Ben held his first party on Saturday in his new room here in this town, and it was a man marked by a great sense of pride that let us yobs and yobettes gather at eight to consume an inappropriate amount of beer, wine and spirits.
Which meant that Sunday looked like this: I woke at one p.m. and the love of my life snoozed on until nearly three. I always feel slightly smug when he sleeps longer than me, as he is usually the early bird that jumps out of bed at impossibly early hours.
But I have noticed how my friend, my Ben, has blossomed since he moved here, and it makes me impossibly happy to see. Although he should stop arranging parties like that because as a somewhat straight-edge person, he shouldn’t feel that he has to placate our vices. I can very well talk to him when I’m sober.
There is no more of this edge to our relationship where I don’t ask to come to his house, and where he doesn’t have to find excuses for me not to come there. I’m often sitting in his room now, with Abbie, and we fulfill the duties of the magical trio. It seems like there’s more space for us all. Like there are less walls between us. Like we are not so constrained as we used to be.
The disadvantage of not being a social butterfly, even now, is that there is a bit confusion, and dare I say it fear of conflict. You don’t rock the boat by pressing people about the walls between people.
When you don’t always know how to behave with people, you don’t smash down the edifices that people have carefully constructed around themselves for fear that your own constructs will be similarly assaulted. Or it is because you’re afraid of offending. Or because the thing is just too confusing to bother with.
One ends up settling for a shallower friendship out of fear of losing even that, and then imbue the shallow friendship with hyperbolic content. Best friends forever! But don’t come over to my house, please. And since you’re settling in one area, you don’t indulge in other adjacent areas because you may slip into the forbidden zone accidentally.
Like, to talk about my own foibles and flaws, not talking about snogging with anyone when I lived back in Sweden. I just batted away the idea because I didn’t want to discuss who I wanted to snog with. I offered some self-deprecating jokes about it, and then changed the subject to something more safe. If that continued, then who knew what might come. Maybe someone could read my mind and see the hidden terribleness lurking there. Best not touch it.
That way you end up with a complicated façade that you’re so used to that you think nothing of maintaining it. Maintaining it is low-energy work. You do it by rote. It’s part of who you are. But it’s a limiting lie that hides the raw and precious parts of you from view. And when doing that, don’t you hide who you actually are?
Abbie has struck up a friendship with a Marxist girl, and he spends half the time away from the rest of the magical trio delving into the depths of Marx and socialism. He has learned a lot of new words too, words that wouldn’t have come over his mouth a year ago.
Being socially awkward, as we inevitably are, seems also to mean being a chameleon. I am the striver, the one who tries so desperately to impress the teachers. I make myself cringe sometimes. I make Ben and Abbie cringe.
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But they laughed at me yesterday when I went on and on about the damned essay I’m writing, declaring it to be the best essay since ever. There would be no red markings on this one, and the professors would pass it between them and hand me the BA right then and there.
Only Ben seems to just exist and enjoy things here, and basking in the glow of being able to have friends over for a party that he doesn’t really take part in. We, the guests, drink and get hoary. He just looks more and more bothered about that bit in the middle of his pride, but the chameleon in him hides it. We’re all such chameleons. Abbie with his Marxist girl, me with the essay, and Ben with the drunkard friends.
Will it ever be any different? To be a teenager is to try to fit in, to not stand out. I guess we’re still going to college, and not university. I guess we’re still wall-flowers that don’t want our lunches stolen. I guess we have to break out of this behavioural pattern one day.