I didn't have many friends as a child, owing the the fact that I did not go to the local public or Catholic school. My school friends did not come over to my house after school because we attended a "special" school some twenty-five miles from my home.
Of course by "special" school I don't mean school for crazy, handicapped, or dangerous kids (or two of the three, or all three) -- it was a Montessori school -- but, just the same, I don't think they turned out too many well-adjusted graduates.
Like Tommy, who, when I was nine and he was seven, I used to punch in the back of the head on a regular basis, trying to cure his undiagnosed ADD. He was later arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute (and his intent was to distribute) at the age of fourteen.
Or Carrie, who became a very pregnant hipster, before pregnant hipsters were cool (or is that their defining characteristic?), at the age of sixteen.
Or Morgan, who stabbed me in the hand with a scissors when I was nine years old. He was six. The scissors stuck in my hand. I don't know what happened to him, but I think it's safe to say that he should be in prison, or, since I am an idealistic liberal, that he should be in a million-dollar mental health facility funded by the richest taxpayers. Where do they get off being rich? Compound interest is not hard work.
Or Alan, my old best friend, who got married at twenty-two and remains happily married, thanking God for every day with his true love, who is truly too gorgeous, I think.
Or me, who paces up and down my four-foot hallway, muttering James Thurber's wisdom, "One Martini is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough." Then dancing in the mirror, yelling out "I! I! I! Am! God!" until the neighbors gently rap on the door, and I say, "Sorry!" and curl up on the floor for sleep.
But I didn't start writing this to talk about that. I wanted to talk about my one neighborhood friend. One lousy friend. Who I didn't like.
It would be a green Spring Saturday, like the one just passed. The old white rotary phone would ring. It would be Ryan from down the street:
"Can Jon play?" he would ask my mother.
"Can you play with Ryan?" she would say. Implicit was that she wanted me to have friends, and I felt bad about her feeling bad that I didn't have friends because of her schooling decision for me and my natural reticence (which manifest themselves through the writings you read now) -- though I never could have articulated that at the time.
So I brought a plastic mini-football with a worn Chicago Bears logo to Ryan's house. He always insisted that we play against each other. I usually suggested that we play The Sidewalk is Out of Bounds: a cooperative game where we would throw the ball to each other near the sidewalk, and practice catching it without stepping on the sidewalk. But he was two years older than me, and he wouldn't play if we didn't play competitively, and I liked to play.
So we'd play like this: I'd throw the football as a kickoff, and he would catch the ball and run with it. He was bigger than me. He was autistic. I would two hand touch him down. Then he would be allowed four tries to get past the fireplug, the first down marker, just trying to run away from me. If he succeeded in passing the fireplug, sometimes by diving, he would be allowed four more tries to get into the neighbor's driveway, the endzone. If he succeeded, he would score seven points.
I was far quicker, and, in retrospect, I probably manipulated the rules to my advantage. On his first possession, I would not let him get a first down. Then I would take over on downs and score. Once I was up two scores, 14-0, I would let him back in the game, sometimes to tie, sometimes to take the lead. Then I would score four times in a row.
Most of our play times ended with him crying at a disgraceful, contrived loss.
I was a cruel child, and I am an adult capable of significant cruelty.
And that is why guilt is my friend.
And that is why Xanax tastes good.