Sunday, September 23, 2012
Monday, September 17, 2012
I’ve never been good at letting go. Of anything. When I moved from my childhood home to my tiny Hollywood apartment, I came to the realization that I was a natural pack rat…bordering on being a hoarder. Throwing away old posters, pogs, magazines, and worthless knick-knacks proved a strenuous affair that I’m still recovering from. If something had even the most miniscule value remaining in my eyes, I found some way to stuff it into my new place.
It’s not just material possessions that stay in close proximity to my being. It’s connections, friends, enemies, former flames, and every god-damn, torturous, bring-you-to-your-knees feeling that has gone with them. I am the classic example of a “forgive, but never forget” type person. I remain grateful for every good thing you’ve done for me, and will never hesitate to remind you of your past sins. I’d make a terrible priest.
Basil is not me. My friend of twenty years is the most perfect example of a human clean slate I’ve ever seen. He never holds a grudge, or bemoans a misfortune after the immediate incident. I’m sure he is what every Buddhist yearns to be, minus the fact that he’s not a Buddhist.
And being that life has the sense of humor of a fifty-year old who chuckles to middle of the road sitcoms, Basil and I have found our school years lead us into the working world together. Back to back cubicles in an office that acts as the perfect metaphor for every personal turmoil, political upheaval and philosophical thought I can come up with.
That girl I consider my true love who I am always off-again/on-again with? See: our office copy machine. I can’t live without it, and will do anything to make our relationship (ie: me putting paper in, it spewing out exact copies) work out, yet it seems determined to stall, sabotage, and destroy all my best efforts. Oh how I dread the paper jams.
The Arab Spring? See: the office staff meetings when we finally overwhelmed our supervisor and threw down the rule that ties are mandatory.
And the eternal question: Who are we? What defines us as people? The office began my journey towards those truths today.
I should explain what we do. You see those ads and commercials for companies that help you if you’re in over your head with debt, or struggling with your taxes? Most of those companies are bullshit scams that will put you into deeper debt. We’re legit. Hand over my heart.
A friendly, calm and confident demeanor is essential.
“Don’t worry, I will be happy to get you back on track Mrs. Wabner. Now, you said you owe three hundred thousand to Visa?”
“You know, Mr. Rickner, you can’t write-off those jet skis, but let’s find something you can so the government doesn’t take your house.”
“No Joey, I don’t recommend buying your mom’s medication on the black market, but let’s look at your current health care package and adjust it to bring down costs.”
I have to be ready and willing to help whoever comes in for a meeting with me. Old or young, conservative or liberal, stupid or gloriously idiotic. I look at the situation, assess it without bias, and honestly address the client with the various options they have.
I consistently applied this policy to everyone…except Raeleen Woods.
When I entered the lobby and saw those familiar strawberry blonde bangs hanging over eye-shadowed green eyes, my smile dropped faster than our supervisor’s protests when we threatened to hang him by his own tie.
“Raeleen. I think I should find you a different advisor.”
“No, Ryan. I requested you.” She looked hopefully at me, as if she could charm her way into my office. She could thank the presence of our receptionist and other clients for my self-control in not proving her wrong. I did swiftly thinkt of fifty ways to use my pen and clipboard as homicidal tools. I wonder if the edge on this board is sharp enough to decapitate a human…
“Right this way”.
As we walked back, Basil caught our entrance, and a conversation of facial expressions began.
Basil’s confused look: “What’s she doing here? Did you call her again?”
My exasperation: “No man, she’s here on her own. I cut her off!”
Basil’s half-frown: “Damn. Good luck buddy.”
Her fingers slid up and down the handle of her purse as she sat. Rigid and tense. This girl, who was so cool and loose she planned her best friend’s bachelorette party the night before throwing it. So relaxed and casual that she realized, two days after the party where she hooked up with a drunken stockbroker, that she forgot to send the email to me saying she didn’t feel as strongly about me as I did about her, and that we should just be friends. Classic, classic Rae.
Let the sputtering begin, “Look, I know that, like, I’m the last person you, probably the last person, you want to see. I know I really suck, and you probably wish I would get herpes or the clap.”
“I said as much in my response email.” I actually wished upon her AIDS and anal warts, but why mince words?
“Heh heh, yeah, that was a fun one to get. I deserved…most of it. Maybe not the part about growing old and dying alone?”
“Nope, that part took no second thoughts.” Should I get such a thrill from her downcast eyes and quivering lips?
“Okay. I won’t waste your time. I’m sure you remember the gallery I run…ran. We’re going under quickly, behind on rent, and since we’re not earning any money, I haven’t been earning any money. I’m nearly broke, and I’m terrified and need help. And yes, you’re the last person I should be asking for help, but you’re the only person I know who does this and I know you’re really good at it.”
Compliments are nice and accepted.
“I didn’t know who else to turn to,” She passes over a hefty file. “If you can please, please save my life here, and find some way the gallery, or at least I, can stay afloat…” Her tear-welling eyes and shaking head said the rest.
I opened the folder, filled with her earnings records, tax forms, financial history. Everything this beautiful woman was in dollar signs. I wrote down my assessment on the inside of the folder and passed it back to her. And she read:
“Go fuck yourself.” Her nod of resignation as she gave me one last look before shuffling out created an explosion of satisfied joy within me. I just didn’t realize that explosion would leave a hole where something more substantial should be. But I don’t let go, and I don’t forget. Perhaps I don’t even forgive.
I’d like to say the second half of this story began only later that day, but truthfully it was a week and a half. In real life, it takes longer than a day for the full moral arc to reach its denoument, and the days between halves gave me plenty of time to battle and obsess over my slightly harsh actions on that memorable Tuesday.
It was a quiet Friday. My favorite kind. While I racked my brain looking for the perfect place to put the word “foxy” in Words with Friends, Basil was tossing his plush mini-Lakers ball into his mini desk basket.
In between my space testing, I would engage Basil in conversation. “Any more clients today?”
“One more in fifteen minutes. Guy sounds like he’s struggling more than your lady was.”
“That’s struggling.” I spun around in my chair to face Basil, hoping an honest look in his eyes when I asked my follow-up question would give me some kind of piece-of-mind.
“Was I real asshole for that?”
“I think Ayn Rand would have been more sympathetic.”
“But it was so like her! She figured if she showed me how shitty things were for her, she could get my forgiveness and at least feel better about breaking my heart. It was pure selfishness.”
“Then why are you still worrying about it?”
“Because my attempts to wipe out my conscience have failed miserably?”
“If you feel like you were an asshole, than you probably were one. Maybe it was deserved, but you’re so oversensitive you can’t handle it. You didn’t live up to your stringent standards.”
Damn his wisdom. And damn my whole “not letting go of feelings”.
A light buzzed on Basil’s desk. “Three o’clock’s here.”
“Go get him.”
And get him he did. Five minutes later, Basil was walking back into the office, followed by Gordon Greneen. The pig-faced, freckled, hyperactive sociopath who made our youth hell whenever he came around.
Gordon took his inspiration from every one-dimensional bully character ever put in an Afterschool Specials, except with a little extra lust for violence. At the bus stop, he got a kick out of pushing other kids (ie: me) into the street as cars were approaching. If you ever “disrespected” him, he’d follow you off the bus and make sure your arm had a nice bruise for the next day.
Despite the fact that no one admitted to liking him, he still was deluded into believing he had more friends than you. Gordon, the scourge of the playground, from third grade until Sophomore year of high school, when his mom finally shipped him off to military school.
Basil is as even-tempered as they come. You could tease him for hours to no avail. You could break his things (such as the time I fell on his Super Nintendo after jumping off his couch) and he’d shrug it off. Minus the Lakers losing badly in a playoff, the only other thing I’ve seen get under Basil’s skin was Gordon. It must be said about our beloved bully that he would never back away from a challenge, and there was nothing more challenging than trying to piss off Basil. So he went above and beyond the call of duty when trying to anger, emotionally damage, or physically threaten my friend.
Even the strongest walls can crumble. It was a dreary Thursday bus ride home, and a continuous ear flicking, accompanied by Gordon’s taunts of “Gay-sil” finally infected Basil’s inner-Ghandi, who decided it was time for some violent resistance. Basil turned on Gordon with flying fists, and eyes that demanded blood. As Gordon cried for the assault’s end, I watched Basil shiver and shutter, holding back tears with clenched teeth and strength of will. I knew what hate looked like after that day, and I saw it in Basil’s eyes every time Gordon crossed his eye line the rest of those days.
Flash forward fifteen years to this moment, as Basil leads the entirely recognizable Gordon to his desk. I prick my ears up to capture the audio of this moment, anticipating the return of Angry Basil. Of Vengeful Basil. Of Hulk SMASH Basil. Will he tear Gordon down slowly, decimating any hopes he has of a better future, or will he simply pick up his office chair and smash that pig face into pork rinds?
Basil, wearing a smile obviously cloaking his evil machinations, finally spoke,
“Okay, let’s get started! Please, remind me of your name again?”
“Gordon, nice to meet you. Tell me how I can help you today.”
What the hell was that? Your one arch-nemesis is right in front of you in need of your dire aid, and you pretend to not even know him? What kind of mind-games are you playing, Basil?
These thoughts plagued me as the sun went down and I killed the two hours Basil took with his meeting by internet surfing stories of small villages in Africa that rose up to defend themselves from cruel warlords. Inspiring material.
The moment Basil was alone again, my curiosity could take no more.
“Dude, how could you stand that?!”
“You had Gordon Greneen in the palm of your hand, and you did nothing!”
The frustrated spasms that took over my body almost induced a stroke. “The guy who used to beat us…well, me, up after school? Push us into the road? Flick your ears and call you Gaysil. The ultimate, supreme douche bag of the universe!”
Basil shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t remember him.”
And so the divine secret to Basil was revealed. It wasn’t simply an unbreakable serenity and enviable positivity that kept Basil living on a higher, brighter plain of existence than the rest of us.
It was selective memory. He truly could not remember those days of bitter anguish. That was what made Basil, Basil. Unlike me, he didn’t grow older carrying lingering rage with his mental scars. And so came my epiphany. We’re not only a sum of our collective memories and experiences.
We’re also what we choose to forget.
Every piece of information, every person we cross paths with, every interaction and experience that we let slip away shapes whom we will be as much as the memories we cling on to. This was some deep, heavy thinking for a quiet Friday afternoon, and lead to an exhaustive amount of self-reflection.
I’m horrible at letting things go. I can still remember the X-Men posters, the Terminator 2 pogs and soccer pins I threw away when I moved. I still will call and send emails to my oldest friend from growing up, even though I only hear from him once a year, with a simple “Happy Birthday” email. I still search for ways to get back with the girl I consider my one true love, even though I know she’s moved on and I need to as well.
Basil leaves it all behind without a second thought. Hell, without a single thought. He flows forward through time with all his baggage left back where he packed it. And he’s happier than I am. He always has been.
That’s his personality though. I’ll never be like that, and there’s no way I could forget that easily, aside from getting the same kind of brain damage as Guy Pearce in Memento. My actions follow my thoughts, and I can’t fake how I react or interact.
Then again, maybe if I act how I wish I could, then the rest of me will eventually fall in line? How hard is it really to forget?
I picked up my phone and dialed.
“Hi Rae, it’s Ryan. If you still really need help…give me a call. We’ll figure it out. I promise.”
I may not always forgive. I may never forget. But I don’t have to let the rest of the world know that.