The Politics of Friendship
There was a time when we were all a little less sensitive about alternate lifestyles and not in the least bit apologetic about openly mocking a vegetarian by waving bacon in her face at 2am at a diner that caters to such assholes. I couldn't tell you much about their daytime clientele, probably hardworking locals who like a greasy egg and slab of steak for breakfast, but at night, the Kenmore is chock full of sloppy drunks, sobering up before they head back to their triple-deckers at dawn.
Then again, it's possible that I was the only sloppy drunk, the girl with the bacon, making it wiggle and sway for my much less obnoxious companions who, by my estimation, were only moderately amused.
Jeanine had reappeared in my life only recently after a rather long hiatus after high school when she dropped out of college to marry an older man and conspicuously not invite me to the wedding. That chick knew how to ghost before it was fashionable, cutting me out of her life completely without even a shred of gossip to hear about years later. And we didn't talk about it, ever. I just accepted her as the friend I hadn't seen in a while, joked with her about losing touch, and made some pretty bold assumptions about mutual maturity.
Jeanine was the vegetarian. The bacon danced for her. And she did not react.
It was Nina who asked me to stop. Nina, the proud carnivore who scoffed inwardly whenever the vegetarians of the world tried to recruit her but who, with patience and tolerance--which I had misguidedly thought at the time was weakness and avoidance of conflict--assured them that she respected their choices and asked that they respect hers.
Sober, I may have said something similar, albeit with a little more sass. An asshole is always an asshole regardless of alcohol consumption; it's just the level of assholery that changes. I certainly wouldn't have taunted with meat products sober. But it's hard to deny now that my drunken disrespect was aimed at the person whom I had the least reason to respect, not for her food choices, of course, but for the frailty of a friendship that lacks both honesty and esteem.
We had been at Rehab, that ironically-named nightclub above Irish Times, where my other friend had met her boyfriend. It was the only club I knew of in town and the only one we ever went to since Hanna had met Josh. Funny story: I had been drunk the night I met Josh, too. I made a joke about trying not to sleep with him and Hanna never forgave me for it.
Someone bought shots that night. Someone didn't drink theirs. I didn't like to see things go to waste. There is a certain freedom in getting that drunk but it was the kind of freedom that turned nihilistic and ended up ruining friendships.
Hannah was pissed. About the bacon, this time. Josh, she kept away from me. Hanna had been experimenting with vegetarianism but hadn't yet made the commitment. If I were going to mock someone's food choices, it would be hers. She wanted to be a vegan but still ate fish and wore leather and that was the least of her hypocrisies. If friendship were categorized politically, she would be a fascist. Nina was the socialist. Jeanine and I were firmly entrenched in a capitalist democracy, opportunists both of us, but with wildly different agendas.
"Baaaaacoooon," I sang, picking up another slice and slapping them against each other. "Aaaaveryone loves baaaacon!"
"Stop it. Right now. You're disturbing the other customers," Nina chided. She took both slices away and pushed the coffee toward me. "We should get going."
"Why aren't you saying anything?" Hannah nudged Jeanine under the table. "Tell her she's offending you. Tell her you don't have to justify your beliefs for her. Say something! Tell her she's wrong."
Jeanine shook her head. "She's drunk. It doesn't matter."
"It always matters," Hannah pushed the plate of bacon to the edge of the table, snapping her fingers for the waitress. Some people maintain an even level of assholery. "We have to stand up for ourselves to the people who would oppress us. We can't let people get away with being judgemental or treating us like we're less than them."
"It doesn't matter," Jeanine repeated but I know now she was filing the incident away somewhere on her list of offenses she'd never discuss but would absolutely use years later as an excuse to write someone off.
I pouted, I'm told, and shouted "Not fair!" which is precisely when the check arrived. I don't remember paying and I don't remember leaving but I do remember threatening to punch Hannah in the car.
I had starting boxing. Actually, I had started kickboxing classes that turned out to be nothing more than the rhythmic raising of one's arms and legs set to music taught by someone who had obviously never been in a fight in her life. After that disappointment, I looked for something a little more hardcore and found it in a gym off of Goldstar that would teach a fiesty broad like me how to fight. It was a lot more jumping rope and lifting weights than I wanted when I first began but by the time of the bacon incident, I had actually gotten in a ring. I had actually knocked a bitch out.
In the car after the diner, I got stuck in the back seat with Hanna. Or maybe I should say she got stuck with me, squished in between her beloved and this bull in a China shop. She obviously wasn't going to let Josh sit in the middle.
"I love to FIGHT!" I yelled, apropos of nothing. Everyone else had been silent and shifty-eyed. Let's be honest, now, it was probably because of me.
"OK, but let's keep that love confined to the gym," Nina said diplomatically. She was the designated driver. Hanna and Josh lived the closest but they had all wanted to drop me off first.
"Fighting is barbaric and stupid," Hanna mumbled.
"Is now the best time to--" Josh started but I cut him off.
"Animals fight. If you LOoooOOVvve animals so much, why don't you love their lifestyle choices?"
"Not all animals fight. Some run."
"Some get eaten!" I snapped my jaws at her and she flinched. I laughed. Hanna had always been a big talker of little action. At least she spoke her mind.
"Hanna, please. Drop it," Nina asked. Jeanine was watching silently through her visor mirror.
"I would choose to run," Hanna crossed her legs away from me, leaning into Josh.
"Listen. Listen, Hanna, because this is very important." I can't imagine how I sounded at the time but I felt very serious. I made a very serious face. I remember because I had to concentrate very hard on my facial muscles while repeating to myself, serious face, serious face. "Sometimes, you cannot run. Sometimes, you are faced by a serious face... by a serious... fff--" I looked out the window and tried to remember what we were talking about. That could have been it, right there. I could have drifted off to a peaceful sleepy place thus ending all tensions and everyone realized that. Except Hanna.
"I run pretty fast," she smirked. We all knew she ran track in high school. We'd all seen her goddamn trophies. "I'm sure I could outrun whatever came along."
"Can't outrun everything," I said softly. I had shifted from silly to self-reflexive. What had distracted me was the houses we passed. The lights were all off. People were asleep. Why wasn't I asleep, I wondered. What was I doing out so late, wasting time with diner bacon when I could have been sleeping comfortably in my cozy bed, snuggling up to my cats, catching up on reading since the work week rarely allowed for such luxuries.
Hanna scoffed. "I can outrun YOU."
There wasn't enough time to think about the history of obnoxious smugness she displayed or the constant bragging about everything she had that I didn't. There wasn't time to remember how often she called to have a hypothetical wedding planning chat no matter how many times I suggested I might not be the best person to call or to count the number of times she complained about our club nights when she'd really rather be at a wine bar. I obviously wasn't recalling a history of verbal abuse when I twisted suddenly in my seat, fist flying toward her face, rage sizzling in my veins.
She screamed and threw her hands up to block my incoming strike but she wasn't fast enough, or at all accurate as her arms flailed past her face and landed on the back of her head.
Josh reacted too slowly and in the opposite direction as he squinched back against the door, away from his lady love instead of moving to save her.
Nina jerked the wheel to the right, pulling over haphazardly onto the sidewalk.
Jeanine is the only one who really saw what happened, although she never spoke about it. Never mentioned it ever again.
I pulled it. Of course I did. I'm not a monster. I stopped that glorious hook punch an inch from her face and held it there, wrist in perfect alignment with my elbow, fist in perfect alignment with her nose. That shit would have cold cocked her for sure and the sober realization that the power dynamic in our friendship had finally shifted was not lost on anyone as I spoke calmly but dramatically channeling every ounce of Clint Eastwoodesque testosterone my little lady body could muster, "Outrun this, bitch."
Nina didn't need to tell me to put it away. I did that on my own. I sat back and looked out the window, satisfied with the way the conversation ended but oh so very sleepy. I burped and it tasted like bacon.
"Is this my street?" I asked as everyone in the car sat shocked and wide-eyed. "I think I need to lay down."
Nina pulled back out onto the road and we drove the next three and a half blocks with only the sound of a slight whimper issuing from the puddle of nerves next to me. I slept the sleep of the dead that night in my warm cozy bed, snuggled up to my cats.
It wasn't until the next afternoon that I recalled what I had done. Not until I was throwing up tropical margaritas with bits of bacon did I start to feel some remorse for the incident. I called Nina as soon as I could feel my fingers and asked her what she thought I should do by way of apology. "Just be honest," she said, sighing, "You really need to consider why you lashed out like that. Maybe try to find a way to resolve whatever it is you're feeling without being... you know."
Jeanine answered on the first ring. "I disrepected you and I'm really sorry," I started, foregoing the formality of a greeting. "Bacon is for eating, not for taunting vegetarians," I said, half-jokingly. She laughed.
"It's ok," she replied and she didn't sound angry at all. "It was kind of funny. And I do miss bacon."
"No, man. No, it's not ok. Don't let that be ok. I mean, thanks for the forgiveness and all but it was a dick thing to do and I want you to know that I don't actually have any issue with your food choices and even if I did, I don't have any right to like, comment on them at all, nevermind what I did. So, just... forgive me sure, but don't let it go like it was nothing."
"OK, it was a dick move but I'm over it. So let's just... move on and if you could try to keep your bacon away from my face, I would appreciate it."
"Deal," I said, switching the phone to the opposite ear. My right ear was a little sensitive from being screamed in the night before. "Should I call Hanna?" I asked but hardly with any resolution to do so.
"Why?" she asked and she sounded genuinely disinterested.
"Because she was very offended on your behalf," I mocked.
"She had a Swiss cheese omelet. I don't plan on taking her offenses seriously until she takes her food choices seriously."
"I should call anyway. She's my friend. I think," I sighed, not knowing whether or not that was true.
But Hanna didn't answer my call. Or my texts. She told Nina to tell me that I had gone too far. Friendship over. Keep away from her and her boyfriend and maybe start seriously thinking about how much I drink and how I treat others.
"Maybe you should have punched her," Nina commented. "But she does have a point. Sober you has a much better handle on social graces and dining etiquette."
"What do you think she's madder about," I asked with genuine interest.
We laughed together because we both knew it was true, "the bacon."
Copyright © 2016 by Eda J. Vor
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