I don’t think about my childhood all that often, almost as if my life began in college. (I’ve been thinking about it more lately for some reason.) I was driving past an elementary school a little while back and it brought up a painful memory, which brings us to this post.
Greg was my best friend between eighth and eleventh grade. We did all kinds of things, having our share of fun, and causing an equal share of trouble. Well, not real trouble; more the kind a couple of harmless kids on the Honor Roll find. I remember the off-road motorcycle he talked me (and more importantly, my father) into buying (he was replacing said motorcycle with a bigger, faster model). I remember the long battles on the city tennis courts. I remember the endless games of one-on-one at the end of our culdesac, and the worst looking mount for a basketball goal you’ve ever seen – courtesy of eighth grade ingenuity and scrap wood from a construction site. (We fashioned a pole from a few decent pieces of 2×4 provided by a neighbor who did some roofing.) I remember the adventures along the mighty Curlew Creek. I remember the frightfully foolish contraption we bolted to the top of a skateboard, and the stitches that followed. I also happen to remember the day our friendship ended.
When I was a kid, I was the one in the group the parents liked. “Why can’t you be more like him?” They would say (to my resentful friends). When you’re a teenager, the last thing you need or want on your resume is “good example.” That was how I felt anyway. I didn’t have the good sense to take advantage of it. I would have almost preferred a case of mono (notice I said “almost” – I had it later and learned better). Now that I think about it, I wonder if being singled out for good citizenship by the mothers of the neighborhood is a reason why some people experiment with explosives when they get older. It’s “always the quite ones,” right? Maybe this is why. (Fortunately, model rocketry was one of my hobbies as a kid, so things that just went bang didn’t interest me that much.)
Those unwanted comparisons ended that day too.
High school was hard for a lot of reasons, few of them academic; and eleventh grade was the worst. It was the year a lot of the neighborhood kids decided I wasn’t cool. (Greg lived in the next neighborhood over, and went to a different high school.) It was the year “just say no” meant saying no to all the friends I had left in school. It was the year of the punch – the only time I’ve thrown one in anger in my life. Due to my lack of experience at the time, it wasn’t even a good one. It was the year I took my first Advanced Placement exam (for college credit), and in predictable fashion, based on years of academic underachieving – it was the first time I put off studying for an A.P. exam until the last minute.
Although I was approaching pariah status at my school, I had a few friends through the Greg connection that went to Tarpon High, and I was the first of us to get a car. Naturally I always drove, and on this particular day we were driving around to find a spot to play basketball (by that time someone finally had the good sense to throw away the eyesore we’d erected at the end of the street). We weren’t interested in joining a pick-up game and running full-court, just a little game of one-on-one-on-one (the three of us). We ended up at an elementary school about three or four miles away.
It all ended when I lost my temper.
One of the reasons I didn’t want to “run” (a full court, five-on-five game) was I needed to study that night. In fact, I didn’t really want to play ball at all that night, but I let myself be talked into it. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) We got to the courts, played a couple games, and I told Greg and Phil that I had to go after the next one. Naturally, no one wanted to go (except me). We played that last game, but no one followed me to the car. I said I really had to study, and no one got in the car. I said I was going to leave, wether they were in the car or not, and no one got in the car.
Friends, don’t ever doubt I’ll do something I’ve said I’ll do. I may lose my temper, but I rarely lose control of my mouth.
So I left. I was so mad my hands were shaking on the wheel. I was so angry later than night that I didn’t get any studying done. (I passed the exam the next day, earning my four or so hours of college credit, but I wouldn’t find out until the scores were released months later.)
That evening, standing by my car, telling my friends I’d leave without them… it was the last time I’d talk to Greg for five years. Our parents never spoke again, not even to reconcile the stories. We woke up that morning friends, and we’ve been strangers ever since.
We’d see each other around town, but we never acknowledged each other. We both ended up at UF. We were even in the same class once, but we didn’t speak until our senior year; and then only briefly. That was when I found out how he got home that day; not that it was a big mystery… there was a pay phone at the school, and this mom didn’t work. That was when I found out just how mad his mom was, not that I really cared anymore. Well, I cared a little. I always thought she was nice, and knowing that a nice person didn’t like me was a little troubling.
I still don’t feel bad about what I did. Well, I don’t feel guilty anyway. It wasn’t like I left him in the worst part of a big city. We were seventeen and it was the suburbs – one of the more wealthy parts of town. And quite frankly, he was being a prick.
And yet, I wonder if I would have left them if I’d known it would end our friendship. This is either a sign of profound selfishness, or of just how desperate I was for friends at the time, but that was my real regret: losing my only remaining friends.
It wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done in my life. It makes me think about the dumb things that other people do on occasion. I think it makes me a little more forgiving. I know they’re not the only one. You can say and/or do one ill-conceived thing, in a brief moment of weakness, and it can change your life. I think I got off pretty easy – my moment of stupidity didn’t cause people harm – just feelings.
Man, being a teenager was hard.