I was talking to an old friend about a mutual acquaintance who stopped talking to me about ten years ago. She asked what happened between us, and I shrugged. "I don't know," I said. "I didn't do anything, so I can't comment."
There was a disbelieving double take. "You don't know what happened?"
"I was't around, I wasn't there. I was literally not in the country."
More probing, more shrugging. I said "I didn't steal her money, kick her dog, or fuck her boyfriend. Though I could have, I resisted. Therefore, I did nothing wrong."
My friend paused with her hand over the restaurant bill. This summary of my Rules for Life was apparently surprising, though it should not have been. I am exactly as advertised. There are no hidden depths.
The end of the friendship in question had a dramatic impact on my life, because that particular friend demanded fealty from other people, told them to choose between us. Whereas I would never do anything of the kind; I value loyalty, but I do not demand it.
When I throw parties, everyone is invited, perpetually and without prejudice.
Rumours trickled back that my crime was not a specific action, but rather, lack of devotion. I wasn't sufficiently supportive. I did not meet unspecified standards, and to this day I do not know what they were.
I could make counter allegations but I don't see the point. Ten years ago I needed help. But I never asked for assistance, never revealed my vulnerabilities. I just did my absolute best to lead an ethical life.
That is all I had to offer, and all I expected in return.
I am the dependable and consistent friend who turns up at the hospital, offers rides to bail hearings, slogs through the endless tedium of trauma, and comes out on the other side without any resentment or regret. I am good in a crisis.
But I am admittedly awful at all the sensitive and subtle parts of life. I am impatient and irritable when forced to make small talk. I do not care about petty concerns, do not want to know about rivalries, do not listen to complaints. I will probably put my fingers in my ears and hum if someone decides to talk about their relationship. But if the relationship falls apart? I'm the friend who keeps showing up, when life gets difficult.
Even if I wanted to feel or act differently, the reality is that I can't change. Why? Because I don't have time. My eccentric children and unwieldy career take up all the slack in my schedule. I've made a conscious commitment to a challenging partner, and we both travel incessantly in service to work and family obligations. I live with chronic pain and the management of complicated medical problems. My extended family members have a habit of committing suicide, with all the attendant chaos that implies. I'm busy.
I'm not claiming moral superiority. I am just saying I know my limitations and understand my inadequacies. I'm quick to apologise when I do something wrong, and slow to abandon a hopeless cause. I'm also forty years old.
I have my priorities sorted and my methods have taken me where I need to be. Yes, I've lost a lot along the way - not least people I love and genuinely miss. But I would not be alive if I had remained in those places with those people. My life from birth until age thirty was intolerable; if I had been paying attention to the details I would have succumbed to the family tradition of annihilation. This claim is not an exaggeration.
The fact that people keep asking about this one fractured relationship is strange. I reckon it is also evidence of hope, and love. For and from that community, directed at both of us. I certainly wish her well, and hope that she has found what she needed. If she wants to know me again, she has my address.
The world is a big place. I always have somewhere to go, something to do. But I like to travel with companions.