I wanted to say another thing about friendship and about schadenfreude in personal relationships. Way, way back I met a guy called Rick Taylor. We had hooked up with Rick and his friend Harry in Germany and they were going East, the same as we were, in the general direction of Nepal. He was a little older than me; big but with short legs so that all his bigness was concentrated in the upper-half of his body. Bald and bearded with a loud American voice and loud American manner, from inappropriate brightly patterned shirts to expressing opinions about every society we passed through in derogatory language. The Ugly American. I wasn’t irritated: that was why I went, to meet and interact with the rest of the world.
Turned out he was Canadian, a teacher by profession, lived in Toronto, a city I had visited quite a few times; I think I have mentioned before, I saw Jefferson Airplane plus the Grateful Dead and their incredible light-show there in ‘67. So, we had something in common, I suppose. We kept our distance. Probably, I was too intense and as always, kept myself to myself and he wouldn’t approve of that: we were there to have a good time. Smoke weed chase girls, all those manly things that manly men do. No introverts here buddy.
Eventually he got bored with everyone else and somewhere in Northern Pakistan sought me out and attempted normal conversation. And as we got nearer to Nepal we became close friends.
In Kashmir, they found what he and Harry came for, hand-carved walnut chests and artefacts and stayed behind in Sri Nagar to do deals and arrange shipments back to Toronto. We carried on to Kathmandu.
But he wanted to stay in touch and months later after I was released from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and finally returned home, amongst the piles and piles of post and unpaid bills were three or four Airmail letters from him. I hadn’t realised that I had made that much impact on him, although he must have known what had happened to me because every passenger on the Iraq Airways 747 was checked over by the health authority and there were people on that jet who would have reported back to him what had happened. Of course, he couldn’t know if I was dead or alive.
Anyway, anyway, anyway he came over to Newcastle about a year later with Mike, another friend, another teacher in his school. Mike was a really nice guy, like normal Canadians. They helped us move house; it just so happened that the weekend they arrived was the weekend we were moving and they were amazingly helpful; two brawny Canadians humping washing machines up and down the stairs. Never forgotten it and eternally grateful, despite what happened next.
They stayed, I don’t know, a week? Can’t remember and we all got on great. Harry was still running the shop they had started [Harricks], still importing timber furniture from Kashmir. Then they went off to London for their second week. He asked me to visit them; I think he and his [brand new] wife were living in Mississauga with their two kids. He had gone back into teaching.
We went the following year. Took our then ten year old daughter with us. They were so, so pleased to see us. They had made-up a couple of rooms for us, one of which had a view of the lake.
Their daughter was cute, a little too cute, a daddy’s girl with her blonde hair done up in elaborate ringlets [4-years old]. Their son who as I remember was about twelve, was a quiet, reserved child that Rick almost never addressed except to chastise him for doing something ‘wrong’. Okay, we were only staying three nights and we were their guests and, and . . .
First night, the boy was sent to his room about 7.30pm and off he trudged upstairs.
We watched TV and chatted about old-times and drank a little wine then retired for the night. It seemed a strange relationship: the wife was a bit dense, four steps below Rick on the social scale. But each to his own. Maybe they were having great sex; it really matters to some people. Having said which, I have lost count over the years of the men I have known who seek intelligent conversation amongst other guys down at the gym or the club and don’t even consider that they might get it at home.
Next day the boy just wasn’t around: he was still in his room. Well, he was almost an archetypical American Teenager and couldn’t surely be expected to have any interest in us so we thought nothing of it. Rick took us out and about, into the City and out on the lake. We went to dinner that night with friendly Mike and his latest girlfriend and some others; had a lovely time. Everyone brought their offspring and we had a balmy North American evening, with North American food and intelligent North American conversation. Rick’s son stayed in his room at home.
My wife thought there was something amiss but . . . and perhaps I didn’t want to dig too deep . . . I shrugged it off; anyway we were leaving the next day. The atmosphere changed later the following day however, Louise . . . I have just remembered his wife’s name . . . was getting ratty. Rick did nothing. He was actually a fantastic cook, probably the best non-professional I have ever met: give him say, an orange, two carrots and a chicken breast and he would produce the most mouthwatering meal from just those three ingredients. But he didn’t clean or help make the beds; didn’t even run the dishwasher which even the most shiftless men usually do. I think she was sick of us, complete strangers to her, hanging around, not contributing while she was left to clear up after us. Rick didn’t do nothing: he played and interacted with the child: his child. It turned out that the boy was her son from a previous marriage and it turned out that Rick wanted nothing whatsoever to do with him which is why he was effectively a lodger. Extraordinary on almost every level you can think of: that Louise stood for it, that the boy seemed relatively well-balanced, that an intelligent man like Rick could inflict such cruelty on another human being, let alone his wife’s son. That he couldn’t empathise with his wife’s anguish. On and on. There wasn’t any attempt to hide or cover-up the situation just because we were there that I could see but we both strongly suspected there was actual violence when we weren’t. The kid was terrified of him.
God, were we glad to get away that afternoon.
She suffered and I am being unkind in suggesting she was dense, she must have been in constant torment. Once, we saw a flash of regret not only for things she longed for in the present but for things she had longed for in the past but even if she had wanted to talk, it wouldn’t have been us she would have talked to.
Perhaps the prism of nostalgia really does eclipse all . . . when it comes to relationships. Perhaps it would have been better to try and get him on his own and hear his side. At the evening drinks party, nice-guy Mike whispered that despite everything he loved the guy and he adored Louise and didn’t want to lose their friendship.
But, how did I get this guy and the subsequent friendship so wrong? Opposites attract? Or ‘a friend complements us for qualities we lack?’ Or again, is there always an inherent inequality in friendship?
Nothing much to add to this. Needless to say, we lost contact.