There was a guy, we’ll call him Barry, that solely occupied the Big Loud Fun corner of our hometown college/post-college tribe of friends for a solid decade. The loudest and most dependable drunk, the most guileless attention seeker, the chain-iest smoker, the most regular provider of porn-and-dick jokes which he deployed with the boundless energy of a guy who enjoyed being heard. He materialized at all hours, laughed easily, dated messy cases, made a bartime mess of himself, then bought everyone donuts. He’d drive 1,000 miles to your wedding, and then outright vanish at a concert to swap Marlboros with a drunken stranger in the parking lot. A great guy, but that guy.
Barry never had kids, so it probably goes without saying that we don’t talk to Barry anymore. This is pretty heartbreaking if I think about it too much. Barry played an integral role in our friend-movie for a long time, through the moronic years of early adulting, through cigarettes and breakups and cross-country moves, through all of us seeking out our little spot of hard ground. And yet when we dug our feet into those places, when we reshuffled ourselves into downtown jobs and suburban houses and nascent routines, we found that there wasn’t really space for Barry. He just kind of got edged out, I guess.
This sort of thing used to grate at me hard. When I became the only friend to move well away from home after college, I expended significant efforts trying to stay in touch, via email, or the nascent technology of AOL Instant Messenger, or even — dramatic inhale — in conversations on the telephone. Most of that was for me, of course, floating around a thousand miles away and grasping for familiar life preservers. But it was also because those were my people, and that’s what I imagined friends did, when they’re 22 and unshackled, and have yet to find their current in the sea.
Barry never had kids, so it probably goes without saying that we don’t talk to Barry anymore. This is pretty heartbreaking if I think about it too much.
Barry was part of all that. We all had a ridiculous tradition of sending each other Christmas cards that weren’t Christmas cards, so every Christmas I’d thoughtfully wish him a happy sixth birthday. We’d call and bitch about the rich tapestry of current Cubs failings. We’d get drinks on my summer trips home, hang out in horrible hometown bars full of faces that were only familiar to one of us, me feeling like I left 100 years ago but not wanting to say that out loud, in deference to the guy who still lived here. One summer, we didn’t meet. He canceled, or I canceled, or I couldn’t get my mom to watch the baby, or some dull, plain excuse like that.
Now, in the common tradition, this is where I’d put the story of some dramatic moment that busted up our worlds, split us into the Land of the Father and the Stuck Peter Pan, some night where he, I don’t know, ends up in a bar fight, gets kicked out of a strip club, passes out in a parking lot and makes me drive him home and pay my sitter for an extra hour’s work, something like that. I wish I had one. I wish I had some horrible, punchable fulcrum that clearly announced itself as the reason to end a friendship. I have those with several other friends, and there’s dark comfort in knowing you’ve decided to cut someone off because he or she revealed themselves as an inveterate asshole. Barry wasn’t. Not in any meaningful way, not in any way I’ve come to define it as a middle-aged dad. We drifted while we weren’t looking.
I eventually migrated back to my home state, reclaimed my spot in the updated version of the friend-movie, to find it significantly and obviously reshaped. It’s a lot of the same people, some of whom date back 30 years, to 7th grade Little League teams and neighborhood bike races. But the dynamics are brand new. Children are responsible for most of that, of course, as I simply find that connections don’t come as easy with the childless. This isn’t a knock, or at least not supposed to be. But I find it harder to connect with people when we don’t have the shared, sun-sized experience of kids. I can do it, but it’s not quite as organic. It’s more like using walkie-talkies on channels that are off by half a step.
I find it harder to connect with people when we don’t have the shared, sun-sized experience of kids. I can do it, but it’s not quite as organic. It’s more like using walkie-talkies on channels that are off by half a step.
You shed a lot of friends after having kids, predominantly because you’re out of time for them, but for a wealth of other reasons too. Some are stupidly easy, such as face tattoos and indoor smoking. Some are because one morning the dawn breaks and you realize your friend is a fraud. Sometimes people are simply too much work.
I skillfully blew a few friendships apart on my own. This supplied a constant dull ache for a long time, and then one day, it stopped. And this morning, having settled into soft middle-aged comfort, I can say that it’s just a function of simple time, the way things move. People splinter off into coaching and activities and, in many cases, reveal themselves as being far more militant and conservative about children than they ever were about themselves. Endeavoring to keep hold of all your friends is the impossible challenge. Understanding that people come and go — much like lives and homes and jobs and baseball teams — is the hard truth. It’s leaping to a new reality, and it’s a long, long trip. Not everybody can come with. You don’t try to control the water, you just ride the currents.
In any case, I hope to run into Barry down the road. He’d like my boys, and they’d like him.