Terrible Friend – Moi

(An excerpt from my forthcoming collection of essays)

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I’m a terrible friend.

Seriously, I know I am.  I can be witty and a good conversationalist when interested in the topic at hand or engaging because I’m feeling chatty, but if you have your heart set on my being present in person at something, don’t be.  I probably won’t show.

Because I’m a terrible friend.

I have tried to blame “social anxiety” because it seems to be a thing right now, you know, saying you have SA and that it makes you not want to do things (look up “ghosting”).  I have in the past said it was due to ADHD, something I most likely have and have had all my life.  I have justified my actions in so many ways, some reasonable, some not.

In all truth, I’m just a dick.

The fact is I just don’t like doing social/group/communal things I don’t choose because frankly, I like being alone and am horribly jealous of my free time.  I took a brief informal look back in my mind over events of the past year or so and came up with a list of around nine or ten people I actively made plans to get together with where I ended up bailing at sometimes the very last minute.  My reasons varied between work commitments, family commitments, illness, tiredness or a need to do things I probably could have just re-scheduled.  Sometimes these excuses were valid but honestly, in most all cases, I could have worked around them or rebooked, but instead, I just texted out my excuse and bailed.

Because I’m a terrible person.

This is where in a normal piece of self-reflective writing that a person says “I promise to change” and rambles on about how they are going to affect a modification to their lifestyle to better fit in. Nope.  I’m a dick.  I’m your friend, I care for you, I would chase down someone that stole your wallet or purse if I were around, tackle them to the ground and punch them till they gave it back.  I’d run into a burning building to save your kids.  I’d lend you my last ten dollars for cab fare to get you home if you’d been drinking and walk home myself in the snow.  I probably won’t show up to your birthday party.

Now THIS is where in a normal piece of self-reflective writing that a person says “Don’t get me wrong” then explains how everything is all right because i.e. they “have ethnic friends” and aren’t at all racist*.

Don’t get me wrong.  I usually DO enjoy myself when I take part in social events.  I do have fun playing board games or card games when you invite me over through my wife and she makes me go.  I do want to see you. I do want to hang out in person and not just my usual “Friday night, three beer, YouTube music videos and chatting on Facebook Messenger” way.  I just have a problem in that I have ten million hobbies and interests, limited free time and a pile of things my dear spouse wants me to accomplish at some point.  When faced with the following “play Far Cry 3** or go see a live show of a band I don’t really like just because someone I know will be there” who wins?  The couch wins.  And yes, the next day I feel guilty, horribly, horribly guilty.

I never used to be like this, well not nearly as bad.  I was always the kid who lived far away from everyone else so was always trying to ride my bike to the other end of the city and locate someone I know to hang out with.  I was the guy who invented stupid clubs and tried to thrust membership on school chums who only really likely hung out with me because I kept following them around***.  It developed over time as I became busier in my work and personal life and oddly, now that I am no longer one who travels a lot for work and whose kids are now all old enough to not require a babysitter you would think I’d be embracing new-found freedom to go out and enjoy myself.  We do.  My wife and I can now skip out and go see movies, comedy shows etc.  We both head to the gym (her reminding me every few minutes that she hates the gym with a fiery burring passion) for hours on end. We go for long walks up and back our country road on moonlit nights.  What we don’t do however is randomly go to bars with people as she doesn’t drink hardly at all and we have shows to watch that we have PVR’d or need to get to bed early plus I have horrid hangovers.  Horrid.  “Kill a nun and busload of orphans to get to the drugstore as I am out of Advil ™ “horrid.  We may show up if you invite us.  Likely because she has this guilt chip installed that I don’t have.  Go team android.

All in all, look, take this as an apology.  I am very very sorry if I have disappointed you.  It’s what I do. I’m like Tigger™ minus the flouncy and trouncy (I am kinda bouncy). Unless I make the plans, I probably won’t keep them.  It’s not you, it’s me.

I’m a terrible friend, but I remain, your friend (Jim****).

 

*Note: if you ever say “I’m not racist, but…” you are most likely about to say something racist. Seriously.  You just don’t have a pointy hat.  If you say “I’m not homophobic..” you may not be about to say something homophobic, but it probably isn’t very nice at best.

** My newest obsession.  It is April, 2016.  I am sure by the time this gets to actual print I’ll be on something else. Yup.  A man in his late 40s playing a super violent FPS just like he did in his mid-twenties. Shut up.  Go complain that your wife doesn’t love you anymore and watch the hockey game alone.

*** Example: in 1977 I came up with the “SSE”, the “Secret Soldiers of Espionage”.  I even made membership cards by hand you fucks. I gave them to you in the school yard and set up meetings where we could talk about spy stuff and I could share my Hardy Boys Detective Manual training and we could play Manhunt and … oh what the hell, you guys all threw away the cards.  I found them in the waste paper bin in the classroom when sharpening pencils during math class. I will never forgive you.  On your death bed I will remind you, if I show up.

**** If I really need to write a footnote to explain this for you, be assured I will not show up ever to your birthday.  Ever.

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Darkwatch Cove

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They called it Darkwatch Cove. It was not it’s true, legal name, but this matters not. Darkwatch Cove it was to all but the mousey planners in Parapet Harbor’s municipal offices.

The sands of the Darkwatch Cove beach were white as snow and nary a piece of driftwood collided with and stuck to such that lasted a day or more for it would be scavenged by those who frequented the nightly bonfires and clambakes. Round about an hour before dusk, they would arrive, cars parking atop the embankment, lights shining out only briefly into the night above until someone below yelled for them to be quenched. They would giggle and smile as they scampered down the well-trod stone path to the warm little C-shaped cove, blankets and coolers and what fuel for the fire they could carry in their arms. Fires, some nights upward of four, would be set and as the stars popped into view above, music and frivolity would erupt as if Dionysus himself had given blessing to proceed as the sun set in the west beyond the cliffs above.

A marvel of the coast, Darkwatch Cove was, from above, shaped like a gigantic eye. Open at two ends, the crescent beach was cut into the rocky cliff over millennia and would only continue to be so until such a time as one end or the other were worn away. So said the geologists. But none of those who frequented the shoreline worried about such things, so far off into the misty future of adulthood. Said learned men also claimed that the pupil of the eye, the thickly wooded Isle that sat a quarter mile off shore, would also someday erode and become part of the ocean floor. Said youthful shoreline frequenters ignored this information equally for the same reasons.

Each year for untold generations, as the winter waned, spring roared through and summer settled like a hot wet blanket, sunset gatherings would occur. Pairings would be natural, disagreements in the night occur, food be eaten and drink imbibed sometimes until sunlight rose above the still blue sea. A casual observer would note, were one so inclined to watch from a cold vantage point, as many police and concerned parents had through the years that nobody swam in the cool dark waters. You see, there was a rumor that doing so was considered something one would not do were one right in the head, especially after dark.

The aforementioned scholars noted, in a series of lectures at the University on the local geography of the area, that prevailing currents cut the swath that become the cove by chewing their way through a softer stone over time around the island that sits offshore. The rocky lump of land, known only as such (and usually not spoken of in adult company) was in properly named Bartlett Island. It boasted sheer rock faces up ten feet all around but at its peak reached near fifty feet above the waves. It shared the same hard brown stone as the cliffs in the surrounding area but through deposition of guano and slow infiltration of mosses and lichens and their subsequent decay, soil was formed. Seeds dropped by avian visitors allowed a scraggly mess of bushes and shrubs to proliferate, but only the types that could live in salty mist fed, acidic guano derived earth. The Island was impassable. The Island was unreachable. The Island was dark and oppressive.

As much as one would suspect that contrary to the Island’s description, young men in a mood to prove their worth to young bathing suit clad women would attempt to find a way onto it, they did not. The far side, the ocean facing side, was far too wavy, deep and dangerous. The near side, well, the water was just far too dark, and there was of course, the teeth to worry about. The same current that swallowed up the softer rock and formed the cove had undercut the cliff face on the beach side of the isle leaving an above water opening with a jagged roof of stone. A hapless person caught by a wave or winds blown under the roof of these teeth would be best to lay down and hop to hope that they would be pushed back out. Were this fortuitous event to not happen, they would be rushed to the northern point where the roof lowered and upon it’s sharpened fangs of rock, the waves would press the victim and chew them mercilessly.

The beachgoers all knew the tales and the dangers. They would drink and sing and kiss by the fire or perhaps in the shadows beneath the cliff most evenings until the Saturday before first day of school. At some point, usually close to midnight, someone would begin with the tales. The Hermit was a prominent story referring to a homeless man who somehow found his way to The Island across the meager sea ice on a particularly cold winter. He would quietly beckon in need of help to early morning beach visitors who would swim or paddle out, climb up a rough vine rope he had constructed, and never been seen again. Another seasonal tale would be that of a sunbather who upon an inflatable tanning bed drifted too close to The Island to be chewed by the teeth then dragged under bloody and screaming by something dark and unknown. Tales of underwater ghosts of a sunken U-Boat who waited beneath for hapless swimmers to pull them under and interrogate them for information lost in the ensuing years. The most frightening however revolved around the school principal, Mr. Davison, who annually railed against continued use of the beach by local youth, veiling his concerns with morality but peppering his diatribes with strange references to something in The Deep.

All will hush and those in the shadows will cease their hormone laced ventures to listen if not creep back to the safety of the bonfires glow. The one telling the tale, usually the alpha of the males, would call for quiet and recommend more fuel be added to the blaze.

Timothy Davison was a third year student in the Applied Sciences program of Miskatonic University down the coast. He was as some would describe with derision, a skeptic. He never gave the time of day to religionists, diet fanatics or those who took part in séances. He was at heart, a scientist. His hobbies, when not in pursuit of  study, were renaissance in nature. Art, spoken word prose, avian biology and geology. In such, with regard to the latter, he was interested deeply in the formation of Darkwatch Cove havinh visited numerous times as a child. Mapping and discussions of the history of the formation were his Saturday morning breakfast at the local library and he made as many meals as one could on so little gruel. He met a like-minded friend of sorts at a study club related to Geographical Interpretation and Orienteering and struck up a plan to explore the cove one summer. Both he and his new friend (some say Randy was his name, some say Ralph, some Rudy) spent the winter learning how to use diving gear at the local YMCA. They scrimped and saved and what they did not need for tuition and food they spent on used gear purchased through newspaper ads posted up and down the coast. When summer was upon them, they waited until the third week in June, nineteen sixty-five, just before high school students were out on vacation. The water temperatures were not yet summer-warm but tolerable for wet suit diving, so plans were made, tanks filled and gear cleaned. Together they drove to the cove.

The sea and the inner waters were glassy and wave free, a mere lip of crest moving slowly up the beach from south to north. They donned their suits, strapped on their tanks and walked backward into the water. Masks were spat into, rubbed, rinsed and pulled over their heads and onto their faces. Flashlights in hand along with small picks to collect samples of rock which would be placed into bags slung from their belts. As one, they turned into the waters and lay face down onto the surface. Moving together, they swam against the surprisingly strong current using snorkels to save on air until needed toward the south most edge of the exposed overhand.

The floor of the cove was smooth, sandy and free of much plant growth, most likely due to the constant current. Beyond rock throwing distance, pebbles and flat skipping stones ceased to be encountered and the bareness of it led to some disorientation. More than expected they both had to look up and toward the island to keep their bearings firm. More than expected they had to tread water and yell at the other until they noticed they were becoming turned about. Eventually they reached their destination, tired and unexpectedly cold.

A sense of slight dread filled both as they realized how close to open ocean they were. They rested a few minutes only, treading water as they drifted northward along the face of the overhang, both laying on their backs occasionally to push themselves out from the overhang. When near half way down the length of the island, they decided unanimously to proceed with what was becoming obvious to be a bad decision. They pushed back snorkels, inserted SCUBA mouthpieces, turned on and adjusted each other’s tanks and  dived down into the cold clear depths. Near immediately they found that they needed to switch on their flashlights. The angle of the sun was with them but the overhang and rocks drew them closer into areas not reached by light. It was a stony forest of fallen boulders, shards of rock, waterlogged trees and oddly, pieces of cut curved wood, likely the remains of small skiffs. The current seeming stronger, both swam down and grasped what handholds below they could find. Timothy shone his light into the dark and could make out the sheer smoothness of the wall beyond the overhang, the ocean having carved it in such a way over time to give it the appearance of polished concrete or granite. It glowed white in the light, white and, yes, yes, as he looked closer he thought he could see some sort of markings. He tapped the shoulder of his friend and pointed toward the symbols, but when he turned he saw that Ralph, or Randy, what have you, his friend was fixated downstream, under the teeth. He was pointed to where the sharpened rocks met with and dug into the water, waves reaching up to lick them clean. His light however was fixed down toward the bottom of the ocean, thirty feet below the teeth where round stones and what looked like small branches, white and green with algal growth lay in a tangled mess among the rocks.

Timothy turned back toward the symbols carved into the wall. He scanned the floor and could see a large jagged rock near them that he could definitely grasp if he swam hard enough. He turned back to his friend wishing to indicate that they should tie a rope between them, but his partner was no longer there. Shining his light downstream he could see him not swimming but gliding with the current toward the teeth, breaking all existing rules about partner diving, endangering both with reckless curiosity. Glancing back at the markings and the target handhold, he debated moments only, swore to himself, and turned back toward the north. He would swim carefully toward his friend and insist they return. Perhaps he had not seen the markings. If he did, he would definitely be intrigued. Light shining back, forth, up down, he could no longer see him, only the round stones and sticks and a rapidly dissipating red haze.

He set a course from rock to rock, sunken tree to sunken tree until he traversed the fifty or so feet to where he assumed his friend had traveled. Glancing up at the teeth he took care to not let go of the tree stump he had grasped, nails digging into the soft waterlogged wood. He had already noted that to escape, they would have to push outward and kick up to the west quite hard to escape being crushed between the rising stone floor and the toothy sharpness above. He shone the light toward the wall beyond the overhang and again, unable to see where his friend had been pushed, he could make out more markings but unlike the previous, these surrounded a circular hole cut into the wall. As he watched and peered inside, shining his light into the depths, he was able to make out a man’s leg, clad in rubber, shaking as a dogs tail does, from side to side, not how a man would swim. The flipper became dislodged and the leg slid wetly from view.

He kicked back instinctively, let go of his flashlight, reached down to grasp it as it sank and saw that the round stones were not stones and the sticks were not sticks. You can imagine what they were.  With all his might he pulled on the rocks between he and the waters of the cove, thrust himself into the open waters and swam as fast as he could. He soon realized that the weight of the tank was slowing him so he unbuckled it and let it drop behind as he surfaced, stuck the snorkel in his mouth and continued frantically toward shore, a burst of bubbles and an underwater howl issued loudly behind him.

Usually at this point, someone outside of the circle of light would throw a large stone or a piece of driftwood into the waters. People would jump, some would scream and laugh and grab hold of a boy, or girl nearby, some would of course swear and some would spill their drinks. The night would end soon after and people would slowly make their way to their cars and home rightfully scared. Timothy Davison quite often would watch from the escarpment above until he was sure all had gone home safely.

And far out in the cove, The Deep sat waiting, hunger driving it closer to shore each year.

Should Not Be

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By happenstance they met again
Two world apart collide
And though the forces worked against
They could not thus deride
Two histories compelled
them both to be only but friends
But lust and age and unfulfillment
Drove them to their end
But happy both they met their fate
Foretold in prophecy
A single drink, a single date
An end to you and me
For magic brought them close
And then it tore them, wrenched asunder
For the universe it knew together we would all go under