by Larry Brody
As Neil Sedaka once sang, “Breaking up is hard to do.”
Even when it doesn’t involve a loving partner or significant other sort of relationship.
I don’t know what happens with other people, but Gwen the Beautiful and I share a common characteristic when it comes to keeping friendships. We’re pretty much able to go along with anything as long as we know the friend truly cares for us and shares our basic desire to help human beings to become the best they can be.
But once a friend crosses the line it’s as though a switch has gone off in our heads and it’s all over.
I’ve only seen this happen with Gwen a couple of times. In both cases her reaction was immediate and powerful.
The first time, she discovered that her best friend Paula had been stealing from our house. Clothes. Children’s toys. Small items of décor.
Did Gwen march over to Paula’s place and demand everything back? Call her and scream? Fire off a furious note?
Nope. It was too late for that. With the switch in the off position, the friendship was over. And with the friendship over there was no need or responsibility to talk anything through.
Never again did Gwen talk to Paula. Not a word. Nothing. No matter what.
But necessary because some betrayals cut so deeply that discussing them can itself cause a fatal wound. To the soul.
The second time Gwen “paula-ed” someone was when another longtime friend decided that instead of hiding the racism we hadn’t known she felt she was going to be “open and honest” about it.
Oh, and “cute and funny” too.
Her jokes about Hispanics didn’t find the acceptance she sought.
Gwen got out of the car the woman was driving at the time, carefully shut the door…and never spoke to her again either.
I first met my (former) friend Joe when we were in college. He was the world’s greatest wingman, a charming guy who could start a conversation with anyone and always—unfailingly—keep whomever he was talking to at ease.
When you’re a shy youth, having a friend who’s ready and willing to walk up to any young woman you think is cute and pave the way for you is worth just about anything. And when a friend like that sticks by you, no matter what, the “just about anything” becomes everything.
We were buds for life.
Except that life changes people. Over the years, Joe has become more and more difficult for me to be around, even electronically. He teaches college but hates college students. “They’re idiots,” he says. “I hate them so much I even hate college towns.”
He’s become a hard-liner about all aspects of human conduct, constantly measuring people against his idea of intelligence.
“My next door neighbor not only can’t dress a deer, he’s never even shot one. How stupid can you get?”
“That idiot doesn’t even have an M.A., let alone a PhD. Can’t believe a thing he says.”
“I don’t see Doris anymore. When we were in Taos she drank straight from the untreated spring. What a moron!”
During the past six months, Joe has e-mailed me articles and reflections on “the stupid side of life,” some serious and some intended to be funny, at least twice a day. I asked him to stop several times, but the e-mails kept coming. Along with Joe’s assurances that, “Larry B, don’t worry. You’re the smartest guy I know. We’re BFFs.”
When we were in college I would’ve been happy to pass muster like that. But now? I couldn’t take his attitude toward others anymore. I didn’t want to hear about “idiots.” And even though I was exempt, I knew I couldn’t survive any more encounters with Joe’s hatred.
I’ve been paula-ing him for five days.
Gwen made it look easy, but now I know how much it hurt her.
Because I ache.
How I ache!
Joe’s on the phone now. Leaving a message. All I’ve got to do is pick up and tell him what’s going on. Do the manly thing and talk it through.
But Joe’s a charmer. If we talk, he’ll own me the way he used to.
I’ll apologize, and after we hang up I’ll feel miserable. And angry at myself.
Sorry, Joe, but I can’t risk it. I can’t let myself inflict my own fatal wound.