could I continue to live there: her rich mother wouldn't send her any more money if we lived together. (How convenient, I thought.) When she said, "One of us has to move" I took the high road and just moved out. I could have made her move first and then moved out--and the thought did occur to me at the time!--but I didn't.

I moved back to Illinois. Less than three months later it was obvious that it was a good thing that I had, but at the time all of this was the emotional equivalent of a live grenade in the shorts.

At the time I was a regular at Mark's D&D game, every other week. But living in Illinois meant a 4.5-hour drive to Cedar Rapids on Friday night (or Saturday morning) and an equally long drive home on Sunday afternoon.

Could Mark let me use his sofa on Friday night? No. No, I could have it on Saturday night, but Friday I'd have to go elsewhere.

If I went to Robb's house Friday night, I didn't get to sleep before 3 AM at best, because Robb would be up until then on his computer--and Robb's kids would wake me up at 7 AM with the TV. Robb, of course, would be asleep in his bedroom with his wife, and they could easily sleep until 11. 11-3=8; 7-3=4: I was getting about half the sleep Robb was.

If I drove there on Saturday, I had to leave Crete at about 7 AM. Mark was very particular about people being on time to his game. You can't be late, oh no! You have to get there before and be ready to go at 1 PM sharp, or else!!

Either way, I was getting up at 7 in the freaking morning to play a stupid game. But okay, okay--these are my friends, I'll do it.

Then Mark complained that I always seemed tired when I was there and not interested in the game.

Okay, look here, fuckstick: I'm driving four fucking hours to be here for your game. You won't let me sleep on your sofa two nights every other week even though you let so-and-so sleep on your sofa for three freaking months straight. I'm sorry that I'm tired, but I can't help it; and since I am making such an effort, the fucking least you can do is not be such a fucking douchebag about it!

Oh! But what's-his-face drives four hours! He can game just fine!

Yeah. He stays Friday night with his sister, and I'm betting he's not sleeping on a sofa--which literally smells like ass, by the way--for four hours before being awakened by Saturday morning cartoons. I'm betting he gets at least six hours, maybe more, before sauntering over to your double-wide.

I mean, how much do I have to do, here?

Mark subscribed to approximately the same definition of "friendship" that I do, so I just don't get it. What I do get is that if the situations were reversed I wouldn't begrudge a friend the way he begrudged me: "This is the limit of what I am willing to do," he said in one e-mail.

For Christ's sake, I wasn't asking for his first born; I was asking to sleep on a freaking sofa two nights in a row, and have a couple of showers. I'm talking about arriving late on Friday (around 8, 9 PM) and going to bed relatively soon thereafter, not getting there at 3 PM and hanging around eating all his food and camping on his computer all night.

I rapidly realized that his definition of "friendship" and my own were, in fact, rather at odds.

Actually, the way it worked out, it was how he applied that definition to me, not his overall definition. Apparently he was willing to make that sacrifice for others, but not me--as I'd said, one of his gamers slept on that sofa for three months, and afterwards he had Robb's entire family over there on Saturday night. So much for "we don't want a lot of people staying over on game weekends". So I finally realized where I fell in his estimation, anyway: by myself I was more annoying than two people and their two single-digit-age children.

But what annoys me is that I was expected to make all kinds of sacrifices--time, money, effort--and he was not required to do anything, not even by friendship.

The same kind of situation was demonstrated in my recent breakup with what's-her-face in the Philippines. I spent $1,800 on airfare and hundreds more on "pasalubong"--souvenirs--for her friends and family, and traveled halfway around the planet to meet her. Why did she call off our engagement?

Well, for one thing, because I never made her "feel special". WTF!

(Apparently I could atone for this sin by sending her $330 per month. She told me she wanted me to support her and that she needed P500 per day, which is about $11; and when I told her that was not going to happen, she never wrote another letter.)

That is to say, Ed: what you're doing? It's not enough. Sorry, pal. You might think it's a big deal, and maybe it is, for you--but for me, it's nothing.

I'm all for understanding the other person's side of issues and trying to accept that not everyone thinks the same way, but these are times when I just think, "What in the fucking hell--?"

And in some cases it amounts to sheer stupidity on my part, too. I had a friend, Mike, who consistently acted like a dickhead towards me for years and I always forgave him for it; my one condition was knowing what he had been doing that had made him blow me off. Finally that got to be too much for him.

I mean, I'd call him and set up a day for us to get together. He'd agree to it. On the day, I'd give him a call and get the answering machine. Call later, same thing. Call again, same thing. Most of the time I'd finally get a call around 9, 10 PM from him.

Oh, but I was badgering him to set up a get-together! Well, WTF, you're my friend, for reasons that mystify me; I would like to see you once in a while. Jesus Christ, if my presence is so goddamned onerous why don't you just fucking say so, asshat? Call the friendship quits and I'll never bother your sorry ass again, douchebag.

But that would make him the bad guy, you see. This way it's all my fault.

And that behavior went all the way back to the earliest days of our friendship; maybe that's why I didn't really notice it until it became obvious. "Marcus called me first," he'd say. If I called him the night before and set something up, the next day it'd still be "Marcus called me first". Clearly he would rather spend time with Marcus than me, but that didn't become obvious to me until much later.

I don't associate with people I don't like, so I don't understand that attitude. If I don't like someone I won't let him think he's my friend--it's dishonest at best.

I'll tell you what it is: I was the "backup"--if Marcus was busy, I could be counted on to be there. And it was the same situation with another friend in the other example I gave--I was second fiddle, to be associated with only in case of the emergency of friend #1 not being around.

(I might add that I was not the only person he treated that way. I was friends with his first girlfriend and he treated her that way, too.)

What kind of friendship is that? I mean, it obviously works very well for him, of course; he's always entertained. But isn't there supposed to be a mutual component to friendship?

Mike also felt that it was perfectly fair for him to make fun of me for various things; but if I made fun of him for various things I was being cruel to him. I mean, I can remember times when he, his brother, and Marcus ganged up on me and teased me a lot, and that apparently was perfectly okay, but I'm not allowed a friendly dig here and there. Okay.

...and he never bothered to tell me that it bothered him, either; oh no. He didn't even try: "I knew you wouldn't stop, so I didn't bother!" Except, y'know, if he had told me, "Look, honestly--it really does bother me when you do this" I would have stopped. I had used that technique with startling effectiveness on other friends even when I thought it wouldn't work. But if you never tell me, if you don't let on that it bothers you, if you give no response--okay, gee, I guess I'm an asshole for not understanding your complete lack of communication.

I don't expect perfection from anybody. I accept that my friends are not always going to do things or make choices that are to my liking. But I expect them to give me the same regard; and if they don't, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to change myself to suit someone else? Do others have to change themselves to suit me? Who decides that, and how?

In every case I've cited above, by the way, I am not claiming to have been 100% perfect all along. I have my warts, too--everyone does--and I know it. But part of friendship is, I thought, understanding and accepting your friends for who they are, not who you want them to be. If you don't like who they are, you don't sit there and hold a grudge about it and act like a jerk; you tell them about it and then you decide whether or not you're going to keep associating with them.

In every relationship and friendship I've had since junior high school I've done my best to be forgiving of the foibles of others and to accept my friends for who they were. I haven't been Mr. Perfect--far from it--but I've assumed that the asinine things I do were offet by the asinine things they did. But that's not correct.

No, in just about every case, it was always my fault.

Marcus? He hasn't associated with me since 1994 because I "never wanted to do anything". For example, I wouldn't go out to a bar at 11 PM on a work night. "Well, I have to go to work tomorrow, too!" Oh, yeah, you do. You drive half an hour to get to work at noon. I drive 1.25 hours to get to work at 8 in the morning. Notice the difference?

Mark? Haven't heard a word from him since 2004, and I'm not sure I care at all. But it was my fault things turned out the way they did, because I was being "unreasonable". After all, he was doing "everything he was willing to do" and that just wasn't enough for me.

The consistent thread of "you've been there when I needed you, but I don't have to be there for you" has been too consistent in my life, and it's what makes me think that real friendship is a myth.

I helped Mark with a lot of things, being a sounding board for serious problems in his life and validating his views on them--and I mean serious stuff, like having a daughter get hospitalized after she tried to kill herself, having a former friend sue him, etc. Granted my efforts were little enough, but they were all that I could do for him. I helped him move; I helped him rebuild his front porch.

I helped Marcus with a lot of things, too. His parents all-but-divorced, and I was there to listen to him. He and I were best friends for decades, even to the point of treating our cars like communal property.

Mike? I sent a mass e-mail to everyone on my e-mail list in January, telling them about the death of my Dad. He didn't send any reply, which was fine since we'd fallen out of contact a few months earlier. But now his dad has died and he sent me an e-mail about it; I don't know what he expects from me. (This is the situation that prompted #651, by the way.)

Or is it really me that's the problem? I regularly look at myself and my behavior and I can't see anything so seriously wrong with me, but self-knowledge is not my strong suit.

Still, when I compare my behavior to the behavior of others I certainly see no disparity; in fact I see people who are much bigger dickheads than me who have a wealth of friends and significant others. So what the hell?

I guess what I'm saying here is that my faith in the good things about life and people has been shaken. Friendship is apparently worthless. Love doesn't seem to work either, at least not for me. What the hell is left? What do I have to look forward to? Is there no one I can count on?

Am I wrong?
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