Wednesday, May 24, 2006

a friendship undone

There was a boat-load of gay men.

It was the 4th of July, 1983. My friend Ron had borrowed his parent's little sailboat and was having a fireworks viewing party in Newport harbor. I was the only girl among 20 men.

When I first saw JP, I thought he was a wicked dork. He was wearing a pair of overalls and a straw hat. He was thin and short and spoke with a raspy, high pitched voice. (The result, I later learned, of damaged vocal cords and too many ciggerettes.)

But in the launch on the way back to the dock, we started chatting and realized that we had a few things in common. I was a HUGE Japanophile, having read every modern Japanese novel I could get my hands on... from Tanizaki to Kawabata to the grand daddy of them all: Mishima's Tetrology. JP hadn't read much Japanese literature, but he HAD lived there for awhile, while he was in the Navy. We both loved sashimi and futons and green tea. Plus, he was of Swiss descent and so am I. He had a great honking Swiss nose that reminded me of my grandfather's. He spoke 5 languages and was brilliant. And was the funniest person I ever met.

We became inseparable. My then-boyfriend was jealous, but I didn't care. JP and I would go out dancing until 2am and then find our way to the local all-night donut shop and drink coffee and talk non-stop and chain smoke ciggerettes until dawn. I would wander home and crash until sometime that night when we would get back together for another go round. He became my best friend.

That summer was the only time we lived in the same state. At the end of it, he moved back to upstate New York. I went to college in Providence, later to Hawaii to study Japanese for a semester, then back to RI. JP began an long series of moves, from Binghamton to San Fransisco, to LA, to New York again. We would rendezvous in various cities around the country for intense weekends of catching up. I flew to San Francisco a couple of times. I visited him at his sister's in Poughkeepsie. He stayed with Nguyen and I when we lived in Kansas City, stopping off during one of his many cross-country drives. In 1994, after the Rwanda genocide, we met in New York City for the Gay Pride parade. We stayed in the Paramount Hotel, ate udon noodles and went on the march... two of us in the midst of a million people. I remember thinking that it had to be a least a partial healing after the destruction of a million deaths. A million people, full of love, gathered together, in the streets of New York.

A couple times, JP came to RI to visit. He was here when Nguyen and I got married. He came to meet my first son. He would stop by on his way to the Cape. We knew each other so well we could talk simultaneously and still understand exactly what the other was saying. We would laugh so hard I'd pee my pants. I fell in love with his lovers, his dad, his sister, his nieces and nephew. I would chat on the phone with his mom for hours because she, too, had the gift of gab. We got into funny adventures and scrapes, like the time we had to walk dozens of blocks on a cold New York city night to pick up JPs car from the pound on 11th Avenue after it was towed. Or the time we danced all night in a dive called The Dive. Or loudly and embarrassingly practiced our Spanish swears with an Uruguayan friend in an Argentinian restaurant. (Who knew the word "shell" had such naughty overtones?) The waiters actually blushed.

But we grew apart.

It is the truth that when you have kids, things shift. Life and death both seem to bring about a change in perspective. I began to feel like we didn't have anything in common anymore. It became clear that we had a very different view of the world. As I was feeling increasingly at home in the world, and with God, JP was getting increasingly edgy. He seemed paranoid, sometimes. He always seemed to feel like he had to manipulate a situation in order not to be hurt by it. He trusted God less and less. This was ironic considering that the one blow-out we ever had was because he was a Catholic, and at the time, I couldn't understand how you could be intelligent and religious at the same time. (I was 18 at that point. Boy has that come back to bite me in the ass!) So as I was growing closer to God he seemed to be drifting further off center.

Finally, one spring, JP asked me to lie to a potential employer when he used me as a reference. He wanted me to say that he hadn't worked for several months because he had cared for his ailing mother. But it was a lie. His mom was fine. He had been unemployed because he was fired from his last job. That was pretty much the point when I decided that we were just too far apart in our world view to be friends any more.

For months, I struggled with whether to tell him. I cringed when I heard his voice on the phone. I avoided calling him. I grieved. I told myself that we had grown apart and that that was ok. The truth is that the one thing we always had a hard time with in our relationship was being honest when we were upset about something. We kept the difficult stuff to ourselves. We hid our darkness from each other. So, when I finally called him to tell him how I felt, it must have come as a huge shock. I told him that I wanted a break from our friendship. That I needed space. He was angry. He felt judged. (Perhaps I was judging him.) We exchanged a couple more letters as follow-up to our phone call, but it was over. And though I have tried to get in touch a few times over the years, I haven't heard from him since.

At this point, I realize that being a friend to someone means being there for them during the hard times in their lives. I honestly don't know what was going on for JP at that point. I was too caught up in raising a toddler. I never really took the time time find out. I just decided that the relationship wasn't working for ME and that was that.

Now I know that I betrayed him. I know that if it happened again, I would try to handle it differently. I hope I would be a better friend.

I pray that someday he will know that no matter what, I love him. I pray that he has found peace and love. Is he happy? In love? At peace? I pray for all those things for him.

And most of all, I want him to know I am sorry.

I am sorry.

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