When I was nineteen, I spent a day in the company of a man with whom I had grown up. We met in the fourth grade, when I was 10 and he was 11 (he had gotten held back a grade). We were almost exactly eleven months apart in age, shy the length of a work week. We had grown up together, graduated high school together, and then coincidentally moved to the same other town together after high school. I went there to get away from high school; he had lived there before we met and moved back as an adult.
I spent the day with him in his house and I learned that the friendship we had kept for so many years wasn’t at all what I had thought it was.
He opened up, confessing his years-long crush, upon which he had never acted because he thought I was, quote, too good for him. I, the voluntary misfit artistic weirdo, was too good for the school heartthrob sports star but whatever you want to tell yourself, friend. When I explained I had never seen him that way; that he had been like a brother to me, he got angry. Like, every “it happened to me” story on the internet level angry.
And that confession coupled with that anger made me call into question everything I had thought our friendship had been. Except that it took twenty years for me to really, truly understand what had happened.
If I do, in fact, understand.
Because today, twenty-one years after the last time we spoke, I am left with supposition and assumption. I can ask myself, “what was the motivation behind this?” until I am blue in the face, but I’ll likely never have the answer.
What triggered this trip down memory lane?
2019 should have been our twenty-year class reunion. But we couldn’t get it planned. So, one person took the reins and we had it set for July 10, 2020.
But before the shit hit the fan, I was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading this reunion. I had seen a small handful of classmates at a funeral for one of our teachers and the father of one of our class. It was a brief meeting and some of them I looked forward to seeing again, at the reunion, in a lighter atmosphere.
Others, like the villain in this story, filled me with dread.
How did I think I was going to combat this? By taking a date.
He is much younger, has a cool career . . . how would it have looked to these people who had tormented me as a child for me, an internationally published author, to show up with a (gorgeous) professional musician. And what was better, he was good at running interference. He had done it for me before.
Of course, none of that happened.
But it has made me understand, at least partly, why I cannot let go of the person I was bringing with me as a beautiful buffer.
It’s less that I love him. I do, that is not up for debate.
It’s more that despite the slim chance we’ll ever see each other again, I cannot let him go.
I can’t let him go because he will stand up to people twice his size if he thinks someone he cares about is being mistreated. Because he’ll openly admit on his very public social media that seeing the Freedom Tower or hearing his own song on the radio made him cry. Because he’ll openly share his struggles with depression in the hope that it will give someone else courage to seek help.
Because he is a chivalrous feminist and if you don’t believe that’s possible, you haven’t seen real chivalry (spoiler: it’s not the misogynistic alpha male garbage that gets promoted as chivalry).
Because he is the person I think of whenever anyone places a blanket statement of defamation over the male gender as a whole. Because he is one of the few who knows we don’t mean all men but is still willing to use his race and privilege to fight for women. Because when he talks about celebrity crushes, it’s women like Topanga Lawrence, Hermione Grainger, and Felicity Smoak who rev his engine. Because he’s kind and intelligent but no bullshit but also a total goofball.
Because he is the antithesis of every horror story on the internet. He is not going to creepy stalk a woman through the bar. He would be that guy who would hand a drugged drink to the person who drugged it and say, “if it’s safe, you drink it.”
And even though I am not afraid of men, I am not hyper vigilant about men in public spaces, I am aware that there are threats. And the potential of finding a threat makes me want to hold on tight to one that I know for absolutely certain is not a threat. Even if he doesn’t want to be held.