When a Friendship Dies
The second most significant friend I ever had hasn’t been a part of my life since 1993. Before that? He was a major component in both my emotional and intellectual growth, not to mention my beer consumption.
I'll call him Sam (not his real name). We met in high school in 1976, sophomore year. We were on the basketball team together. He soon revealed that he was one of the few boys at that age that had an interest in both sports and critical thinking. Our bond, once forged, was easy and natural. Comfortable. Comforting. We grew intellectually along similar lines. The single most defining moment of our relationship happened in 1984. One night over beers, we came to the conclusion that ambiguity was not a bad thing, but a sign of our embrace of intellectuality. Life was mostly gray area, not black and white. My Catholic upbringing died that night. An intellect was born.
Sam was adopted.
Two years after we became friends, his dad died. Two years after that, my dad committed suicide. Two years later, his mom died. One year later my mom died. At that point, we were both in fledgling and failing marriages. We were struggling young men, finding our way. But we had each other. And each others back.
In 1985 Sam divorced his wife. In 1986, my wife divorced me. Our life experiences continued to eerily mirror each other.
Sam was formally educated. Something I clearly am not. His intellectual route was, on paper, far different from mine. That did no preclude us from seeing most of life and the human dynamic almost exactly the same. It was a huge bond. We were inseparable. Think Butch and Sundance, Astaire and Rogers, Martin & Lewis, Pavarotti and cheesecake.
He had been in therapy since his early 20s. He is currently a psychotherapist. Here in the bay area.
My best friend, Brian, was my therapist, though I sat upright on the couch, exchanging and sharing ideas equally, along with the requisite beer, Sinatra, and basketball game on the tube.
In 1990, I basically fled California; alone, reclusive, estranged from family. At that point, Sam was at the University of Tennessee completing his Masters in psychology.
The issues that coalesced to prompt my flight were things Sam was completely aware of. We'd kept in touch via letters (no internet then, dammit) and the phone (no free weekend minutes on the cell, dammit). He was seeing a woman who would eventually become his 2nd wife, though I believe he is no longer married to her, so he matches my two divorces as well. When my sojourn finally landed me in northern New Jersey in June of 1990, he had by then completed his degree at UT, and enrolled at Columbia University in Harlem, NYC. So suddenly we had gone from 2500 miles apart to 15.
We were both 30 years old.
I know this seems heavy on the details, but background is important to our story. The fact that we carried each other through the recovery period of our first divorces is very important. We were never closer than that period, from about 1986 to 1989.
Once we reconnected on the east coast, there appeared to be something amiss. Our chemistry was different. Here was Sam, aggressively pursuing a higher education, with an ambitious career path already forged in his mind. Here was I, running away from it all. We were clearly, for the first time ever, on separate pages, going in decidedly different directions.
What propelled me to step back, to become slightly alarmed, was Sam's new interest in spirituality. Not religious, more middle eastern. There was an Indian woman he was visiting frequently in upstate New York, as part of a group ensemble. On paper, this was no reason for alarm.
BUT, and it's a big but, Sam and I had traveled a strictly intellectual path of thought. We had previously eschewed such people who were not self reliant. I had not veered from that path (nor have I to this day). Suddenly, he was emotionally reliant on his "guru". Who knows, maybe I was threatened by his decreasing reliance on me, and his interest in her. I am not above such mundane emotions. I remember feeling betrayed, but not in any personal sense. An intellectual betrayal. We had been apart for over a year, with only the sporadic letter or call, so he had chosen a different path than I. None of this is to be interpreted as criticism of Sam. Upon honest reflection, I was probably more responsible for the friendship ending, my inability to adapt to his new path, to accept it, to tolerate it.
It was not unlike how many marriages went bad, especially marriages between young people, who still have the "growing" years ahead of them. What are the odds that two people, who connect at a young age, will continue to grow in the same direction? And if they don't, how many will be able to accept that different direction, and maintain the friendship or marriage.
I couldn't do it with Sam. It would have compromised me, and us.
Our actual parting of the ways was murky, full of semi-true accusations and defensiveness. It was sad. Maybe inevitable. For two young men such as we were through our twenties who were on the same path, the same page, the same thought process, to eventually part ways as we did, has been a major loss in my life.
I miss him.
He's only 35 miles from here........you never know.