This is not about Trump. I’m still reeling and my stomach hurts. I have to write about something else. This is about friendships.
When I was 17, my best friend was Bruno, the first guy I ever met who regularly went to a gym. Bruno was a big French kid who worked out religiously and it showed. Where I was spindly, he was massive with huge pecs and biceps that impressed the girls but not his Swedish mother, who regularly beat him with a belt for real and imagined offenses. Bruno tried to run away on more than one occasion but it never worked, except for the time he ended up spending the night at the house of the girl I was dating. Her parents were out of town and he stayed there three days. That severely strained the friendship.
Bruno was one of the first persons I played music with, the best third of my very first band. He and I got together because we both played guitar and knew we could be rock stars. We formed a trio with Patrick, a 16-year-old whose only asset was a snare drum and a single cymbal. Patrick was incapable of holding any beat outside of those found in military marching bands, and this gave our renditions of Peter Gunn, Wipe Out, Telstar and anything by Link Wray, a weird syncopation people found challenging to dance to. No matter; we played parties for free with a repertoire of about twelve songs that we banged out three or four times a night, avoiding the more intricate parts. We were the champions of the three-chord compositions. Our best tune was a heavily accented and incomprehensible version of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say. We made up the words since we couldn’t figure them out, occasionally throwing in a “Yahoo!”, an expression I’d heard on a country station and immediately made my own.
His family returned to France and Bruno became one of those friends who vanishes but is never really gone. I didn’t hear from him for decades. We reconnected very briefly in 2013. I would learn he’d married, had children, and bought a home in the south of France as far away from his mother as he could get while staying in the same country. Then he divorced and married a British woman, and they moved to a house in Granada. He wrote me he didn’t play guitar anymore, and a photo of him showed a thin, old man with tired eyes. He was living in Spain, but it turned out he was actually dying in Spain. His second wife wrote me to say he’d passed away of cancer some three months after we exchanged our initial emails recounting the ups and downs of life since we’d last seen each other in the 60s. His death was a blow.
There have been others like Bruno over the years, friendships that flourish and wilt. They’re occasionally based on mutual interests–motorcycles, sports, shared nationality, music, and writing. I discovered that too often, when people move away, or get married, or the mutual interest wanes, so do the friendships.
I have friends who date from more than 40 years, 30 years, and 10 years ago. And then there are the very rare friends who become so almost overnight. You discover what the French call les atômes crochus, the hooked atoms. In a matter of days, weeks at most, something deep and vital develops and life isn’t the same as before. A gap is filled, a necessary element that was missing is suddenly realized, completely apparent, and you wonder how you existed without this person. You fall in love, and you fall in like. Things happen within the psyche, tectonic shifts, an instant sense of trust and well-being. Emerson said such people are the ones “before whom I may think aloud.” Yet there is a danger to such friendships. They endow the other with powers; they make one vulnerable, they play upon emotions and take strength to maintain. They hurt deeply, sometimes. They are miracles with a price, yet worth every penny.
The British novelist Jeannette Winterson described it best: “We are friends and I do like to pass the day with you in serious and inconsequential chatter. I wouldn’t mind washing up beside you, dusting beside you, reading the back half of the paper while you read the front. We are friends and I would miss you, do miss you and think of you very often.”
I am fortunate. I am, to quote Shakespeare, wealthy in my friends.