“Time Hurries On”
by Jeff Beardsworth
Hello, hello, hello, hello.
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
That’s all there is.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.
Three weeks had gone by since I sent my letter to Joe, a letter in which I had struggled to atone for the ocean of time that had elapsed since we had lost touch with one another. Three months had gone by since we had exchanged so much as a forwarded e-mail, and three years since we had shared a meaningful conversation. I opened my mailbox each day in the hopes that all would be forgotten, and the flower of what had once been among the greatest friendships in my life would blossom anew. When at last I received his reply, I read it with a heavy heart.
I don’t know where to begin, and I’m not even sure I want to try. I think it would be naïve of us both to think that we could simply pick up where we left off three years ago. So much has changed since we last spoke. Your letter seemed sincere, but at the same time, if you really were so sorry to have lost touch with me, I feel like you would have put more effort into staying in touch to begin with. I miss what we had. I just don’t think it could ever be the same again, and we’ve shared too much as friends to continue on now as acquaintances. I’m sorry.
So that was it. I had allowed one of my greatest friendships to slip through my fingers. I must have read that letter a dozen times before I put it down. Our friendship had been essentially over for three years, but the finality of Joe’s response floored me. I spent a lot of time in the days and weeks that followed thinking of what it was that had made our friendship so special and the foolish envy that had caused it to fall apart.
Joe and I had met at the beginning of a three-day orientation program designed to help students make the transition into Boston College. We became friends immediately, and spent those three days entirely in one another’s company. We talked several times on the phone over the month that separated the orientation program from our arrival at BC in September, and when we finally did arrive, we picked up right where we had left off.
On the surface Joe and I were nothing alike. I played three varsity sports in high school and could more aptly be described as a sports fanatic than a sports fan. Joe was the type of person who preferred to take the elevator to his dorm room on the second floor. He was of a slight build, and stood a full foot shorter than me. The only sport he watched was professional wrestling, which I regarded as more of a soap opera on steroids than a sport. When it came to music, I preferred mellow sounds to the cacophonous heavy-metal dirges that Joe favored. In spite of these differences, or perhaps because of them, our friendship flourished. In the absence of common interests, there was little room for small talk. In the absence of small talk, we were forced to rely on truly meaningful conversation right from the start.
Joe and I spent most of our time together as a twosome. We lived in different dorms, but we met every day, usually between or after our classes. This allowed for an intimacy to develop that is so often precluded by the presence of a larger group of friends. Joe had a circle of casual friends that I rarely associated with. Likewise, I had a circle of casual friends that Joe was in no hurry to join. My friends all shared one common interest that was alien to Joe: self-medication. Emancipated for the first time from constant parental supervision, we were determined to make the most of it. Joe had a medical condition that his doctor insisted made it dangerous to drink. I never got the impression that he felt as if he was missing out. In retrospect, I realize that he didn’t feel that way because he wasn’t missing out on anything.
I would show up in Joe’s room drunk and make an ass out of myself; he would roll his eyes and let me sleep it off on the futon while he studied. We took several of the same classes in our freshman year, so he was often studying for a test that I would also be taking the following day. More often than not, our grades would wind up being about the same. Joe once told me that he wished his schoolwork came as easily to him as mine did to me. I never told him that I would trade my intelligence for his dedication any day of the week. I always knew that the dedication and work ethic would wind up being more important. More than eight years later, Joe’s dedication has earned him a law degree to hang next to his bachelor’s degree, while I have systematically squandered much of the “potential” that my teachers so often alluded to and am still struggling to graduate.
I shared things with Joe that I would never have exposed to the ridicule of my more casual friends, and he reciprocated. We talked about our families. I told Joe about growing up with an alcoholic father. This wasn’t something I kept hidden from my other friends, but with them it was more of a joke. “If my dad were here, he’d drink all of us under the table,” I would say, or something similar. I didn’t make jokes about it with Joe. It was difficult to talk about, and Joe had no frame of reference, but he was patient with me as I tried to work through it. “It’s like this, man. Try to imagine that you’ve just told me something that’s really important to you. Now it’s tomorrow, and you want to add something that you forgot to mention, but I give you this blank look like I have no idea what you’re talking about. So you decide to test me a little. You bring up something else, equally important, that we talked about last week, and my blank stare gets even blanker. You toss a few more things out there, and then you realize that I’ve forgotten every fucking word you’ve ever said to me.” Joe didn’t say much in response, but I didn’t need him to. It was enough that he listened and tried to understand. He never pointed out that I was heading down the same path as my father. I know he thought it, but he knew that I needed to figure it out for myself. Joe would talk about his family, too. He had a great relationship with his parents, and he missed them. I loved listening to him talk about his family. I was secretly jealous, and I hoped that it didn’t come across that way to him. If it did, he never mentioned it, and I was grateful for that.
One of the few things that Joe and I did have in common was the status of our love lives. As freshmen, we were both in the midst of long-distance relationships with our high school sweethearts. We knew that it was an exercise in futility, and we often talked of the hopelessness of it, but neither of us was in any hurry to dive in to the college dating scene. We both preferred romantic relationships that resembled our friendship: monogamous and based on mutual respect and intelligent conversation, a type of romantic relationship that was not oft seen among freshmen at BC. Towards the end of our freshmen year, I met my future wife. Theresa lived in Joe’s dorm, and she was a part of his casual circle of friends that I rarely associated with. I broke up with my girlfriend over the phone the day I met Theresa. Joe was the first person I told. He was so genuinely happy for me, even though he knew I would no longer be able to commiserate with him about the strains of the long-distance relationship. As the days and months and years went by, I spent less time with Joe and more time with Theresa. I got the impression that he was secretly jealous of what she and I shared, though he never said as much and I never let on that I thought it. He had done that much for me, and I was prepared to return the favor.
In spite of the diminishing opportunities that Joe and I had to spend time together, we remained close friends. It wasn’t until he graduated and went on to law school that the ties between us began to stretch and break. I had become more aware of my academic shortcomings, and his success was a reminder to me of what I had failed to accomplish. I was working two jobs to keep myself in Boston with Theresa and to pay off the credit card debts that I had racked up in bars and God knows where else, and I was trying to take night classes at the same time. The classes weren’t going very well. Seventy-hour work weeks left me with little time, energy, or desire to study or even attend classes, and good grades weren’t going to help pay the rent.
I never made a conscious decision to lose touch with Joe, it just happened. Life moves quickly, and so often the things I mean to do become the things I meant to do, but didn’t. I woke up one morning and I was married. And I hadn’t spoken to Joe in three years. I had done a lot of growing up in that time, but he hadn’t been there. I had long since come to realize how foolish and immature my envy of him had been. I wanted to share with him the things that had become so important to me in his absence, and I wanted to know who he had become in mine. I sat down one night to write him a letter. I laughed as I wrote about the times we had shared, and I fought back tears as I recounted the events in my life that had transpired without him. I asked his forgiveness for having been such a fool, but it was too late.
Time hurries on.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.