A Tale of Two Friendships
There are columns I have started a dozen times and others that I have turned over in my mind a hundred times before sitting down to write the first sentence. This one I have wanted to write for the last four years, but every time I start, the words only trickle through my fingers like water in cupped hands.
Like most males, I struggle with having more than a handful of friends. So, when I have a true friendship, I hate losing it. In recent years, I have lost two friendships that were dear to me.
When I lived in Las Vegas, I had a friend named Charell. I loved to play chess with Charell. He is everything I wish I could be. Tall, muscular and handsome, the man is so good looking that he was a leading man’s stand-in on a major Hollywood action flick. Truth be told, he was better looking than the movie star. He always dressed like a million bucks. Women flocked to the dude when we were in public. He was awe inspiring to watch! Just by the force of his personality alone, he was able to organize one of the first major chess tournaments in Sin City. The man drove one of the nicest cars I have ever been in and had an amazing motorcycle to boot.
I agreed to help him move into a new apartment but was late because I got pulled over by a motorcycle cop for rolling through a stop sign. To make it worse, I did not have my driver’s license with me and looked like a hobo in paint stained gray sweatpants and a ratty T-shirt. The officer was absolutely wonderful, could not have been nicer to me. When I explained the situation, he let me go with just a warning.
I never saw Charell that day. He also interacted with a police officer and he, like me, did not have his license on him. His wallet was sitting inside his new place that he was about to sign the lease on. This is probably a good time to mention that he is African-American. He was sitting on the steps of his new apartment building, taking a break from moving boxes, when a police officer rolled by, stopped, and asked him to see his license because he did not look like he belonged there.
Charell tried to explain. Things escalated. He got roughed up, arrested, and charged with resisting arrest and failure to produce identification. He spent the next four or five days in jail. The new landlord, learning the cop’s version of events, did not want a troublemaker in his building. He lost the apartment. He also lost his job. It seems employers frown on their employees missing work because they are in jail.
So, not only was he jobless and homeless, but he had to spend a fortune on a good lawyer to fight the charges against him. Needless to say, Charell was angry. He pulled away from anyone who was white and soon our chess games stopped. After a while, the phone calls between us stopped. One day it was like he completely dropped off the earth. I got it. I understood completely. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss having him in my life.
My other friend’s name is Jeremy. I met him through a fan email he wrote me. He wrote for the local university newspaper after having been in the service and read my column. Extremely bright, he eventually got his PhD in chemistry. I read several of his articles and appreciated that he put a lot of thought into various topics and tried to think outside of the box. He really was the personification of an all-American young man. When I moved out west, he even stopped by my place on his way through town.
One day, Jeremy expressed a lot of anger at me over a lame joke I had made about punching Nazis. It wasn’t the best joke in the world, but it was nothing to get hostile over. It slowly dawned on me that he was falling under the influence of white supremacist thought. He eventually even moved to Montana! Over the next few months, we debated several racial issues. Well, as best as one can debate anything over Facebook. He got suspended several times from the social media site for his racist posts. He was finally permanently banned and disappeared into the ether. I have not talked to him since. When the capital riots occurred, I half expected to see him in the crowd and he might have been.
If I bumped into either Jeremy or Charell today, I don’t know what I would say. Words in the face, with the racism that divides this country, are often just hollow. Columns should have answers. I don’t. I don’t know if there is a single correct word in this entire piece. Mistreatment and judgment over something so trivial as the amount melanin in someone’s skin doesn’t make sense. Yet, here we are. All I know is it has cost me too many friendships in this world and that is sad.