“It is strange how often a heart must be broken before the years can make it wise.” -Sara Teasdale

My late twenties has been a barrage of firsts and self discoveries. I’m wondering if I won’t feel this rough around the edges for a long time.  I’m on my own with no one to hide behind, and I feel like my skin is hardening. It’s been tough. But good in the way that I can see milestones being set and I’m gladly discarding the older versions of myself as fast as I can for newer, better ones in a game of self-improvement and general “growing-the-fuck-up-for-once.”

The process of learning new lessons lately has felt like the violent shedding of an old layer of myself like a crab would–laying to rest the older, jackass self or ignorant self or lazy self, and I experience a subsequent hideout the way an insect would while I timidly wait for my new shell to harden again. That awkward stage in between knowing I need to change something, and learning what behavior to replace makes me withdrawn and penitent. I hate being an asshole.  I can’t wait to get into my new skin and be a better person because in the mean time, I don’t like what I see. I never see the next growth spurt coming. It just hits like a small earthquake, and something tells me the creatures of nature take it better than I do.

Last week I split open my exterior again. I reconnected with an old friend from college, and now there are a few things I am sure of. A few things I doubt. I’m sure he’s a good person. He was raised by unremarkable but nice parents, and the person he’s become is mostly because he respects himself, has a good sense of himself, and he tries to make good decisions. I notice things like that out of the corner of my eye, because over the years, I’ve learned that my optimism for people often clouds my judgment–I want the friendship to work out because I cling to the beginning honeymoon stages, desperately wanting to believe my first impressions were correct about this person, or I want to believe they’re more of a person than they probably are. This one has pleasantly surprised me by growing slowly and realistically… he’s not magic. He’s a normal person. But he’s still… good. And I’m convinced of that. Even if he doesn’t have it all together, inside him there seems to be a person that is at least headed in the right direction, and that pressure to be good comes from himself–not from anyone nagging him. I figure that’s about what I should expect.

Truth is, no one’s ever truly arrived anyway; but we can support each other on the journey and tell the friend to wake the fuck up and get back on the horse if they get complacent or stop caring.

Yet we haven’t done that. We barely keep in touch. That’s the thing that makes me doubt we had much of a friendship at all. I don’t need daily reinforcement to know that this person still thinks fondly of me, or visa versa, and that’s a start. But I think we stopped the train there, right at fondness. Right there where it was easy. He hasn’t been there for me, nor I for him. In the six years he hasn’t challenged me, and to be fair I haven’t challenged him either. He doesn’t see how I’m still rough. Nor I him. When he visited Atlanta, we basked in the necessary but deceptive comfort of exchanging hilarious stories of bongs and hookers and cops and house parties and meteor showers at night on the beach. But for the first time in my life, it made me nervous and uncomfortable as hell. This time I was keen to the fact that too many good memories from the past have hardened into a candy facade that mask a void where we thought a friendship was. Warning bells went off.

In fact, I freaked out. I shed that old skin–the one I lived in when I confused thinking fondly of someone with a functioning friendship– that night on a street in the rain in East Atlanta. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t sure we have a “friendship” left and I was willing to walk away because I hadn’t seen it prove its value. This has been the decade of learning to push people away that are dragging me down or hurting me or demonstrating stagnation. It’s not a good feeling, telling someone you don’t want them in your life anymore, and I’m still not exactly sure where the line between self-protection and self-righteousness is. The subsequent events were understandably rocky.

If I stay in touch and try to build a real friendship with him this time, will he get to know the person I’ve become instead of confusing it with a very old version of me? Will he understand where I am trying to go? Is he capable of caring enough to encourage me? Will he be receptive to similar encouraging efforts from me? Will he consider me worth the dedication to stay in touch? And here’s a good question for myself: Do I need him? I don’t. I haven’t needed him for the last six years. Although a reliably positive force from a great distance, he hasn’t contributed to my growing up or who I’ve become at all.  

I never knew what friendship could be until I met my best friend–my first real friend. His influence marked a turning point in my life, and I’ll never be the same for it. For some reason, he saw something or someone worth caring about when he met me. And since then, he’s been an incredibly dedicated person with so much love for me. He’s taught me what it means to invest in another person through thick and thin. Disappointing him is the worst thing in the world, because he has more hope for me than I do for myself sometimes. And he gets righteously angry with me when I lose perspective. He’s a lifeline, a call to action, and most of the time the only hug I get all month. He’s there more than my family is: Wishing me well. Kicking my ass. And making me laugh. That’s where it’s at. He’s been most of the glue and toothpicks that have helped build whatever I am right now and I am usually busting with gratitude for this silly but loving son-of-a-bitch who stands by my side the way a real friend should.

Point is, he’s dedicated. He’s involved. That is substance. And now, anything less seems like total bullshit. From now on, I want to double-check for substance before fooling myself. This week, I caught myself almost mourning what used to be my best friend, but I realized that he was my best friend before I knew what friendship could be.

And now I have ninety questions. Mostly, what do I do with him now? Do I stay in touch? Does he deserve a chance? Do I wait and see if he gives a damn? How much should I really care? (It’s not like he made a difference in my life one way or another these past few years.) Does he need me? Are we going to benefit from staying in touch, or are we risking just wasting each other’s fucking time? I usually trust my instincts, but for the first time in my life, I’m not sure. I am teetering back and forth between a response that can mean self-righteousness or self-protection.

Now I’ve written a blog, and have no more answers. I don’t have much energy to chase a “friend” that hasn’t been there for me, no matter how good of a person he is. I might be a big damn fool for doing that. I’ve made that mistake before. Or do I give it a chance, and give him a chance to have a real friend if he wants one? Because I know what that is now. What’s more important? Protecting my personal resources or casually investing in another person? Should I let him go because I know he’ll be okay? Should I selfishly save my resources for myself and the people who have earned it by constantly being there for me?

I got nothin’, but in the way of nature, I gotta make a decision before my shell hardens again.