I was frightened and I knew it, and knowledge makes it worse. At least if you didn’t know why you’re upset, you have the relative, motivating, conciliatory distraction of attempting to find out. But I knew why; I knew it was the threat of the new school and the new classmates, and the all-important, impossibly pressing concern of whether they will like me, whether I would somehow penetrate their phalanx—my Social Animal credentials already in stark, unaffected display—and an almost certain belief that they won’t and I won’t: just enough youthful hope to be ultimately, tritely decimated later—it was a typical first day of school, and I couldn’t claim to have been at all original.
“May I pass?”
My mother wasn’t at all comforting because she didn’t think she should be: I think I managed an unimpressed countenance that hid my true sentiments well. I don’t remember what we were doing at the administration office, but it wouldn’t be hard to guess: paperwork, formality final inanities of registration. Four years earlier, in the first grade, she undertook the same task of dropping me off on the first day, except that then I cried and begged her not to leave me alone in that great, innocuous unknown—so at least, as an eleven-year-old, I was handling things a little better.
“May I pass?” he said, and I realized I had been standing in the middle of a hallway already busy with first-day traffic, and other the telling mistake of being in everyone’s way, I was in his too. He was polite but I didn’t appreciate that at the time.
“Yes—urr—sorry,” I embarrassingly lay down in the manner of the wretched, and I and moved out of his way. A thank you and it was done: after that, we wouldn’t speak for another five years, and would only meet chance meetings, by way of constant, useless proximity, and would only hear of each other through middle- and then high-school hearsay, to each other existing only the passing conversation and confessional storytelling and imagined mental images that result, but elsewhere, never more palpably, never more influentially as one would readily associate with ‘friendship.’
In many ways it was better. We would grow a friendship at a time in our lives that was—is—more formative, at least apparently, than others: adolescence. And as a corollary of that perceived significance, our friendship must draw its own importance; it certainly does in my mind. It is also important because you’ve been present, in the way good friends are: in instigating good things and preventing, or attempting to prevent, bad things; in paying witness to the important things and the not-so-important, and trudging through the latter while sharing the excitement of the former; in being wrong and right at different times, like I am, and so teaching me, tangibly and through experience, that we’re all fallible and that we make mistakes; in being good enough to forgive my mistakes, arrogance, obstinacy, immaturity, stupidity, impulsiveness, and unkindness, however great or small, and in expecting better of me, and appreciating it when my actions wouldn’t need a bad adjective to describe them and, in turn, having me do the same for you; in making me understand how similar we are, and your contribution further inflating my own understanding of how similar we all are as humans, and it mustn’t escape me how that’s a valuable thing, even though everyone else must have helped that conclusion into place; in being, on the whole, the totality of what someone requires in a friend: a companion and an equal. And no amount of embellished, highfalutin speak can ever do that justice, and I’m certainly not doing it that by writing this. But, because I’m trying, I’ll put it in simpler terms too: I love you and I value you, and I’m grateful to know you, and it’s been good and rewarding, and I’m thankful for it.
And I realise that something that I once consented to, I wouldn’t so easily agree to now, because things have changed and I’m no longer that nervous boy blocking the way, and you’re not the polite kid who asked his right of way, and if you ask me again now that first thing you ever asked of me, you wouldn’t get the same answer from me. May you pass? Well, maybe then, but not now. Certainly not now.