After years of (what I interpreted to be) haughty silence, an old college friend began updating his Facebook status. I’d assumed he’d created a Facebook profile just to neglect it — a chastisement of the platform. But now his feed was alive with activity. He was sick and in the hospital. He was writing poems again. He had recovered enough to go home and was playing music again. He had a gig at a club, solo, was grateful for the support though he missed his band mates. He was with his son, who was aging as sons do, that is, so quickly. He was still married and grateful to be married. He had made a podcast and didn’t you want to listen to it?
When we were friends in college I’d taken the friendship on his terms. I was pretty sure I didn’t belong at the college, which was not Ivy League or anything, but it had a good reputation and a large endowment and on some fluke I’d connived my way in. My default mode was deferential. We went to his bars, did shots of vodka (he was mad for vodka), listened to his music. I was a good sidekick. He’d come to my apartment to, say, preview a presentation he was going to deliver in seminar the next day, and because I always tended to defer rather than challenge, I told him I liked it even though I didn’t.
I was married then and my wife was pregnant and soon we had a daughter, which slowed us up, generally. All the swaddling and layers. The cumbersome stroller. The awkwardness of the subway and our sudden preference for driving. These changes changed things with my friend, I think. He and his wife weren’t going to be having children any time soon.
Certainly things were changing anyway. We were about to graduate, he was going on to a doctorate in the city and I was going to a rural town to teach high school, and the kind of writing we’d been doing for two years — literary analysis through the prism of some theory, always some theory — was a kind I never wanted to do again. So, the friendship had run its course, but then again, we were still in the city for some months and my daughter was a wonder to me and an impediment to him, and I wanted to make space in the friendship for the kind of changes that had happened in my life, but I deferred my sense of wonder to his impatience and assumed an apologetic attitude. My wife didn’t like it.
It came to pass, a year or so after graduation, that I wrote about him on a blog that he found and read, and he politely offered some criticism, the gist of which was I could do better, find a deeper seam to mine, advice that was direct and honest and warranted, at least. He wrote soon after that he and his wife were getting remarried. They had been through a lot. I didn’t know what. They wanted to reaffirm their commitment to each other. I didn’t know why. I said I would go and — the details here don’t matter — didn’t.
Or maybe the details do matter. The moment of saying I would go was another moment of deferring. I was teaching and working a second job too, sometimes seven days a week for weeks on end, and taking the time to travel meant less money, so it was some cost to say yes, and then it was clear that my wife and daughter weren’t invited to the ceremony, so I walked back the yes and lamely excused myself altogether. I don’t pretend to have been graceful in any of this. Anyway, we didn’t speak again after that.
Some years later, when I found him on Facebook, I sent my friend a note to say that, in the time and space in which our friendship had worked, it meant a lot to me, and I hoped he was well. A message that he read — Facebook tells you such things — and ignored. Which, I assumed, was part of his whole joined-social-media-to-make-a-point-of-not-using-it affectation. Until, last year, he did start using it.
The music he wrote and shared was not good, in my direct and honest and warranted opinion. But some of the poems he wrote and shared were good, or good enough. He and his wife look happy. They live in another country and seem young and rested and he takes some care to curate his updates to that effect.
I like nothing, respond to nothing.