|How to Lose Your Two Best Friends
What luck, you think. To live in New York, with your two best friends. He, from college. She, from a hostel in Thailand. They have never met, but have already heard so much about each other. By coincidence, they live within blocks of each other in Brooklyn. They already know the punch-lines to each other's favorite jokes, the ending to each other's childhood stories, the first time you all meet up for drinks. "To you," they toast, celebrating your arrival.
In your dorm room, you had listened to his silly, heartbreaking poems to girls who did not care for words. You were there when she ripped up a photo of a cruel man, throwing the scraps of their history into the Andaman Sea. You needed them needing you.
Like Cupid, like Cyrano, like Iago, you whisper in their ears. You tell him, she thinks you're cool. You tell her, he thinks you're brilliant.
You adore playing matchmaker, as a child with dolls and pets, now with neighbors and co-workers. You predict with an accuracy that comes from manipulation.
In the beginning, you take their late night calls. She dialed from her cell phone, crouched and whispering in his bathroom after awkward first sex. He called from the cab after they fought, when he admitted that he liked none of her friends except for you. You repeat why they are meant for each other, their appreciation for electronica, their enthusiasm for rock-climbing, their veganism interests you tried out with them but never got into. You banish their worries, but leave just enough doubt so that they ask for more advice.
They start telling you things you did not know about either one, about memories made in your absence. They stop telling you about other things, like sex.
You run into them in your neighborhood, around the corner from your apartment. They hadn't called. You all freeze for a moment in the street, eyes to the sidewalk. He carries a white paper sack of Italian cookies, from the bakery you had introduced to them. They are going to Prospect Park. You tell them you are busy, but describe your favorite spot in the ravine. That is where he proposes.
At the wedding, they toast you again. They credit you for this day, the happiest day of their life. Not the day that you and he broke into the anthropology building and waltzed with the skeletons. Not the night that you and she danced a moonlit beach as the drum circle throbbed around you.
In time, they move, to a quiet place in the country to raise a puppy, and then kids. Not too far, but far enough to stop meeting up for runs along the promenade, for brunch on Sunday mornings, for drinks at dive bars in the East Village. For them, visiting Brooklyn becomes a special occasion, a journey across rivers, bridges, and through tunnels. "Tell us the exciting stories about being single," they say.
In all your calculations, you forgot the simplest math: three always
turns into two against one.
The first day of the middle school was already a disappointment.
"Phillip Wormsley," the teacher said, taking attendance. "Philip Wormsley?"
The seat in front of me was empty, the only one left in homeroom. Philip if he had arrived on time to class would have been within striking distance.
As the teacher called his name again before moving on, I imagined the rest of the year. Tripping Philip as he walked to the pencil sharpener. Kicking the underside of his seat. Passing notes about him around him.
Small and slight, he was the sort who should have been destined for anonymity. But since the third grade, he rebelled against obscurity, with his smart aleck remarks, annoying laugh and last-minute questions that forced us to remain in our seats after the bell rang.
Philip wore baggy tee shirts and oversized sneakers that made him look even younger than his little brother, Joe, who was a grade lower but levels higher in popularity. He lied when people asked if they were related.
At lunch, everyone was talking about Phillip's absence. He went to see a doctor, guessed one girl. He didn't feel good. He'll never feel good, someone replied. Loser. Freak. Wuss.
You see, we had been waiting all summer for him.
On the last day of school, the entire fifth grade had chased him. No one could remember how it started, but soon a large crowd was in pursuit, picking up more people as we ran through the hallways.
It seemed the thing to do.
Philip was fleet and wily, taking short cuts, and doubling back around, forcing the amoebic mass of kids to change direction in confusion. We crashed into against each other, but kept going, too revved up to feel anything. After three girls went sprawling, we vaulted over them.
Jimmy, the most popular and biggest boy in our class, grabbed a handful of the back of Philip's tee shirt. Philip shrugged the shirt over his head, and slipped out of our grasp.
Now shirtless, he ran to the multipurpose room and out through the fire door, setting off the alarm. After we thought we had him cornered in a classroom, he fled through the window. In his escape, he kicked over a fish-tank and killed Goldy, a beloved kindergarten pet.
I don't know what we would have done if we caught him. For me, in chasing someone else, no one would come after me. I was into insects and bugs and still am, as a professor of etymology. I knew enough to conceal my interests and kept my head down, to study ants, dung beetles, and other alien creatures with vast, orderly societies.
I hated Philip for not knowing his rightful place.
Eventually, he found sanctuary in the principal's office. As punishment, we lost our class grade trip to Disneyland. We glowered at him as we waited for the bus after school. He sat with the principal, waiting for his mother to come pick him up. His brother, pretending not to know him, joined the rest of us in line.
He must have had a long summer, thinking about what we would do to him again and again, in the many years until high school graduation. The first week of school, we waited for his arrival.
Then we heard that his father had a job transfer to Chicago. Philip had escaped, again.
Years later, I saw someone who looked just like him on a late-night infomercial. I dropped my book and stood inches from the screen. He was hawking a video of drunken young women flashing their g-strings and tits. He still wore baggy clothing, but also gold chains, an expensive watch, and gleaming white sneakers. He drove a speedboat in one scene, a Porsche in another. He talked on his cell phone ordering his minions to film women from Cabo San Lucas to Nome to New Orleans.
Was this how he took his revenge? Was it our fault somehow that he built this trashy video enterprise, to show all of us how he wallowed in women and money?
Or did we hate him because we knew he was the type of person who could do such a thing?