babies don't dance and they can't buy beer

Bee's picture
Sat, 02/04/2012 - 23:15 -- Bee

This is the second year in a row my old friend KTS has materialised on my birthday - though both occasions were coincidental to him I consider the visits a rare and splendid gift.

He & his wife stopped by on their way to Paris via Istanbul and it was great fun to show them my daily routine and take them on jetlagged walking tours: Bunhill Fields, the Barbican, the Tate Modern, Two Temple, Prufrock.

Over dinner one night I explained to Quentin how we met as raddled morbid teenagers, the token poor kids in a youth program designed to cosset and educate children with better prospects: a beginning so inauspicious I never would have expected to know him longer than that summer.

We were both bitter, caustic, contemptuous - of each other, of the program, of the place. It would be a very long time before I understood how rare it is to meet someone who not only tolerates but enjoys mordant invective. The best thing about KTS, then as now, is his cold dark heart. He doesn't mind the hectic lacerating sarcasm that issues from my mouth, or the chaos of my household. He is like us, so he likes us.

In fact, our so-called friendship features a ten year gap during which we were technically enemies. We lived in the same place but our experiences were divergent: while still a teenager I was a parent, married, responsible, studious, old. KTS was crazy smart but young and decadent and, as he says, "babies don't dance and they can't buy beer."

I thought he should grow up, he thought I should live a little before I died. Neither of us was polite or reticent in our judgment of the other. Age and maturity proved both assessments correct, though it hardly matters. We took different roads but ended up approximately where our cynical, youthful selves secretly hoped. Museums, travel, books, careers, organic vegetables: a life that materially and symbolically rebukes everything we knew growing up next to Highway 16.

Though neither would have admitted to anything so banal as hope back in the day.

How strange and extraordinary to have a friend sitting in my London home who remembers the B&I Store, and the Great Wall, and that summer in Seattle. We share memories that I would have thought fictional if I didn't have someone to verify that yes, it did happen, that place existed, that person was real. Or we help each other forget. He sat with me in the hospital after the accident, listening as I talked frantically around a dislocated jaw - and has no memory of the day whatsoever.

Twenty-four years later, we're still manifestly the same mocking, ironic, and hopeful kids who sat on a rock talking about suicide. We're just older, and live somewhere else: