Those friends thou hast . . .

Rated PG

If you are not familiar with the title, it is a snippet from Bill Rattlelance (William Shakespear). :))

Hamlet, act one, scene three. “Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.” If Bill’s patter is difficult for you, the friends you have, who have proven their friendship, hold them close and tight, and never let go.

Great words. Words I have kept with me since I first heard them many decades ago. As I began to learn about my S.A.D. (Social Anxiety Disorder), those words often popped into my head. They helped me to realize that my S.A.D. had begun way, way back.

In high school, those words were important to me. I felt at the time that I had friends. I certainly had my clique, the same gang for the entire four years.

“… and their adoption tried . . . ”

Our lives are built on memories, good and bad. High school was about to end. It was the last Friday night before graduation week, which we all knew would be more act than academic. I had nothing to do so I headed down to my best friend’s house. When I got there, his Mom greeted me at the door, “Oh, Smedly is upstairs getting ready.” Smedly was his nickname. I thought, “Getting ready? Ready for what?” I went up to his room. He was just putting on the finishing touches of his glitz.

“So, Smed, what’s up?” He hesitantly replied, “Just getting ready for the party. Aren’t you going?” I could tell he was a bit uncomfortable and surprised to see me. He told me that someone I knew was throwing a big senior bash. My entire clique was going and dozens of other folk we both knew. I told him that I didn’t know a thing about it. He suggested that I come along anyway. I explained that I wasn’t invited and I wasn’t going to be a party crasher, but thanks anyway and then left him to finish up his polishing.

I did, and still do, accept that the lack of an invitation could have been an oversight, the excitement of graduation and all that. Or that, with my shyness I may have ignored a general invitation thinking it was not aimed at me. But the lack of an invite did feel odd.

After high school lives change. People go off to college, get married, or get the job of a lifetime in some other city or state. During college I tried to stay connected to Smedly, even though we attended colleges at opposite ends of the state. Smed stayed in close contact with a few of the other guys from our little clique. After college I continued to try to stay in contact with him. He was my best man at my first wedding, which took some effort. I hadn’t heard from him for a few years. He had married and moved to another state. I had to track him down through his mother.

Well let’s fast forward a bit. After my second divorce, I moved into a comfortable rental mobile home. Okay, southern trailer-trash, but it is within walking distance of work. I am trying to be energy and environmentally conscious, and reducing my driving makes me feel good. Since I have been in this little place, which is clean and comfy I have not had only one visitor other than my child and my family at Christmas.

Of my high school and college buds, several still live in town. I’ve bumped into one of them a few times in the last decade. Smedly, my “best friend” from 4th grade through high school, has been hanging tight with one of the other guys from our clique. But I haven’t heard from him, or any of the other folk from high school since my first wedding more than 30 years ago. My college friends evaporated as soon as college graduation ended. All except one. But that became a strained relationship that does not relate to this discussion.

This has all made me realize I really don’t have friends. Oh, there are people at work; some students and my boss who would come to my aid if I needed it. They’ve taken me to dinner for my birthday. I guess the word “friend” has to apply. But no one has visited my home. No one has invited me to theirs. Some Jenga? A movie? Just hanging out? Nope.

I do not think that I am a pain in the ass or anything like that. When I am with my students outside of the school, like going to a seminar out-of-state, we all seem to have a good time. No one shies away from me. They include me in their conversations. So I don’t think it is a bad case of halitosis or that I am uncomfortable to be around.

“… grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.”

Somewhere in the past, in the formative years, I missed something. Being shy I missed out on some of the social activities and thus socialization that teaches people how to make and keep friends. How to party.

I’ve come to think of it sort of like language. Brain studies have shown that if language is not learned by a certain age, it cannot be learned. The pathways in the brain that manipulate language become reassigned and so locked into other functions that the acquisition of language then becomes impossible. I think learning how to be social may be similar. If you don’t get in the habit as a youngster, you do not acquire the tools and the knowledge of how to use them.

As an older person I can read about the tools and learn about them on an intellectual level. But they can never be a part of me; something I have always done. They become a suit I wear for a specific occasion, and like all such suits they feel uncomfortable. They definitely do not show my better side. They show my strained and uncomfortable self.

That said, I’m still working with those suits trying to tailor them to fit me better. I hold no ill will. It is what it is. I am what I am. I still believe that those friends thou hast and their adoption tried, you should grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel. If you have even only one, you have one of the greatest riches of all.

Jenga anyone?

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