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.
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.