Many people have passed through my life, and I have had many different friends. Some of these friendships were fleeting, encapsulated in a moment of time, and left there; our paths have never crossed again. With the advent of social media, I’m now part of a generation that can easily reach out to people they’ve known throughout their lives. Friendships that would have been lost due to time and distance can be renewed in ways that have never been easier. In the recent past, phone calls and letters would have been the only way to connect with people you didn’t see on a regular basis. However, not everyone is on facebook, not everyone wants their past to catch up to their present, not everyone wants to be found.
The world my children are growing up in is very different than the one I grew up in. Their friendships are intertwined with technology. Their ideas of space and distance and time are affected by growing up in a world where the internet is their primary tool of communication. If a friend moves to another state, they can still stay in touch easily through social media and can chat and skype in real time. When I was a child, if a friend moved, that meant I would probably never see them again, unless we made a concerted effort to write or phone (which would have been expensive), and even that probably wouldn’t necessarily stand the test of time. It makes me wonder how this technological immediacy to our lives also affects our ideas about moving away, starting over, making a break, or beginning again, anew.
When I met Ben, I didn’t even have a computer. I was still holding on to my old canon word processor, even though the guy at the “we fix everything” store told me that computers were the way of the future, and that sooner or later there wouldn’t be any parts available to fix my ailing word processor (which is exactly what happened). There was no such thing as cell phones. Some people had pagers back then, but neither of us did. We relied on seeing each other and talking on the phone.
Ben and I met at work and became fast friends. And not just fast friends, amazing friends, best friends. We became extraordinarily close in a very short time, and only for a short time. After a few months, he would leave the job for a new one, our schedules would no longer coincide, and eventually we would lose contact altogether. But I didn’t know that then. We had an instant, sort of explosive, friendship, where we both brought out the utmost wildness and weirdness in each other. We were searching, searching, searching. If he was into girls, I am positive that we would have become lovers. We would talk on the phone for hours in the middle of the night, giving each other reasons to stay awake and alive. We did drugs together. We drove into Manhattan, dressed to the nines, looking for the bar named Hell, and when we found it, we didn’t like it, and we caused a scene. At work, we laughed too loud and we talked too loud and we turned up the music in the cafe too loud. We didn’t care, we jumped up and down, trying to hit the ceiling with the end of our brooms.
One of the last times I hung out with Ben, we had an epic day. He wanted to get his hair cut, and I went with him to the salon. But he didn’t want to be the only one getting his hair cut, so I got a haircut too. After, we decided to check out the tattoo parlor nearby. Ben said that he wanted to get a tattoo, and he thought it was awesomely cheesy to go in and pick a tattoo off the wall. We laughed and laughed. He went to the bank to get more money, and decided to get us both tattoos. We decided to get Asian symbols, the epitome of lame, but we would rock it, we would own that shit. He decided to get his symbol tattooed high on his arm, in place of the needle. I decided to get my symbol tattooed on my wrist, in place of the knife.
“No,” he said, looking at the symbol I picked out.
I was thinking of the line from Josephine Hart’s book, “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.”
But Ben knew better.
“Get this instead,” he said, pointing to another symbol.
That night we had a picnic on the beach and watched the sunset. We drank wine and ate bread and cheese and chocolate. Afterwards, we stopped at a carnival and rode the ferris wheel. We went back to his house and tried to sleep but couldn’t, so we talked until the sun came up and the bagel stores opened. We talked about our new tattoos, how they would be a reminder. He would always have peace and I would always have strength. We took a walk in the park and sat down by a river and ate our breakfast. He told me that he wished I was a guy. And it hurt my feelings. But it laid bare the one boundary between us. We would never be any closer than we were at that moment. I loved him then, and I love him now. And over the years, I’ve often thought of him, and always with love. He gave me an incredible gift. When the pain was so great and I thought I had lost myself and I didn’t think I could go on, sometimes the one thing stopping me was that tattoo.
Thank you, Ben.
The above picture is my own; it is a snapshot of the kanji on my wrist. Many years later, I used the experience of getting that tattoo in a poem. The poem was published, one of my early publications, and it still remains close to my heart. As part of my reading series, I wanted to share this story. You can read my poem “first, body” here.