Thursday, November 17, 2005

A lesson in choosing friends

Some of you may be familiar with small towns. My college was set in what I thought was a small town. It was, in the sense that not many people lived there, but, really it was a college town. The presence of a giant university in an otherwise thinly-populated area makes things more transient, more seasonal, more about you and your friends and classes and crushes. (I should mention here that I have had about 17,879,430,012 crushes in my life; each one memorable in their own way. (I should also mention that this story is not about any of them, but I will soon post a story about one crush that I repeatedly made an ass of myself in front of in a way that mostly amuses me to recall, but not without a teensy wince. (Also, I love parentheses.)))

This story has to do with an actual small town. I moved there after college because I was broke and my parents had moved back East after a brief stint in Colorado. Upon moving back, the furthest east they got was a surprisingly cool little place in West Virginia called Shepherdstown. It had a little main street with a diner where you could get breakfast for less than $4.00 (!). There was a neighborhood bar with dark wood benches and brass railings and a coffee shop owned by a young-ish, hip-ish couple who encouraged local art by dedicated wallspace to hanging locally-created works. There were also a few small art galleries, a great record store, and a small college. Oh. So I guess I still don't truly know what it's like to live in a small town without some institute of higher learning, but as this one was smaller, it shadowed the town less. I mean, you'd go to the local bar and hang out with not frat boys, but townies: river guides, artists, social workers, carpenters, and that old man whose old dog steered the boat home when his owner was too drunk to do it (I cannot make this up). An eclectic little mix but the pool was quite, quite limited. I mean, the town was small. I remember arriving, and the slow realization that I could count on one hand the potential number of people I could become friends with. And that I had to like them--what would the chances be? Not terribly good, it turned out, as they'd all met years before and had all been coupled up and had exclusive dinner parties--something unheard of in my previous large-university-version-of-a-small-town where we'd just go to our local bar and eat pizza (it was fancy pizza, but pizza nonetheless). After a couple of months in She-town, however, I was lucky to make a few connections, including a crazy girl I agreed to move in with. Like the others, she'd been there for years, but unlike the others, she and her boyfriend of nearly four years had recently broken up. This break up left her--we'll call her WB--in a vulnerable position in Shepherdstown society, since not many people actually liked her; they merely tolerated her because they liked her boyfriend who was, on balance, quite likeable.

Now WB wasn't terribly likeable, but I liked her anyway. It was a time in my life in which I liked people others found hard to like. Not because I'm super humanitarian gal or anything, but because the people in question were so funny. I was good friends with a guy in college who used to get notably wasted and steal people's CDs and things when he went to their house for parties. Everybody knew it and hated him for it and never felt any qualms about kicking him out of their house before he could fill his empty backpack full of their things. Okay, that is undeniably lame on his part and no one could be blamed for not wanting a guy like that in their house. But the thing is, he was hilarious. I always laughed my ass off when we were together. He just tickled me (I know that makes me sound like I'm 89, but it's the best way to describe it). I just smiled and giggled when he was around. We got such a kick out of each other despite our differences, i.e. him being a thief and me being widely regarded as a fabulous (and non-stealing) gal. Our friendship didn't teach me tolerance so much as this: I could forgive an ax-murderer of ax-murdering, so long as s/he was really, really funny. Enter WB.

Just kidding. WB was nowhere close to an ax-murderer. Just childish and petty and needy and stylish and funny. I had made one friend at work in my post-college, new-town, and living-with-my-parents life and WB was potentially friend #2...and potentially my ticket outta my folks'. Which she was. After a few nights of hanging out at her and her now ex-boyfriend's old place, a few glasses of wine, some soft muzak and candlelight; we decided to take the plunge and move in together. Sigh.

In an effort to bond more fully, we decided to take a road trip to see one of her old flames in Wilmington, NC. This is an eight-hour drive. She talked to the dude and he was all ready for us so we piled our two dogs in the car and hit the road. The ride down was uneventful. Fine, even. We talked about her recent ex-bf and her ex-ex-bf-ish type guy we were now going to visit. He'd lived in Shepherdstown some years ago and moved to NC for school. I had never been to Wilmington and loved road trips so was all about the li'l adventure. As we pull into the driveway of XXBF's place, I commented that it was nice of him to let us bring our dogs. "Oh. Yeah, it better be okay," she said, laughing. Knowing my dog's questionable obedience and her dog's size, I winced. (Hmm, is this becoming a story of how reasonable I am and how lame she is? Eh, oh well.)

XXBF was not happy to see the dogs--and even less happy to see them when we got home from the live band we'd gone to see and came home to some poop in his place. (To be honest, it could've been either dog, but it was probably mine. Oops. (See? I'm lame, too!)) We cleaned it up and went to bed. No harm done--aside from XXBF's understandable annoyance. Otherwise, though, it was a fun night and WB was feeling all breezy and fun and laughing and smiling and generally engaged in the evening.

The next day, the three of us met up with one of XXBF's friends we'd met the night before, TQ. He was awesome. We went to a surf shop and record store and restaurant/pub for lunch and had a great time, though WB got more and more quiet. We all went back to XXBF's place and watched Friday. Three of us laughed our asses off and one glowered at those of us laughing from her place in the corner. TQ left and said he'd call us later that night to go out.

We never went out. Things with WB had taken a turn for the worse. The weekend had not centered around her nearly enough, it seemed, so she threw a tantrum and didn't want to go out to dinner and didn't want to stay in and was generally unhappy and was determined to make us the same way, which--through her whining, complaining, and bizarre angry silences--worked. We ended up eating food at XXBF's with the TV on and none of us talking and a futile attempt to go out that ended with more bitching on WB's part. With XXBF exhausted by the burden that was us and our dogs and with WB being Miss Misery and me without a car or friends or any way to get out, it was early to bed for all of us, with the phone ringing, most likely with a confused TQ at the other end.

We left early the next morning, after a breakfast in which WB actually perked up again and was all smiles and funny and light-hearted and a nice rapport between her and XXBF so that you could finally see that there had ever been a spark, or at least any caring at all. We said our goodbyes and got in the car for the looooooooong trip home. Objectively, 8 hours is a long time in a car. Subjectively, 8 hours in the car with WB (which I'd come to realize stands for Wet Blanket)--who'd immediately switched back into dour, dark, angry girl the second we pulled onto the interstate--is interminable. Talking was fruitless, it was stunted and uncomfortable. So we gave up and rode in silence. Then she was upset about the fact that we'd driven 8 hours in silence.

After that trip, I was PSYCHED to move in with her! It was predictably unfun most of the time, sprinkled with little bits of humor and genuine enjoyment. I once pointed out to her how funny she could be and that when she was relaxed she was super fun to hang out with. I tried to be light-hearted about it, explaining that if she'd "only use her powers for good" that she'd enjoy herself a lot more. I don't know if she took it kindly since, clearly, it was a thinly-veiled way of saying "if you'd stop being a bitch most of the time, people would like you more." Oops.

Our living-together came to an end when her ex-boyfriend-of-nearly-four-years (not be confused with Wilmington-based XXBF) slowly but surely began to live with us as well. I liked it better when he was there because then he could listen to her lameness and I was free to enjoy living there with them and hear them fight. Then, like all happy, totally-not-disaster-bound, couples, they got engaged. They got married in the backyard of our fabulous farmhouse and I moved out. And back in with my parents. That was awesome. I mean, how many people after college get to move back home twice? All within a span of 6 months, no less? Slight embarassment aside, I was much, much happier.

Like my thieving friend in college, I learned a little something from this friendship, too. No, no: not tolerance. I learned that I could still like someone who is widely unliked--such as an ax-murderer--so long as they're really, really funny ALL the time.


Blogger Lee Tight said...

I always new you were stunningly beautiful but if you get any funnier I wont be able to speak to you out of raging envy. You are a hot shit Em.


5:48 PM  
Blogger ross_vegas said...

it's a good lesson. i will try to be funny all the time...starting right after this post. - mike

8:47 PM  

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