Today Ben told us that there had been gay rumours about him, because he hung with Abbie and me. Obviously, a guy can only hang with gay boys if we get naked and horizontal all the time. Straight boys can’t be friends with gay boys, because the gay boys only want one thing.
Ben’s dad, a periodical alcoholic, had heard these rumours and had told his only son that he needed to find more “manly mates”. A couple of guys on the Rugby team of our old college had given him some grief a couple of times.
Why Ben is awesome is because he still hangs with me and Abbie even if it probably would have been easier for him to ditch the gay foreign kid and the weird Muslim guy. And until today he didn’t tell us what had happened. And he only told us now because he misspoke, and Abbie dragged it out of him.
During our years in college, Ben rarely spoke of his family or even his life outside of our little clique. I always thought of it as being private. He always changed subject when it came up.
The one time I went to visit his house, his dad was into one of his periods, and wanted to come up to Ben’s room and chum with us lads. Ben never invited me to his house again, and he was so ashamed that he avoided me for a long time.
These are also some of the reasons why Ben so proudly showed off his room; his own room on campus. Abbie and I live in this town and not on campus, but Ben lived in the town where we went to our sixth form college. He has a room here now, and for the first time we visited it today.
For a guy like Ben, I suspect that university and campus life can be a terrific liberation. People like Ben get out of the grasp of their parents, and can actually start to live their own lives.
Thus that blast of heat coming from him, that pride in his humble room, is understandable in a way. It is a new beginning, a much more palpable new beginning than for me or Abbie. When I spoke to Abbie about this on the way back to the town centre, Abbie said something wise: “Ben’s always been sort of straight edge,” and now that he’s said that, I can see it’s true. It’s not just the sports guy being careful about what he puts into his body, it’s more than that.
I think, in a way, university is part of a needed rebellion for some people. Maybe it is a rebellion against themselves, so that they can show that they are not part of the fabric of their past.
There won’t be a middle-aged out-of-work Ben swaying in front of the Stereo playing rock too loud, shaming his kids when they bring home friends for once. There will be an English poetry professor or a famous writer with fastidious habits and a fierce sense of independence.
I don’t know, now as I write this, it feels like the past is a yardstick. Aren’t I relating a lot to what used to be? Don’t I still relate my current life to what I had before? Back in Sweden? During the year I was bullied? It’s not a new life as such, this new thing we’ve started. It’s incorporating the past with the future. Somehow. Or, as in Ben’s case, using it as a measure of how things should not be hence.
I was rereading The Body by Stephen King, the other day, and there’s a passage where Chris Chambers tells Gordon Lachance that people drag you down. I think the converse is true, too, but I think that loyalty and attachment can fuck up lives. It’s like you’re a cannonball, and you’re shot in a direction. It takes effort to change the course. Simple gravity will land you where you’ve always been, in the projected path. Like a Ben that would learn that drinking is okay, and that you can do a lot of it. And then there’d be that middle aged drunk that had spent all his talent, and had nothing left.
So, yeah, I think that for some, this university thing can be a liberation.