Friends. Who Needs ’em?!


Some friendships make me want to end others, not out of any particular spite or malice to the others but just because they pale in comparison to the best ones. As I have grown older, I have reduced the number of friends I have exponentially, replacing the quantity with  quality individuals that even a straight-up egomaniac like myself will end up thinking, “Holy shit, do I really deserve these awesome friends?” The answer, of course, is yes and I really to believe that people who say, “I don’t deserve all this” about good things in their lives (especially if they believe that deep down) will eventually find a way to separate themselves from those blessings. I’ve done a fair amount of that in my life and I am now making the concerted effort to stop. Mostly ’cause I don’t want to lose any of the good shit. I am grateful for the blessings in my life and, as I have said many times, my friends are chief among them.

Earlier today I was having a text conversation with my brother’s wife. I don’t even really know who texted whom first or how the conversation started— but before long she was up to her same old tricks, doing the thing that she has been guilty of so often, especially lately. She was being a great friend. We’re more or less stuck with our families I guess but it is so great to have the experience of having a family member that you would seek out as a friend even if you weren’t related. Krys is an inspiration to me and reminds me by demonstration how great it feels to set difficult goals and achieve them. She’s unqualifiedly “in my corner” and I know she can see what a rough year 2014 was for me. For her friendship, beyond our family connection, I am truly grateful.

Although I’ve seen them a whole lot less frequently lately, Jin and Phillip Swafford have been a godsend— well, actually, out of respect for their secular beliefs I’ll say that they are a Neil deGrasse Tyson-send (but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way). The moment I first saw the Swaffords, they were piling out of their vehicle and into the CrossFit box in Jasper. I saw a Grateful Dead sticker (together with a bunch of ecology and rock climbing stickers) on the back of their car and my first words were, “Why are we not friends?” and from that moment forward, we pretty much were. What a frickin’ shot in the arm when I first was invited into their beautiful home just a stone’s throw down the railroad tracks from ours to find Faulkner and The Beats on their shelves! They are a little piece of Brooklyn in Walker County, Alabama and I’m still trying to figure out a way to drug and kidnap them so I can drag them home to New York with me when I go.

I spent the day with Spud today. His semester starts tomorrow at The University of Alabama. I helped him move all his stuff into his dorm. It’s amazing how little chance meetings can have such a profound impact on one’s life. Spud had been gym friends with another guy I met on one of the dating sites. As it turns out the dating thing wasn’t to be with me and the other guy but he did introduce me to Spud— well, his name was Austin back then— I’ve changed it. Spud’s almost thirty years younger than me so neither of us was under the delusion that our relationship would be more than a friendship— well, that’s not exactly true either because actually it is more that just “a friendship,” it’s a very good friendship and he has given me shots in the arm throughout what has probably been the roughest year of my life. He has been there for me over and over and It breaks my heart to think of saying goodbye to my little buddy when I go back to Gotham—but as he reminds me often, “it’s not ‘goodbye’, it’s ‘see you later.’ “

Tonight I ended up talking to my buddy Eli. We only talk about ever month or so. He’s still in the military and has a grueling training schedule and y’all know the crazy life I lead so that’s the way it’s got to be— well, come to think of it, I kind of like the way our friendship is, after a month or more of not talking, one of us will call and we pretty much pick up right where we left off. Knowing somebody is there for you without having to have them up in your grill all the time is a blessing as far as I’m concerned.  He’s helped me through some pretty low points over the few years we’ve been friends. I like to think I’ve helped him out too. He doesn’t pull any punches when I try to get him to cosign some of my bullshit— but it’s not like any of these other queens that try to use some “tough love” as a way of not focusing on their own shit or—even worse— as a manifestation of their own internalized homophobia. (By way of a quick explanation, some gay men will try to prove they are as good as “real men” by being “hard” and “tough” and all that other stereotypical bullshit. I don’t like any of what I just said. But I like that you got to hear it and also that you got to hear I don’t like it. Otherwise I’d delete everything in these parentheses.) How did I start talking about gay shit? Eli ain’t gay.  Back to him: he brings this most incredible, supportive, honest, (yes) tough, remind-me-who-I-am, version of friendship that I am convinced that most people aren’t even capable of. He shows wisdom and finesse far beyond his years by helping me to be accountable, calling me on my shit when needed, and yet never making me judged or belittled. Now that, let me tell you, is a goddamn find when it comes to friends. He says embarrassingly kind and supportive things to me. What I take away from that (especially since this is the guy who tells be straight-up to “stop!” when I’m up to some stupid bullshit) is that I end up thinking, “If this fucking awesome guy (and he is awesome) thinks this well of me, then I must not be as bad as all the voices in my head keep telling me I am.” Again, someone who loves you so much they can shout down the negative voices in your head— pure gold in the friend department.

My cousin Jen is actually the cousin of my ex. But over the time that he and I were together, I got so close with a part of his family, when he and I split, they (and for this I am so grateful) decided to keep me around. Her son Max has been in my life since he was three and now he’s a “tween.” I tell you there is nothing I wouldn’t do for that little feller. Jen has been a ridiculously good friend to me in addition to sharing her son with me. We’ve passed the “can you travel together” friendship test many times. She’s been generous with her time, money, airline miles and her love— and let me tell you she has seen some of the most unloveable sides of me when I was processing the darker feelings I’ve had to purge since my divorce. I love our comfortable friendship which was born in and continues to thrive on a principle of honesty. I wouldn’t take a hundred “fond acquaintances” for what I have with Jen.

And just a few seconds ago, my phone rang. The name that appeared on the phone says a lot about the man who was calling and what I feel when I see that it’s him calling. The name on the phone said, “Bliss.” He was one of my two best buddies when we deployed to Iraq and our friendship has only grown over the years since we’ve been back. (As is my blanket policy, I always take the call when it’s a vet calling— you never know what state of mind they’ll be in. He’s doing great and we agreed to talk tomorrow.) This man’s picture should be in the dictionary under “stand-up guy.” (I don’t think “stand-up guy is actually in the dictionary but it should be just so they could put Bliss’ picture in there by it.) Here’s a man who was willing to take a bullet for me in war and also has been willing to advocate for my rights after we’ve come home. Sometimes I think the most helpful and important thing straight allies to the LGBTQ crowd can do is go back into their own communities and talk about why they support us. I think my friend has done a fair amount of this even to include leaving the religion of his youth because they (in addition to some other things he had come to find unpalatable) spent many, many millions advocating against my civil rights. He told me it was hard to go to war with a guy who was willing to give his life for the country only to return and have that country treat him like a second class citizen. I can see that but the fact that he could see that and that he was willing to make such a demonstration of support— again, what did I do to deserve such friends?

So these few people that I’ve mentioned in the blog today, they’d be destroyed if I became another veteran suicide. I add them to the growing list of reasons I can’t do it. And if I’m going to have to stay here, I’m going to have to continue to make some changes and, as those of you who’ve been following the blog can tell, these changes have been very hard to make at times. I’m determined. As Eli reminded me tonight, I’m a fighter. Every time I think I just won’t be able to take the next step; the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor that were branded into my heart begin to glow and I know that for me, like with all Marine’s, surrender is not an option—but it also helps to have a few good friends there to remind me.

See y’all tomorrow.

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