Mom costs me friends. She shows up drunk to my high school functions. Double-fists Merlot at a parent teacher conference. And it happens again at my drama club production of Hamlet, set in a Burger King. Although this time she imbibes Pinot.
Friends’ parents suggest I’m not good company. It’s not me, they claim. They just have to be selective. This is high school, it’s a volatile time for everyone. People are easily influenced.
Right. As if Tommy DiCenzo’s mother doesn’t smoke pot on the side. And everyone knows Chris Knight’s father makes Rasputin look like a greenhorn in the sexual practices department. And don’t get me started on Tommy and Chris’s abilities to bullshit people with great aplomb.
But my mother loses a husband and a job, gets drunk, and I’m the one bearing the heavy cross.
Friends make excuses too. Tommy, Chris, even Claire Hughes and Alexandra Dubois, who both proclaim themselves champions of the ostracized. The freaks. They retreat into soccer practice, piano lessons, and nonexistent dates. Some even block me on Facebook, claim it’s an accident. Right. Their hands slipped. That always occurs.
I make a cardboard sign and emblazon it with FRIEND REQUEST in bold, black block letters. I lug it around town, feeling the weight of those block letters. I hope they’re not too pleading, but still convey a certain power in their precision.
I reveal myself to the world in front of my high school, in the park. At the multiplex, under the purple and gold glow of the marquees. Speak of my love for The Big Lebowski. I talk of John Goodman’s misguided loyalty and the soothing qualities in his gruffness. His abiding connection to the Dude.
I recite all my nicknames.
I even confess that I love killing people on Oregon Trail II. Although that just sounds like I’m stuck in the 1990s.
At least it has a certain edge. And it beats talking about wondering when Mom’s binges will cease, how long you wait before you have to take action. Whatever that entails. An intervention? A blunt talk? Running away? It absolutely trumps speaking of late-night tears, stored surreptitiously.
I speak with grace and fervency, staring straight at throngs of suburban moms and professionals in suits. College kids in backwards baseball caps and skimpy tank tops that bare too much. I ensure that I don’t slur words. I even use words like mélange. Apotheosis. Words that connote verve and precision. Words that Mom used to pronounce before the booze consumed her.
With each word spoken, I imagine people being drawn, inviting me to movies or dinners. Inviting me to drive around for the sake of drifting, to McDonald’s even. After all, I used to frequent McDonalds with friends like Tommy DiCenzo. We’d even try to walk through the drive-thru and laugh when we were turned away for not being in a car. Sometimes we yelled out at the cashiers. McChicken was our favorite insult. Sometimes, we just walked away and recounted the fun.
Now I imagine people asking what I really want from life. One small thing. I imagine a friendly gesture, a hand on my shoulder, a playful shove, the warmth of hands. New nicknames, even.
Sometimes, I even imagine new friends adopting me, welcoming me into their family circles. Circles full of neat smiles and dry jokes. Parental hugs, precise, yet subtly tender. And don’t forget well-arranged homes with resplendent blues and yellows, neat garages with SUVS.
But instead, people stare. Look away fast. Cross the street. A few call me mentally imbalanced. One person offers me ten dollars to fuck myself. Another suggests I seek counseling. Loneliness is all in my head, apparently.
Tell that to the shadows that expand in my consciousness. Tell that to shadows that taunt me on Friday nights when people move towards the mall or the multiplex en masse. And tell it to the eyes which avert me at school.
I keep carrying the sign. I search for smiles, a grunt, a nod. Even a platitude. It’ll get better. The fucking sun will come out tomorrow. It’s always darkest before the dawn.
Nothing. Some middle fingers ensue. Bullies knock the sign out of my hands.
Then there’s this bald middle-aged man who reminds me of Patrick Stewart. He has an equally mellifluous voice. He stops me when I’m haranguing the crowd outside an Episcopal church.
“You think the sign makes a difference?” he says, shaking his head. “Think about it. The only thing it’ll do is get your rear kicked. And that’s a best-case scenario.”
“So what’s the solution, wise sage?” I quip.
“People choose their friends. It’s their power to do so,” he says, drawing out each word. “If they’re not coming to you, maybe consider the source.”
His words echo night after night, with each person rushing around me, each arm or shoulder that brushes me by. With each trace of Marlboros, armpits, or pot I inhale and store. I survey myself night after night. Do I have Mom’s eyes? Do I hold a trace of trouble in my gait? In my smile?
Do I exude an intangible sense of darkness?
I hold the sign higher, harangue less. But still no luck.
Night after night I swig Mom’s Merlot. Relish the lightness.
I embrace the incursion into forbidden territory. Drift on fleeting euphoria. Thank the world for not having friends at my drunkest. If one action drove them away, who’s to say something smaller wouldn’t drive off new ones? Maybe a joke I told or the first time they’d meet Mom.
After three months, I crumple the sign piece by piece, ripping with force. The word FRIENDSHIP stares at me. That portion is the hardest one to rip up.
Friendship. What a word, a word full of expectation. A word full of wilted beauties. A platitude.
I try to bury the sign in the trash.
But the remains rise.
“Fuck friendship,” I growl, crushing, crushing.
But pieces of FRIENDSHIP remain.
Some things are too heavy to win. Or lose.