Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A little less sure

Rewind the tape 12 years. I'm back in 8th grade. Doobs and Paul and I, new friends at the time, are hanging out at BJ's house, probably playing Dungeons and Dragons, doddling around on Warlords II. I click my armies to advance on BJ's lands. Not wanting to let me sack and possibly raze a production center so early in the conflict, BJ moves a stack out to meet me. My pikemen and his cavalry backed up by a dragon lock horms in the first battle of our war of conquest on the map 'Hadesha'. Although I demolish his cavalry, in the end it is the dragon who remains standing over the valley, but reinforcements are already pouring in from Lord Ebon's land (me), and my best champion Grimvold has a fully stacked legion of griffons and War Wolves under his command, loaded with the standards and items plundered from previous champions who Paul and Doobs and Rob had sent against me before being smashed by the mailed fisted hand of Grimvold. Coming down from the north out of the sky castles surrounded by a host of Archons from a previous quest and some Pegasi gathered from BJ's fine northern realm is BJ's most skilled warrior, Peligrin the Bold.

Taking a break from the computer, we return to Dungeons and Dragons. Our adventures take the party into the forgotten city of Janaguar. Tales of adventure, maidens, stygian spells and lusty curses come crashing down like waves on the rocky beaches of the solid party of adventurers. Rhine and Turin slay while Cloden 'boldly' picks pockets and Durz weaves his arcane arts. The next wave of the perverse race of Janaguarese rushes headlong, minds bent with rage and emboldened by the potential extinction of their race of undead. Abi Taleb, the warrior monk notches an arrow in his leather-backed bow and raises it to fire. Durz's hands flash with blue fire, awaiting the time for him to unleash the unholy energy on those denizens of the dark who set upon them - then it's time to leave.

We've been up fifteen hours warlording and role-playing. Now it's time for football practice for BJ and I. We have to prepare for our own turn to don the pads and do battle with the enemies of the realm...

But that was twelve years ago. I hadn't talked to BJ much for the past decade. He'd fallen in with the wrong crowd later in HS and we took different paths. Now all the rest of us have moved on, but not BJ. He's moved back. Busted physically and mentally from a combination of bad genetics and bad choices in life, he finds himself physcially frail, suffering from permanent short-term memory loss, dad has left for greener pastures, mounting medical bills he cannot pay, pills to the ceiling, ten or more diarreah attacks daily, a child from a woman he's not married to, a sister who's not doing much, a brother who's not doing much,a life-threatening illness, and a near-dead bedridden mother.

The old house is where it used to be, but it's a shell of its old self. Dirty almost to the point of putrid inside, the outside is barren and unkept, made all the worse by the tidy suburban neighborhood of which it was once one of the brighter points. It's all the little things that aren't quite right. No dishes washed, no grass cut, things pasted on the windows, no beds fully sheeted, much less fully made, things strewn haphazardly here and there, the young sister and her husband and one other guy all smoking outside, the mom of BJ's child who lives in the ghetto comes by briefly, not realizing that he's already dutifully taken the kid to her place across town.

It's White Trash USA right?

That would be the assumption, and it would be correct. But there's more here. Something else has changed; the Darkness has not overcome it.

BJ has changed. Despite the once bright and witty kid being mentally just shy of handicapped and physically well past that point... despite having to work bad hours at an even worse job... despite having to take care of a dying mother while still suffering the after-shocks of a stroke himself... despite having few friends and basically no good ones... despite the pills and the bowels and the immature mother of his child's antics... BJ has become Christ-like.

No I mean it. Once prouder than me, a decade of being leveled has finally fallen on him all at once, and for now he survives, pride annihilated. The one who was once sarcastic and cocksure is now concerned and heartbroken. He loves the mother of his child despite everything she does to him. He breaks himself, humiliates himself, and finally forgets himself so that those around him can have a life. When his younger brother returned from a full year of college with only 7 credit hours to his name, BJ slapped him upside the head and told him matter of factly "HEY! What the hell are you doing!? You want to end up like me in a few years? Get your act together!"

We can no longer speak as equals. The life experiences are too different. We stand on different grounds now, with different expectations and realities. We're no longer the same age, although we used to be...

But we are friends. I get the suspicion that we always will be. The old memories don't dim. Something happened in those times back then. There was a bond made that not even death will separate until it takes all of us. It's comforting in a way, to know that after a decade I can still be casually invited into the room to talk about life. I'm still a confidant, though I've done nothing to earn it in years. To my shame, I simply forgot about him. Chalked him up as a lost cause and a model of who not to be.

But he understands unconditional love even for a woman who mistreats him in every way, I have The List. He loves his child, his bro and sis, and his dying parent more than himself, my love has yet to be purified and tested in the crucible of pain. He can work a twelve hour job days on end hoping only for a .55 pay raise if he gets a perfect report so that he can keep his insurance and alleviate some of the burden from others. I have a hard time making myself sit down for a couple of hours to press out some GRE, keeping in mind that it holds a major part of the key to some serious advancement in prestige and economics. He can humble himself to use himself as an example to his younger sibling on how not to behave, I tend to either exemplify myself of self-conciously play down my own weaknesses, never wanting to appear less than Superman to the girls.

And he would never hesitate to invite me in and praise me in public. I can barely swallow my pride and call him "friend". And i'm ashamed of that fact the most.

Now i'm a little less sure of the world than I was a few hours ago, before I decided to drop by an old friends house and see what he was up to.


Blogger Jeannette* said...

This is beautiful Ray. I loved every intricate thought and emotion and your heartfelt honesty. You have captured this moment and reached out in a way that all of us can feel. Thank you for sharing

10:06 AM  

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