It’s Not Worth It

They sat across from each other in the booth – I brought the coffee over and sat next to her.  I was a little stunned – I did not expect him to be there.  She didn’t say that he’d be there; I expected it to be just us.  I don’t know how I looked to them – I didn’t have the strength to feign gladness, and used what little energy I had to keep my mouth shut.  She rubbed my shoulder, and it felt good – but it didn’t light me up like it usually did.  I had a “good angry” going on, and I wasn’t about to let it go.

For the next hour they talked as if I wasn’t there.  I managed to chat a bit about an introvert/extrovert question from work that day:  “You have a birthday coming up, and you have an unlimited amount of funds.  How would you like to celebrate it and how many people would you like to be there with you?”

I answered, “Out to dinner with one friend” – which may sound sad to all you extroverts out there, but is in fact one of the more pleasurable things in this introvert’s life.  He thought it was a sad answer – there was genuine pity in his heart.  I didn’t expect either one of them to get it – by this time I really only had two clear thoughts:  1) why the fuck is he here? and 2) why the fuck am I here?  I don’t know why I didn’t get up and walk away.

The arrangement was so uneven that it wasn’t worth being friends.  I listened to her way more than she listened to me.  And it wasn’t just the time – it was the content, too.  I don’t know if she’s a superficial person, but there were definite limits to what could and could not be discussed.  When I was hurting, I wasn’t in a position to talk to her about it.  That isn’t who she is.  And that made my hurt that much worse.

From her point of view, people should keep their feelings to themselves.  Public displays of affection are verboten.  It explains why I didn’t have any “deep” emotional conversations with her – she may have been feeling lots of things, but they were private matters.  You might argue that our friendship lacked the trust it needed to share those kinds of things – and you’d be right.

Marc Maron says something like “you don’t really know whether you’re in a relationship until someone gets hurt.”  Because it’s exactly those moments when you realize that the relationship you have with someone is not a casual thing.  We were friends – emphasis on the lowercase “f.”  Now I’m looking for someone who isn’t afraid, not just of my feelings, but even more importantly, of showing and sharing theirs with me.

Another Peek at the Past

One moment I remember where I felt like I belonged was after I had my first visit with the director of the graduate program in the philosophy department at Loyola University in Chicago.  It was late August of 1982.  I had driven over from Detroit the day before, with all of my worldly possessions packed into a slightly aging 1975 Mercury Monarch, purchased for $2,350 cash in 1980 from money I saved while working in the basement vault of the National Bank of Detroit.  My parents were generous enough to give me free room and board while I worked for a year and a half, a transition time from a brief but beautiful life as a young religious man in a college seminary to a new life, a life filled with who knows what, but at least beginning with finishing my college education.

The bank job was a time when I didn’t really have to be burdened by the pain and sorrow of no longer being part of the religious life, whatever that was, to be free, to be free-floating, to take what felt like being adrift and see if it couldn’t feel like something else, something satisfying, something fun.  I experienced a miserable depression when I first came back to Detroit, miserable that the door to the religious life was permanently closed, stunned and no clue what to do next, so dazed and confused that I thought maybe God wanted me to be an accountant, that I should sign up with the Detroit College of Business and get to work on the business degree.  I was in bed for three days, didn’t get up, slept or didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t talk with anyone, not even the sorts of little internal conversations I have with myself today to keep me from falling on a knife.  But three days of such a black hole was about all I could stand—maybe out of sheer boredom, I finally got up.

I was twenty-one years old.  I started looking at the want ads to see if any of the banks in town were hiring.  I think I remember thinking something of the old bank robber’s response to people who asked him why he robbed banks:  “’Cause that’s where the money is.”  To be in the world, not just to survive but to live, to flourish, one needs money, and lots of it.  So, having a job where the money is might lend itself, I thought, to gaining wealth (what people now like to call ‘financial independence’).  After about a month of reading the ads, going to banks, filling out applications, giving them resumes (the only thing more pathetic than resumes from applicants with no previous work experience are resumes from ex-seminarians with no previous life experience), NBD decided to take a chance on me and hired me as a currency teller for their afternoon (4:00 pm to midnight) work shift.

Fall ’71 – Part One

We spent the summer getting ready to pack up and ship me off to the high school seminary in Edgerton, Wisconsin.  It’s not really fair to say “ship off” – I already had three brothers before me attend the place.  The parish organized a bus to take a whole bunch of interested eighth graders out to Wisconsin (maybe a seven hour drive) in the spring for a weekend to get an idea of what the place was like.

From what I can remember, I was looking forward to going there.  Of course, once you were there, it was a slightly different story.  There was the expected homesickness, but nothing intolerable.  I don’t think the fathers made us write home every so often, but I do remember writing home fairly regularly that first year.  Some years later, I remember Mom telling me those letters were some of the nicest things she ever got from us – just a few short pages every so often from her boys telling her about the latest goings on, how they missed her and loved her and was looking forward to coming home for Christmas or summer break.

It was a small high school.  There were around seventy, eighty students that fall, maybe sixteen seniors, and a lot of freshmen, forty of ‘em.  As far as priests and brothers go, these are the folks I remember:

Father Leo was rector.  His brother Robert was also a priest, stationed in my home parish in Detroit; he recruited many Holy Redeemer eighth graders for seminary.  I didn’t know Father Leo very well; I think we thought of the rector as CEO, president and king of the joint all wrapped into one.  He might have been approachable, but how would you ever know?

Father Walt was second in command, the school principal.  He was fun to know; very friendly, a full melodious FM radio kind of voice, pleasant to hear.  Occasionally he would dress students down every so often for unacceptable behavior – part of his job.  I’ll tell you more about Father Walt in the senior year Parents’ Weekend story.

Father Martin was the school bursar; he handled the money for both the school and the religious community.  He wasn’t unfriendly, but he didn’t have much interaction with the students, so it was difficult to get to know him.  Father Marty was a tall guy, very sturdy too – not heavy, not thin, sturdy.

In Memoriam

Memorial Day (also known as Decoration Day) is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.

Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday of May since 1971; before then the holiday was held on May 30 from 1868 to 1970.

It wasn’t until after World War I that Memorial Day was expanded to honor all veterans who died in any American war.

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer vacation season (Labor Day, the first Monday of September, marks its end).

Memorial Day is slightly more likely to fall on May 25th, 28th or 30th than on May 26th, 27th, 29th or 31st.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service.  Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.

Memorial Day is not the same as Veterans Day (November 11), the day America celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.

Memorial Day 1946 fell on a Thursday.  My parents married each other on that Thursday, about a year after Victory in Europe (VE) Day, celebrated on May 8, 1945.

My dad served in World War II with United States Army as a radio operator stationed in the Philippines.

I think all Americans recognize that we owe a huge debt of gratitude and appreciation to the families of the men and women of our military services, especially to those whose sons and daughters, fathers and mothers made the ultimate sacrifice defending and protecting this great country.

I am very grateful for the men and women who serve in our armed forces.  I had the honor of having a young man as a student in my World Religions class back in the fall of 2010; he had just completed a two-year Army hitch in Afghanistan.  One time after class, we rode the same bus home to our respective apartments.  He talked about some of the atrocities he witnessed while serving there – not in any great detail, mind you, but enough to let me know that the experience left him with a sadness that obliterated every last vestige of innocence.

In memory of all those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, whether you’re conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, of any religion or of no religion, I ask you take a moment today to remember the families of those who sacrificed everything for us.  Thank you.

Try a Little Tenderness

We had known each other for a long time.  I’m not sure we were ever friends – certainly not very good ones.  If I was feeling sad or lonely or depressed and needed a little compassion, she usually refused to give any.

The final straw came when I expressed my dissatisfaction with our situation, that I was looking forward to spending some quality time with a friend over dinner, and that an unwanted third wheel kind of soured the occasion.  I was disappointed, sure – but she was immediately on the defensive, first by saying it wasn’t her fault (I never said it was), and then by asking me if I was depressed.

That question was unnecessary.  Whenever she asked me this question, it was her way of saying, “hey, I don’t really want to talk to you when you’re like this.”  This time, though, it sounded more like, “hey, I don’t really want to talk to you at all – this kind of thing upsets me and I don’t want or need to be upset.”

Was it so much to ask for a bit of kindness?  Maybe she could have pretended to care about me at that moment, and maybe be uncomfortable for all of what, ten seconds?

Too many people in my life seem to like me only if I keep to myself – as long as I don’t ask anything of them, they’re more than happy to know me.  I’m not doing that anymore.  I’m done being invisible.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable for friends, at least once in a while, to put their friend’s needs before their own, especially when that friend is hurting.

Whenever I wrote her anything like this, she was dismissive – a wave of the hand, as if she couldn’t care less.  Friends don’t act like that.

I sent flowers to acknowledge the good times we had had.  I was struck by the florist’s recommended note:  “The more I know the people I love, the more I love the people I know.”

She didn’t really want me to know her, so … I’ll accept her as she is, not as I want her to be.