The friend who I never quite had

I have a friend. He is very intelligent, interesting, educated and politically astute. He lives in my home town, the son of upper class, belonging to the “right” country club and with all of the proper connections.

I grew up in the country, outside of the little city, in the farmland. Our little home sat in a matrix of fields of corn and wheat. There was a deep woods across the dirt road. I did not know about classes, “better” neighborhoods, “right” schools. In my neighborhood, all was the same. There were no wealthy people on Duck Creek Road. There were no poor, either. We all were probably poor, but you are not poor if everyone is poor, you just are.

He grew up on Highland Avenue, the perfectly groomed lawns filled with workers, trimming hedges and keeping borders, the “help” readying the back yard for the coming cocktail party. I imagine that it must have been a competition of sorts, the new car, the bigger party with the “better” friends.

We knew nothing of Highland Avenue on Duck Creek Road, of yachts, or planes, of business meetings. I remember our neighbors, who kept a big beautiful garden, bringing vegetables and canned produce to our home. There was feast, and there was famine. A wealthy boy in town died, and I was given his clothes. It was very creepy wearing the clothing of a dead boy. I looked strange and out of place with my sweater trimmed in faux leather.

I imagine my friend, sent to grandmas the night of the big party so the guests needn’t deal with him bumping into legs from beneath the white cloth of the set table in his little blue sailor outfit. I wonder what such a childhood must have been like. I wonder if he loved his neighbors and his parents and his siblings – I know that he did, but I wonder if it was the same. I wonder if I missed something with the life that I was borne into.

The school bus came one day and removed us from our utopia, dropping us into the class system of education. We separated, each making our way into this strange land of education and society. We fought our own battles, figuratively and literally. Only in extreme circumstances would my neighborhood “brothers” be called upon, even then, they would stand by unless the odds were clearly stacked.

I was an odd skinny boy. I read the Iliad and the Odyssey I read the Rubiyat. Such action was not tolerated in the bus. After a time, the train, which ran near our home and near the school became my means of conveyance. I would jump on the freight train at the curve and ride it to Beloit, jumping off and walking the rest of the way.

I imagine his mother’s new Cadillac pulling up to the circle in front of some private school, his Mom kissing him on the cheek, then wiping the bright red lipstick off and sending him on his way with his new Batman lunch box and his new little suit. Do boys fight in private schools? Do they play mumbley peg until one must wrap his bleeding appendage in a bandana and retire to the classroom again?

I grew up and went to work, as my father had done. He set off to college. I remember a fear of failure. It permeated my being. Did he fear failure as I did?

I imagine his sweater vested friends, drinking and singing dirty songs, courting sorority sisters and telling details of every encounter in secret campus clubs and fraternities. I lived in motels, waking in early morning to be first on the construction site, and driving all night.

I grew to shake the hands of Presidents and celebrities. I have argued with senators and congressmen and Governors and I have laughed and drank with them. I have been their friends and their enemies. I grew an interest and an understanding in and of politics. I taught myself the things that others learned in schools. I became the man who I had wished to become. I was, at last, respected, strong, worldly, traveled, and educated.

A lifetime passed, creating scars and callouses on both of our souls. I retreated from the world back to this wonderful, magical place, and we found our friendship by him reaching out to me in kindness.

Since then I have tried to build this friendship, to get beyond the superficial, to enjoin him in discussions in which we disagree, to explore our beliefs and understandings, to build a friendship of mutual respect and understanding perhaps, to become real friends.

It shall never be. We are equals in many ways, each holding knowledge and abilities and connections that would complement the other so well but, alas, Duck Creek Road is simply too far from Highland Avenue.

I have lived all over the eastern U.S. I have seen cloistered societies. I have seen southern holdouts. I have seen classes, myself accepted as an outsider into long-held society. Still, here, in the place where I began, in the city where a man who has seen most of the world and the best and the worst of man finally settled, there is no statute of limitations for having been borne to Duck Creek Road.

Still, with my siblings and neighbors, the older boys on the bus, the hard road that I walked, I would not change the place where I lived as a young man, nor would I ever exchange that tiny dirt road for the finely groomed environment of Highland.

Friendship is a progressive evolution is is not absolute nor is it eternal – except for those wrought of a childhood on Duck Creek Road. Those are complete and they are forever.

Scott Cahill