Musical Chairs

Old MiltoniaI admit that I don’t like Christmas much. Part of it, I guess, is just the standard stuff about why single people don’t like the holidays. Part of it is that I never seem to be in sync with the liturgical year: I always feel penitential during feasts, and weirdly happy during Lent. A little masochism, maybe. Part is that I tend to spend too much time at my parents’ house. It’s a good home, and I mostly like spending time there, but it’s also kind of an island. There’s nobody in town that I’m really comfortable spending time with, so I hunker down, read a lot, waste time. It’s like traveling back in time, and that’s got good parts and bad parts.
No, there’s an exception, sort of: my old friend David. David and I were like brothers when we were 14, more like brothers than my brothers and I were at the time, but we drifted apart. I went to college and he didn’t, he got involved with women and I didn’t. He fell into the Milton pattern, which is a kind of musical chairs — every time I come home and see him, he’s got a new job, a new apartment, a new kid, and a new girlfriend. People move from partner to partner, occasionally leaving a child or two behind. My town, in this way, is like a big family where everybody’s always babysitting everybody else’s kids, only the parents aren’t coming back.
Anyway it was close to the end of my visit and I still hadn’t stopped by, thinking that maybe this was it, time to let the friendship die. Every time I see him, neither of us is particularly sure where we stand with the other. I went to Father T‘s house for some conversation — no, come to think of it, I went for confession, but stayed for scotch.
Two glasses in, I suddenly started talking about David. It wasn’t a segue or even a logical jump; it must have seemed quite out of the blue, but if Father T was surprised, he didn’t let on except maybe a slight raise to his eyebrows. I said how I didn’t know how to deal with the new girl (who I hadn’t met yet) or all the kids (who I love) or the upcoming maybe-invalid marriage (David has been married before, sort of). How I had been trying to make this friendship work but maybe it was time to stop.
And Father T didn’t ask about whether the friendship was helping me or healing me or making me happy. He said that maybe I should be a friend to David.
It wasn’t until I left that I realized what a jerk I was. Because I’m the one with problems, right? I’m the enforcedly-celibate one; David gets the women. I’m the one who needs friends; David’s normal, David’s fine. (‘cuz normal people don’t need friends?) I’m the one who needs and wants, and if this friendship is too hard, I’ll just have to get another one and start over. But Father T isn’t like that: he’s got friends all over Milton, many of them in chronic, self-inflicted trouble, poor rich drunk sober single divorced Miltonians. He makes new ones wherever he goes, and he doesn’t give up on them when they don’t live up to his standards.
So it was in a little bit of a scotchy haze that I pulled off my gloves and dialed David’s number, said I’d come over on Sunday after Mass. It was good to hear his voice.
On Sunday, we had several hours before his fiancee came home, and it was easy to talk to him, more like it used to be. When she did arrive, I liked her a lot. He’s been with a lot of crazies, but this one maybe will last, I hope. We all cooked dinner and watched a stupid, fun movie. I left his apartment happy, and knowing that I’d be back. Maybe I’ll make it less than a year this time.

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