Through second grade, I didn’t have friends who weren’t also kin. Before you shake your head and think, “Poor Michael,” you should know my parents came from large families. I have fifteen blood aunts and uncles plus spouses, and nearly all lived in Lexington. Never mind all the seconds, greats, and grands around at the time.
Until I moved to DC in 1996, I’d always lived within easy walking distance of another relative’s home. My thirty first cousins range in age from five years older than me to ten years younger. From the time I started school through graduation, I never went to school without a cousin in my grade. Unless I was in the highest grade, there were always older cousins to show me the ropes and look after me.
At the end of second grade we moved across town. Rather than parochial school, I started third grade at the new public school. Making friends was easier. Instead of throwing rocks at me because I went to a different school, the neighborhood kids were now my classmates.
Kenneth and Steve, my first non-family friends, were my best friends through sixth grade. Steve moved away, Kenneth got wrapped up in band, and I joined the Boy Scouts (along with three of my cousins). Over the next decade or so, friends and groups of friends came and went as my interests and activities changed. Outside of family and class reunions, none of those friendships endured much beyond high school.
I’ve said for years that my straight friends abandoned me when I came out. They didn’t want anything to do with me anymore. Or so I assumed. Looking back, I’m not sure I gave them much choice. I’ve since reconnected with people I’ve known since third grade and learned that, with very few exceptions, whether they did or didn’t like me had nothing to do with my sexual preference.
Sometime in my twenties — or maybe even my thirties — I realized a good friend is worth at least a dozen lovers. We won’t talk about the number of paramours I had to go through to figure this out. I’m a bit of a slow learner. Lovers have come and gone. But my friends have stood by me, sometimes scraping me off the ground or otherwise helping me reassemble the pieces of my shattered life.
This past weekend, two of my oldest and dearest friends from Lexington KY drove down to Athens to visit. We didn’t do much. Mostly just sat around, eating, drinking coffee, and talking about our lives. We cried as much as we laughed remembering loved ones who are gone, reminiscing about our shared histories, and bringing each other up to speed on any details we may have missed.
We tell each other everything, holding nothing back, because it’s just us. We’ve been through a lot together, good and bad, and know things about each other nobody else knows. We have so much dirt on each other that we quit worrying about leaks long ago. Everyone has too much to lose for anyone to start talking now. No, we didn’t kill anyone or steal anything. Beyond that, I plead the fifth.
They didn’t get to stay as long as any of us wanted. But that’s okay. I know if it’s another twenty years before we get another chance for a face-to-face visit, we’ll pick up right where we left off. I’m pretty sure we’re not going to let so much time pass before we get together again. The years melt away in their presence. Though we’re between 55 and 60, they look the same as they always have to me.
LP and PL, I love you. Thanks for coming down. I’ll make you breakfast for dinner any time you want. And I’ll even warm your maple syrup…