About 18 months ago I broke with one of my oldest and closest friends. It was not an easy decision, but it was a long time coming. It came as a shock to my friend though, I think.
It still makes me sad, sometimes, and I still care for him. You can’t just switch off years of friendship and memories like that, and there were many splendid memories. We travelled quite a lot together and had adventures abroad, and at home too. We had much in common – an independent spirit, a love for the good life, a sense of adventure, ambition, hunger and intellect. Throughout all of that, there were some cracking times and a lot of deep and meaningful conversations. Though both of us are innately competitive, there were a surprising number of tender moments. We got each other – by and large – on a deeper level.
That’s why he became my friend. I found in him a lot of traits which are conventionally attractive, and he has conventional admirers because of them. Generally, I’m not much interested in the conventional stuff because very often it tends to be more shallow. What I admired was the man inside. At his best he was a warm, incredibly sensitive man with a generous, giving nature. For many years, and through lots of ups and downs, he was a great friend to me.
I’ve given him a fair boost, and the obvious question is if he is all these things then why are you no longer friends? (And bear in mind, there are two sides to every story – this is mine).
Let’s face it, all of us have more than one person inside us. He used to complain about how blunt I was sometimes, used to complain about my strong personality and attitude. All fair calls.
In my friend there lived this lovely person, and side by side with him was another person – selfish, terribly self-absorbed, often petulant and precious, driven by ego and status – and surprisingly insensitive and rude occasionally. I hated that side of him. I thought it was a common, low-rent personality that did no credit to the friend I knew and loved.
This character was always in him, but early days only made a fleeting appearance. As the years went by, as challenges crested and then riches came, this character became more present. It was not helped that life had taken him away from his old friends and the naturally democratising influence of us. You know what it’s like, when a friend starts talking shit you tell them, and soon enough they pull their head in. We were not there anymore to do that, and in our place was a transient number of acquaintances willing to flatter and admire him for his conventional qualities. He was always receptive to flattery, and it turned him from his more individual gifts that only few of us knew to admire, to the more prosaic but superficial qualities the crowd knew him for. Still, for much of this period he remained a great guy to be around, and dear friend for much of it.
In the last couple of years, the balance changed. Geography meant we hardly saw each other. When we did mostly it was by email and phone. He remained a generous friend, but more frequently he was harsh and inconsiderate. At times I thought I sensed disdain, though at other times he was charming. Often I thought I had only to be out of sight for him to forget about me. By and large, I felt discounted and disregarded.
Now this coincides with a tough time in my life and I was probably more sensitive than I would normally be. I factor in some fragility, but at the same time if I am, then he should have to – and that was part of the issue. I’d felt some disquiet for a while, and we’d clashed before, and smoothed things over. It wasn’t great. To help me out (helping him) he would put some paid work my way occasionally, but more and more there was an attitude – I felt – of master and servant. I was his mate, I saw myself doing him a favour, the money was secondary and I didn’t appreciate being ordered around so rudely. Then he demanded I do something I wasn’t able to and he became nasty and personal, as he was wont to do. I went away and thought about that.
There’s a great song by Keith Richards that sums up my general state of mind at the time – You Don’t Move Me Anymore. A tipping point had been reached. It was harder knowing him than not knowing him. I had precious little energy, precious little belief, and what I had he chipped away at. The time had come to move on. I went to him and told him, I’ve had enough. That was that.
Towards the end of last year, I contacted him again. It had weighed on me that he might think I was bitter or angry towards him. I’m not really that type, but I was concerned he might think that. I wanted him to know that I thought well of him. We’d had great times, and I didn’t forget that. I was grateful and appreciative, it was just that we’d moved in different directions. It happens. Happily, he accepted in the spirit and with the grace it was intended. I was relieved.
These days I dream about him every 6-8 weeks, and he crosses my mind or comes up in conversation sometimes. In truth, our lives had become so separate that there wasn’t a huge wrench. Sometimes I feel sad, but not regret. It’s unfortunate, but I mourn a friend I lost years before we parted.
I dreamt about him again last night, which has prompted me to write today. In the dream last time it was as if we still friends and at our best. I felt sad after that. Last night we met again in a group situation having made this break. It’s a bit awkward, but civil, and then something happens to break the ice and it’s as if nothing ever changed.
I have these dreams and it makes me reflect on the ebbs and flows of life. It’s a dynamic thing. You think sometimes that something is forever, but then a year or two later it is of the past. There’s good in this, growth and regeneration, but there’s inevitable sorrow on occasion as you let go of things that were precious to you. I don’t know what to think of it sometimes, but at the end of the day, it just is. It reminds me of a Sioux proverb I heard once read:
“Sometimes I go about pitying myself. And all the while I am being carried on great winds across the sky.”
It’s a proverb that always gave me solace. I can only hope that it’s true, but I’ll only know in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I hope he’s well and, even more, hope he’s found a way back to himself.