Part III: Water Under The Bridge

Since the dawn of humankind, there have been quarrels.  Archeologists had proven this by digging up several skeletal remains in the shape of wagging their fingers at one another.  And when the cavemen (and don’t forget the cave ladies) sat down to settle these quarrels, they had to ask the age old question: who goes first?

This was the question that Brad and I now faced as we tensely sat across from each other at lunch.  He and I had two years of a really close friendship.  Now, who in the hell first shares their side of the story about what we had been through over the last six months?!

I told him I didn’t care, which was really code for I can’t freakin’ decide.  Finally, he decided for me and suggested that I go first.  The moment had come.  I could finally tell him what it was like to suddenly have your closest friend stop talking to you without knowing why.

I went through everything I had previously written in Part I and Part II of this essay: him pulling away from our friendship even after I told him I was lonely and needed him, the way he left me out in favor of his new friends on New Year’s eve, the fact that I never heard from him again when I stopped making all the effort, and finally the bullshit excuse he gave me when I tried to tell him goodbye via text months later.

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“You’re right,” he said when it finally came his time to talk.  “My excuse was bullshit.  I didn’t realize it until I after I wrote it, but I knew it wasn’t the truth.  The reason I distanced myself from you is because you had become so fake.”

What… the… fuck?!  I was fake?  The moment I heard those words, I immediately wanted to scratch some eyes out - preferably his.  But when you’re in a blinding ape rage, any eyes will do. I am happy to say that no eyes were gouged and instead, I asked him to clarify.

“I don’t understand,” I said.  “How was I at all fake?”

“You had just become Instagram plastic,” he told me.  “You became one of those guys who kept posting shirtless or naked photos of yourself.”

“YOU’RE THE ONE WHO TOLD ME TO DO THAT!!!”  I tried to not lose my shit.  “You’re the one who helped me brand myself as a ‘naked writer.’”

“I know.  It just didn’t seem like the Scott I knew.  And part of it was me too.  I kept following all of these hot guys and I thought, what value does this bring to my life?  So, I unfollowed all of them… including you.”

“But Brad, you know me.  You know that I have no fucking clue what I am doing on social media.  And I came to you and told you I was lonely and needed your friendship.  How could you think I had become plastic?”

“Yeah, after you told me that, I invited you to come out with us to the bar for that calendar release party.  But you spent the whole night talking to other people.  It just felt like all Scott cared about was wanting to be seen and recognized.  It was the same thing on New Year’s Eve.  We almost got to the bar and suddenly I get this text from you that you’re leaving to go somewhere else.  It was like, Oh, Scott’s not getting enough attention again.

I couldn’t believe my ears - most likely because they were filling up with blood from hearing all of this (not literally though).  I first went back to the initial bar night before I got to New Year’s Eve.

“Brad, all those people at the calendar release party were my old bar patrons.  Because of them, I was able to pay my bills.  They also support the blog.  If I didn’t go say hello to them, I would have looked like a total dick.  And I WAS super bummed we didn’t get to really hang out that night.  That’s why, after that, I kept suggesting to hang out outside of gay bars.  I invited you to dinner.  I invited you to that concert.  I invited you to come with me to that drawing group.”

He couldn’t argue any of this which made me feel like I was on the right track.

I continued.  “And about New Year’s Eve...Do you know how hard it was for me that day?  I practically begged you to make plans with me and you wouldn’t.  Meanwhile, I go on Instagram and watch you and your friends wearing silly “Fuck2017” glasses.  That was shitty.”

Brad fell silent.  So, I took this as an opportunity to berate him some more.

“We left the bar on New Year’s Eve because YOU left me hanging.  Yeah, I didn’t know anyone there, but it wasn’t for attention.  Luke and I were just standing by ourselves with no one to talk to - waiting to see if you guys MIGHT show up after the dinner you didn’t invite us to.  I felt like a stupid teenager waiting for you and I didn’t want to do it anymore.”

By this time, Brad’s eyes were more focused on the ground than at me - perhaps a sign that hearing all of this was hard for him to digest and he could no longer look me in the face.

“Besides,” I told him.  “The other bar was a bust too.  I ended up going home and fucking crying like an idiot.”

His head popped back up.  “You cried.”

I nodded.

“Scottie, I didn’t know that you were hurting that badly.  If I had known you had cried, I would have left my friends and would have come been with you guys.”

Hearing him say had helped to cool off the flames that had fired up inside me.  This was the friend I had known and loved.  I stopped coming down on him like a hammer and allowed myself to talk from a more vulnerable place - a side of me that felt more weak, than angry.

“Brad, I told you I had been lonely and you responded by pulling away from me.  And for what?  All because you made this assumption that I had become fake?  If you had even bothered to hang out with me, you would have known I was the same Scott.”

At one point, I decided to tell Brad how, after he stopped talking to me completely, I legitimately thought about spitting in his face if I had seen him out.  To be THAT transparent with someone, to tell them something that makes you look like a fucking psycho, was intense.

He laughed, but not out of finding it humorous.  It seemed more like shock.  Most likely due to the fact that, in all of our deep conversations together, he never heard me say something so intense about anyone.  Brad now knew the gravity of his actions.

Suddenly, Brad offered me what so many people in this situation don’t get: an apology.

“Jesus, Scott,” he said.  “I really fucked up.  I feel terrible.  I am so sorry.”

The whole conversation, of course, did not play out this quickly.  If I tried to write a more detailed and accurate version of the two hours we spent talking, it would most likely be a small screenplay that would get thrown in the trash.  What I have written here is the highlights.  And as these highlights came to wrap his apology, there was still one more thing I had to address.

Just a month before this lunch, I had been traveling in California.  In LA, I stayed with this guy, Chris, who I had met at Folsom the previous year.  Chris was kind and genuine and somehow we got into a conversation about a friend of his who similarly slipped away from him.  He said, “I just had to come to terms with the fact that the friendship just didn’t mean as much to him as it did to me.”

This had been a really powerful thing for me to hear and ever since, I wondered if the same thing was true for us.  Had it all just been a matter of the friendship meaning more to me than it did for Brad?  I wanted to say this to Brad and see how he responded.

“In the end,” I told him.  “I think the friendship just meant more to me than it did to you.”

Brad nodded.  “I think that’s true about a lot of the relationships in my life.”

We talked about this for a bit and I began to see a side of my friend that I hadn’t seen before - probably because I chose to ignore it.  Brad didn’t view friendship the same way I did.  Yet, here he was, apologizing for what he had done and asking for a second chance.  I felt more confused than ever.

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By the time he apologized for every stone I refused to leave unturned, it no longer made sense to keep talking about it.  There was no point in beating any dead horses.  We switched to small chit-chat as we waited to pay for the check.  I was slightly annoyed when he didn’t offer to pay for the whole thing.

When we got up from the table and made our way to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, Brad said, “How about we get lunch again next week?”

“No,” I said at the drop of a hat.  This surprised me just as much as it did him.
“Why not?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, Brad.  If we just immediately put this behind us and go back to the way things were, then I don’t think we will learn anything from all of this.”

This was true too.  Every time I find myself at a disjuncture in life, I try to own my part in it as much as possible so that I could learn a lesson.  Now, I wanted him to do the same.  Though, I will fully admit, it felt pretty damn good to be the one turning him down this time.

“Let’s just take some time to heal and grow.  When either of us gets to a better place and figured out what we needed to learn, we can reach out then.”

And with that, we gave each other a big farewell hug.

           Over the next few months, I had to face the next classic caveman question: where do I go from here?  Since writing Part I and Part II of this story, I have been flooded with heartfelt messages from people who have gone through the same thing.  It makes me sad to know that this is normal and it makes me happy to know that I am not alone.

           I imagine that the “where do I go from here” question is something we all face when a friend lets us down.  And this question is so deeply personal for our own unique situations.  With Brad wanting reconciliation and to continue our friendship, my question didn’t just involve a “me,” it involved a “we.”

           I didn’t know what in the hell to do.  Did I still want this friendship or not?  And if I didn’t, did that just mean I was holding on to my anger?  Would I be failing to find the grace in order to forgive and forget?  If I didn’t take his olive branch, would I never actually let this whole thing be water under the bridge?

           By the time five months rolled by, neither Brad or I had contacted each other.  And these thoughts continued to weigh on my mind as I still missed him.  It wasn’t until this last fall, when I went to visit my friend, Sinead, in Philadelphia, that I began to think differently about Brad.

Sinead and I have known each other since college and she is truly the only person I could refer to as a “best friend.”  She has always seemed to do well with friends and rarely had quarrels.  During the trip, I asked her how she did this.

“I just meet people where they’re at,” she said.

Sinead then told me a recent story where she felt frustrated with a friend who regularly wasn’t following through with their plans.  By her motto, she realized this woman didn’t offer friendship in the same way that Sinead did.  So, instead of letting it be a source of stress and conflict, she met the friend where the friend was at by not investing as much energy into her.

In Amy Poehler’s book (which has practically become my bible), she does an essay on the awesomeness of getting older.  She talks a bit about friendships and says, “Now that you are starting to have a sense of who you are, you know better what kind of friend you want and need.”

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As Chris in L.A. said, the friendship simply didn’t mean as much to Brad as it did to me.  And although he wanted friendship again, this wasn’t the kind of friendship I wanted or needed.  The time had come for me to meet Brad where he was at.  Like all of us in the situation, my energy could best be spent elsewhere.  I officially made the decision.  I wanted to let Brad go.

But in order to find peace by letting him go, I would have to start by honoring what our friendship once was.  If I let go with all this hurt in my heart, then I wouldn’t truly be letting him go.  I would simply be doing what he did to me: pushing him away via some distorted lens of what he did wrong rather than what he did right. 

The fact of the matter is, Brad was a great friend.  He helped me brand the blog and wrestle with social media (even if I still fucked it up).  When I bartended, he frequently visited me on my shifts.  Whenever I did a burlesque show, he always came even if he had seen the act before.  On a couple occasions, he even helped me record the acts.  And Brad always provided me a safe space to tell some of my deeper secrets.

There is a saying that goes something like “Friends are in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”  Brad had been in my life for so many reasons - all of which I am so grateful for.  But things changed for him.  Thus, our season had come to an end.  He wasn’t meant to be along my side for a lifetime.

One day, not long after my visit with Sinead, I took my laptop to the park and worked on my book at a picnic table.  After a while, I looked up and saw Brad with a couple of guys.  They were laughing together while they walked their dogs.  Judging by the distance, they would have had to pass fairly close behind me.  Brad didn’t stop to say hello.

Perhaps he felt too awkward to do so.  Or perhaps he didn’t even notice me.  It didn’t matter.  While seeing this made me feel a bit lonely, it reminded me of one simple fact: feeling lonely when you’re with someone is far lonelier than when you are actually alone.

At that moment, my heart gave a tiny smile as I thought, Goodbye my friend.  Brad was a wonderful person.  I loved him very much.  And I hoped he would be well.  The water had finally gone under the bridge.  It just flowed in a different direction than I thought it needed to.

 

Edited by George Paraskeva

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