From time to time, I wonder if I have done enough to take care of friends. A friend once wisely advised: Above everything else, take care of family and friends. After everything, they are all you really have. And, of course, I immediately agreed. But perhaps not because they are all we really have, but the more so because friends are fun. They color our world. And no matter how deeply introverted we might be, the few friends we have make life less dismal and lonely. Friends make life more bearable if not better.
Especially old friends, friends you never see enough of. Or friends you seldom see, friends you have not seen in a while. And when you bump across them, you are brought back to old times, those years when you were not yet what you are. And then you find how friends are a mirror: your hair is thinner than it used to be. You are less young, certainly, less as energetic and brimming with life. But things are still okay. You are still alive. You tell each other this. And you say it with a particular quality of saying not quite equal to how you used to say it. You are older now.
And you find yourself quite surprised that you still remember how this happened between you. A short tale, for we are all only tales we tell between us.
Perhaps, of a drinking party where you could have overdosed from a potentially fatal mix of various chemicals. You could have died — you are sure of it — if this particular friend did not keep you awake until you have puked out everything. One night, so memorable, you remember what was playing on the stereo — two rounds of Jesus Christ Superstar and then that Led Zep classic, “Stairway to Heaven.” Could you ever forget that riff, that Jimmy Page guitar solo?
We realize, of course, how every set of friends is remembered not just by stories but also by their own musical accompaniment. Joey Ayala, in his turn, always conjures a particular set of friends. I remember the ramparts. I remember myself standing with them at the head of a rally approaching a line of riot shields, rattan truncheons calling at me menacingly. And then the sound of gunshots, rocks flying everywhere, and we start to run. As previously agreed, we meet later inside a movie house. After counting heads to find we are all there, we go ahead to watch the movie anyway. The movie is forgotten by now. But not the friendship such as one can only find in what is still called, the collective. Those were the days. And those days are still here, but mostly for those much younger.
We have grown mellow now. We do not do what we used to do. We do not think the same way. We are less capable of doing stupid things, such stupid things as you can blame only to your closest friends. How you went out many nights cruising the streets for girls to pick up. But none would go with you. Or how you went one night into a brothel near Colon Street, and then did not get anywhere with the girls because you were broke and spent your last pesos on the beer and the “lady’s drink,” which really was nothing more than pineapple juice. But you still remember how nice she was. As nice as only a young man of innocence can find her who figured him out as soon as she saw him, you were not her regular John. Seeing how broke you looked, she most likely decided you were no John at all. But still she gave you an hour of her life, you and your friends.
In later years, you would be less without luck than those times. And still you would wonder, am I luckier now? Friends show you how success is only so relative. In the end, the quality of your own life matters most of all. And if you have grown a bit farther now from each other, you can never forget. You did not go alone through those years. These were your friends.
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