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Musings on friendship

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher approached me with an unusual request. She asked me to befriend a girl who was a little odd. I’ll call her Susan.

She and I both liked to read, specifically science fiction. She wrote a little then too. We both thought Steve Martin was very funny.

Her father was dead, but worse, her father had been abusive. Her mother had to work a lot to support them, so spent a lot of time alone. This was unusual at the time – most families stayed together. Single mothers were unheard of. They lived in a tiny house that was just behind the school. At the time, that size house would have been considered poverty level. These days, the micro-house people would think it was immense.

She had wild hair – too curly to be manageable. She was a bit overweight, and smelled like cat. Perhaps she had Asperger’s. Perhaps she just didn’t know how to fit in.

Did this hamper my social life because I was seen with the weirdo? I wasn’t much of a social butterfly anyway. I would have been just as happy being alone. I never understood all the fuss people (girls) made over boys and makeup and pop stars. Perhaps the teacher thought I needed a friend, rather than the other way around.

Did this help her? She got to socialize with another person. But it was an artificial relationship. Like an arranged marriage. It definitely stopped her from becoming worse.

I didn’t think of it in this way at the time. More than thirty years has colored my feelings. In a way I feel cheated – I made very few other friends while in elementary school. She stuck with me. Out of habit? Desperation? Did this keep others away?

I was far from normal – but I had a stable home. At the time I felt it was a big honor to be asked – this meant I had extra to give. This meant I had a kind heart.

This has softened me to the plight of the “other” the weirdo, the loner. Folks say “he was quiet, and he kept to himself” – yes – so introduce yourself. Talk with him. Become a friend. It is hard to be a friend to the friendless, but it is important. It may save a life (or hundreds), the life of the person, or the people they might harm.

Back in my day, unhappy loners just killed themselves. These days they kill innocent strangers.

However, this hampered my ability to make friends in a different way – it became the pattern for my friendships. I fixed problems. I was the one who listened. I was the one who understood. But when I had a problem or needed to be listened to, nobody could help.

She showed up, unannounced, at my workplace one day years after school was over and asked if we were still friends. I’d not called, she’d not called. We were adults now. This was after my parents had died – -and she had been nowhere during that very traumatic time.

What is friendship? A name in a phone book? A connection on Facebook? If only one person is making the effort, then it really isn’t a friendship.

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