I happened upon two viejitos today. A former gangster in knee length “Dickies,” also wearing his telltale sweat-rimmed straw hat. A rock pipe was recently put away and the cigarette in his nervous hand twisted and rolled with a life not its own. Surging varicosed veins edged nearer the outside of his moreno skin. “Ay, bueno Senor. Estoy buscando a un hombre que se llama ‘Jessie.” Una persona me dice que El vive aqui. Conoce el Senor Jesse? Es Usted, no?” My source had been right as rain, jellied as jam. And correct. Then came his friend, Victoria, la otra querida de la pacienta original. She shares needles and sex with the original patient, Sylvia. The two, lovers and needle partners times seven years, also take their wares into town to sell on the street. Anything to get that extra bit of rock or heroin. Anything. Stifle life and ruin hope. Cease the smile. Encourage no light thought. It is gone. Recapture love and affection. Effect. Affect. El otro Viejo fue en un otro lugar, hablando con una Negrita, si, una prostituta, con quien el tuvo sexo anoche. This man was much darker-skinned than the other and wore the style of clothes often seen on an older Mexican man living in this country – dark tan work-pants and a shirt of matching color. Bare-footed, he followed me into the yard where we could talk out of ear-shot of the young, black woman sitting on the couch in his “living-room.” Proudly displaying the lengthwise scar in the center of his chest and the other scar that divided his right calf, the old man denied suffering from any malady other than the ones which had delivered his proud scars. He, too, lived exactly where Sylvia had told me that he could be found. In the projects behind the Edgewater Apartments, “It’s right there off the road, number twenty, and it has a black screen door covering the regular one. You can’t miss it.” And, so, I didn’t. I found his hovel, his nest, which smelled like unwashed hair and cigarettes. I found his home. Home. Where the heart is. Sweet home. The place like no other, adorned in reflection of the lives therein, or gone.
Really, what does it mean that you and I are friends, or you and anybody else, or me and the same or different anybody else? What does it mean? Does it mean that we happened to be in the same class together and thought the same joke was funny and laughed at the same time, and then we laughed again, or rolled our eyes at the same thing later in the day or week or semester or whatever? Does it mean that we started working at the same place on the same day or within the same week and formed something like a ‘traumatic bond’ after enduring the same experiences as ‘the new guys?’ Does it mean that we just happened to find ourselves in the same circumstances and discovered something similar in each other that we liked and have taken that something similar and made it grow by talking, sharing, and otherwise finding more and more similar things that we liked, enjoyed, disliked, or hated? We found some commonality and enjoyed it in the other person…something like that? Maybe it’s indistinct…maybe it just happened; we don’t know when, but it did. Maybe it’s like what author James Boswell said – “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” It just happened.
And then it starts to grow…that germinal moment or instance of something similar begins to grow in our sharing and time together. Not only do we share experiences, but as time wears on, maybe we share emotions and dreams, hopes and disappointments. Maybe our lives become more similar as we spend more time together and our experiences become shared, and our thoughts become shared, and our emotions, our reactions, our wants, dreams, likes and dislikes, and finally our spirits…our spirits that join somehow in the sharing of those many things and others. We begin to possess such similar thoughts that we can finish each other’s sentences and ideas for the other…our homes might become more familiar to each other, our cars, our children’s backpacks, and our coffee mugs…we are becoming, or have become part of each other. If we’re females, older girls or women, maybe our monthly cycles have even adjusted to the same schedule…and consequently, we’re impatient at the same time, sad, bloated, hungry, not hungry, intolerant, more emotional…or none of those things, but in sync with each other nonetheless. If we’re males, maybe we experience something similar with our biological rhythms the same way women do with their cycles, maybe.
What if we’re different? What if it was the things that were not the same that brought us together, what if they were our opposite characteristics? Some people say that opposites attract…people of different backgrounds and circumstances or personality traits, finding themselves together, whatever the event or situation, may feel a drawing together that is based on sharing what they don’t have in common. People who are suddenly working elbow to elbow, brainstorming on projects, plans, or whatever, their differences pique an interest in the other and they begin sharing and sharing…and maybe even finding things in common that weren’t at first apparent…and friendship blooms. Their differences become complementary, not ‘complimentary,’ as in “Hey, I like your shoes,” but ‘complementary,’ in that one’s strength enhances what might be a weakness or emptiness in the other…like in the movie Jerry Maguire, “you complete me.” The one makes the other a whole person…they are or become what the other was missing in their life…in friendship or love.
So what does it mean that we’re friends? We’ve already become friends and now we are friends, still, after all we’ve been through…whatever that can and/or might be. As Aristotle suggested, have we become two bodies sharing one soul…or two seeds of the same or different types of plants that came to grow in the same spot of earth…two hearts growing as one? In our backyard, we have a fan palm and a date palm that have been growing together in the same pot for upwards of 15 years. I obtained the date palm from a friend’s back yard and put it in a container with dirt from the friend’s yard and brought it home and placed it in my yard and watered it and kind of ‘forgot’ about it. The plant was in the spray-range of one of the sprinklers, so it got the water it needed and continued to grow without much effort or assistance from me. There was a fan palm seed in the dirt from my friend’s yard that sprouted and began to grow in the pot that the date palm was in…and it’s been so many years and I never separated the plants…they grew larger than the plastic pot, split its sides and bored their roots into the ground, joining, intertwining…becoming one living rooted mass with their trunks and branches upwards of 15 and 20 feet in height. To separate them would likely kill or severely damage at least one or both of them…they are two distinct plants but share an intricately woven root system…like people who have been friends for a long time…or brothers, sisters, lovers, spouses, mates…maybe…. These people’s lives have become enmeshed, intertwined, and/or overlapping…maybe they really have become one. Or…maybe our friendships haven’t become this involved and serve different purposes and fulfill other needs.
Some of our friendships can be and are more compartmentalized, as they exist in particular places or arenas of our lives and not in others, either intentionally or because that’s just the way they’ve existed…so far anyway. They are enriching and sustaining in specific contexts and don’t overlap with the other areas, except where they permeate our thoughts or people the stories we share. We might have friends who are family members, our children or parents, maybe; friends of other family members, like our children’s or parents’ friends; work friends that are co-workers, or subordinates, or even our boss, or none of these; gym friends; child-hood friends; military or war-buddies; college friends who were classmates or professors; chess-playing friends from the internet or the city park; blogging friends or writing-group friends; dog-park friends; grocery-store friends; next-door-neighbor friends; and soft-ball or bowling-team friends, or racquetball friends. Some of these relationships can be or might be more intimate or close than others and some might extend from one realm into another as they become closer and more involved in the whole of their lives…work friends become family friends – or even family members, gym friends become girl-friends, wives, and mothers of our children, next-door-neighbor friends might become family friends and in-laws… and then some of our child-hood or college friends might become the best friends in our long lives. An old professor and friendly acquaintance of mine once explained that people sometimes enter our lives for a while and then go away just as freely or casually as they entered them. These friends or significant people join our paths for a time, share wonderful events and experiences with us, learn and grow together, and then slowly fade apart…and then they go away – the relationship doesn’t end badly, it just ends, inexplicably…somehow. They add flavor to our lives for a season, as we do to theirs, and then we each go our separate ways. The substance of the friendship didn’t have to be enduring, and it wasn’t.
For those relationships that are more than temporal, that last through the ages in their varied contexts, what makes them do so? What is the substance, the basis, the explainable part of why we’re friends? As I mentioned above, is it because we endured a hardship together, were baptized by the same fire, got our sea-legs together, fell into a carpool together, started class at the same time…and whatever else…and began to share of ourselves, finding pleasant similarities or intriguing differences along the way? And now that we’re friends – again – what does that mean? I think it means that we probably trust each other, look forward to seeing each other, miss each other when one is away, help each other in random or specific ways, use each other as a sounding-board, feel free enough to vent our deepest angers and frustrations, help each other in times of crisis, cry on each other’s shoulders, celebrate in joy at the successes, encourage each other in the challenging times, admonish each other when we’re out of line, we accept each other to the point that our differences are as binding to each other as are our similarities; they have become part of the glue that keeps us together, we cause each other to think about things we wouldn’t normally be concerned with, force each other’s minds to consider other perspectives, validate the other’s concerns, we mean it with the entirety of our souls when we say “I’ve got your back,” and with everything that entails. We depend on each other and we take each other for granted sometimes too and we understand the other’s manner of speaking and we’re comfortable being silent together and we can share a glance or moment of eye contact and understand the words that don’t need to be spoken and we can touch the other’s hand or offer an easy hug or handshake and those moments of contact are dear and speak from the soul, from me to you and then.
When we say that we are friends – you and I, or you and anybody else, or me and the same or different anybody else, it means that we have connected somehow, in some context or another, and that we enjoy and want to nurture and maintain that connection, that relationship – that friendship…somehow it enriches our lives…or completes us.