It was back in a time when, admittedly, I used a pretty fat brushstroke when it came to defining what a friend actually meant. He wasn’t a friend, so much as an acquaintance, and he wasn’t even that so much as a familial obligation, and he wasn’t even so much an obligation as he was an asshole.
I was an asshole in my own right for hanging with him but I didn’t see it that way. I saw the arrangement as being a matter of efficacy. I was doing the wrong thing for what I thought to be a righteous reason. He was the son of one of my father’s business partners, and well, that’s where the familial obligation came in. I figured any camaraderie I could summon out of this ‘friendship’ would produce a positive bleed into my relationship with the old man, which has always been a complicated thing. Really, it was like tossing a golf ball down a bowling alley and expecting a strike. But I was young and stupid, a time of my life I now affectionately refer to as my early thirties.*
(*If you’re in your early thirties, don’t take offense. Stupid is a relative term, and my stupidity was relatively epic.)
This bargain basement deal met its end one night on the way home from a Flyers game and drinks. The conversation turned to my mom’s annual Christmas party and, more specifically the guest list.
“Marie doesn’t mind you hanging out with ex-girlfriends?”
“Why would she mind? She has guy friends, not a big deal.” I replied, parsing my response in the hopes he would get the picture and change the subject.
“Yeah, but I didn’t see any of them at the party.” He said.
At this point, I wanted to parse my response some more. Fuck you was making sense.
“What’re you getting at?” I asked instead.
“Perception is reality.” He answered smugly.
There comes a point in every man’s day when he has to decide whether punching someone in the face is a socially acceptable response. My moment came at some place close to midnight after a Flyers game and drinks.
“No, reality is reality. Your perceptions are what you bring into my reality and that’s not my problem, that’s yours.” I said.
I was proud of my reply, considering as how my brain was busy trying to abort the protocol for Defcon 1, which involved the launching of a Louisville slugger on the only available knee caps that weren’t attached to yours truly. My reply was smart, and it didn’t require bond.
“I didn’t mean anything by it.” He responded.
“My perception is that you did mean something by it. I don’t know what your home situation is like, but my reality is just fine. Thanks.” I said.
“No problems on my home front.” He said, almost childishly.
As we drove on in silence, I reviewed the flaws in my stratagem of befriending someone for indirect purposes. Ironically, I had forged a perception out of the realities when I entered into this tenuous alliance.
We never did the Flyers game and drinks thing again.
This episode did allow me to take inventory of who I could count on and who I couldn’t, and while the numbers fell precipitously, the importance of those left standing became magnified. My perception as to what friendship meant changed. I was no longer content to appease or collect. The logistics of my social interactions gave way to a much more rigorous set of standards, dictated entirely by reality.
My lesson learned was that you can always get busy blaming someone else for getting in your way, or you can thank them for giving you that time to stop and think. It’s not a glass half full, rose colored glasses view so much as a self driven mandate whose annuities will never leave you bankrupt.
I guess I owe the Flyers an assist.