In Honor of the Men I Love
NB: This post talks about gender in rather simplistic, binary ways. It’s reflective of how my friendships have manifested and generally fallen, and does not intend to be exclusionary. But, for better or for worse, most of my life has been around cis, straight people. I’m working on it.
This year has been a hard time to be a woman. New allegations are coming forth against Brett Kavanaugh, thereby (re)re-traumatizing people across the country; abortion access is on the chopping block; women are once again being labeled “unelectable.” I’ve talked before about how important female friends are in waiting out the storm. But in the last couple of weeks I have had loving, charming conversations with some old, male friends and so let’s talk about the power of friendships between men and women.
There has, for generations, been the classic When Harry Met Sally debate of “if men and women can be friends.” I never understood this fight. My life is, in many ways, what it is because of the men in my life for whom sex was never the end game, whose friendship stood on its own merits, and who remain some of my biggest cheerleaders no matter how many miles apart we are or how long its been since we talked. I love them and always will. They love me and always will. We are bound, bonded, and they are the fucking best.
And because I love him, and because he loves me, I’m going to tell you about my friend Caleb.
In trying to figure out where to start with K (short for K-lub), I just wistfully stared at the corner of my apartment and smiled to myself. So I guess we start there.
Caleb and I became friends in high school. In those days, he had long locks of hair, down past his shoulders in perfect little spirals. I still daydream about that hair. So soft. So sproingy. Anyway. We became fast friends and he introduced me to his little cohort of weirdos - the people who became my people throughout those high school days. He was funny and strange and smart. His brain worked (and still works) differently than anyone I have known or will know. He and some of the other weirdos started a band (to cover Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day) and much of my time was spent in one of their basements, listening to band practice.
Here are my favorite Caleb stories:
Once we had to create a video project about the Odyssey, so Caleb made a fairly straightforward video until suddenly, in the middle, there was a long, continuous shot of him driving through country roads to the entirety of Black Hole Sun. Then the regular story resumed. High. Fucking. Art.
K was the only teenager my parents would let me ride with because he was (and continues to be) the most unbearably contentious driver ever to roam the streets.
We were supposed to read Crime & Punishment our senior year but both only read the first 100 pages then truly could not be bothered, but decided that we should REALLY dig into the idea that he was actually innocent and it was all a delusion. We ranted for an hour, egging each other on. To this day if I can’t tell if the teacher was charmed or furious.
We have the same birthday, only his is in November.
Not to be the person who brings up September 11, but I need to tell you a story about September 11. I was a sophomore in high school. That morning, when I got to school, I learned a friend’s mom had died from cancer, the funeral was that night, and everyone was leaving after third period to go to it. I payphoned home (2001!) and asked for a ride back; I was too upset to go to class. While I was at home, the towers were hit. I learned about it when someone called our house, looking for my father, telling him/me to turn the TV on. I stared, uncomprehending, watching the second tower fall while yelling for my father. My school had a policy that if you missed three days from class and got a B or two and and A you could get out of your finals; since even in crisis, I am a wholly rational person, I reasoned that I had to go in for math because I def wasn’t getting an A. That was the class that included lunch break, which I normally spent with friends sitting in the outside courtyard, on the brick wall, eating our hot ham and cheeses. That day, Caleb and I were side by side on the wall as usual. This time, though, we sat in silence and after a minute he reached out and took my hand. Eventually the bell rang and we filed back to class, after which 10 of us left the campus to prepare for our friend’s mother’s funeral. My mother met me there that evening, surrounded by a dozen 15 year olds in mourning. Top 10 strangest days, but that moment of quietly sitting holding hands, that act of love and solidarity in chaos will never leave me.
After high school, he went South and I went North (literally, not figuratively) but we stayed in touch. He would send me essays he wrote asking for feedback; I would trek down to his college to party at his house. After I went through a major breakup he surprised me at a friend’s house; after his first kid I coordinated a weekend-long visit with his high school and college friends so we could all meet the baby. Once, while I still lived there, he was in Philadelphia for a bachelor party and texted me saying, “I’m with too many dudes and we don’t know this city, please come save me.” I spent the next 6 hours taking him and his seven college buddies - only one of which I had met before - around Philly (s/o Dirty Franks). A friend of Caleb’s was a friend of theirs.
As the years go on, our conversations get more sporadic - he’s up to two kids now, with another on the way - but once, after a long bout of quiet, he said suddenly - you know you’ll always be one of the important ones, right?
For many years, in high school and much of college, most of my friends were men. As I get older, that has shifted, a reality by and large I love. Toxic masculinity is real - it’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink. Much like racism and (more general) misogyny, it is foundational. And I won’t pretend that none of my male friends have objectified me (and I them). But I only keep the men who are kind. Who trust me and trust women. Who believe me and believe women. Who are smart and funny and weird and also vulnerable. Being a woman surrounded by a team of kind, loving men is a rare privilege, but when I get it, I relish it deeply.
There is a kind of fierceness in female friendships that makes your spine straighten. They push you to ask for more money, to stand up, to fight back, to be yourself, to cry. My male friendships, though, feel more like a soft landing pad. Where there is strength with the women there is comfort with the men. Our affection is simple and deep and open.
So here’s to the important ones.