“Weren’t you absolutely, totally, over-the-top terrified to come in here?” My lungs are ripping apart at the seams, Lucy thought.
“Not completely scared. I researched psych wards on the Internet and got prepared for it.”
Lucy laughed so hard she hiccupped.
“What’s so funny?”
In between hiccups and spasms of laughter, Lucy said, “Linda—you’re the only—person I know—who’d research—that sort of thing—” Her giggles died down. “A research professor already, and you’re still in high school.”
“Besides, you’re my best friend. I had to see you if I could. I mean, if you were in a burn trauma unit, I wouldn’t stay away just because I’d see people with third degree burns and scars.”
This is an excerpt from a scene midway through my novel. Lucy is fifteen years old, newly diagnosed as bipolar, and has landed in the psychiatric ward of the hospital after a suicide attempt. Linda, her best friend, is visiting her. Brainy and initially branded as a loser and a dork, Linda isn’t the most interesting person in the world or even in the book—hands down, that’s Lucy—but she is a completely loyal, steadfast friend to the end of Lucy’s short life.
I was thinking about the idea of being a loyal friend after I read a scene in Same Kind of Different as Me. Ron, an affluent art dealer, and Denver, a homeless drifter who’s unimpressed by Picasso, et.al, become friends. Denver is wary of Ron’s motives.
“I heard that when white folks go fishin they do somethin called ‘catch and release.'”
Ron nods, and Denver expresses his bewilderment that white people would go to all that trouble to catch a fish and then throw it back into the water. In contrast, he explains, black folks are proud of what they catch, show it off to everybody, then eat what they catch, using it for sustenance.
“So, Mr. Ron, it occurred to me: If you is fishin for a friend you just gon’ catch and release, then I ain’t go no desire to be your friend. (…) But if you is lookin for a real friend, then I’ll be one. Forever.”
And he makes good on that promise, standing by Ron’s side through the death of Ron’s wife.
Have you ever had a friend that loyal? The kind who would visit you in the psych ward, even after witnessing your suicide attempt. The kind who would stay up all night, praying for your sick spouse, sitting beside a dumpster because that was where no one would disturb his prayers. The kind who, like the apostle Paul’s friend Timothy, visits you in a squalid dungeon to bring food and encouragement, even when everyone else has deserted you. The kind who doesn’t catch and release, but who offers real friendship unconditionally.
More importantly, do you know how to be one?
I’m terrible at this. I can count on my fingers how many relationships I have been able to sustain for longer than a few years (aside from relatives, who are stuck with me!).
Sometimes it’s because of a grudge on my part over some hurt (petty or significant).
Other times, it’s because we’ve lost whatever common interest held us together.
Or because I’m just too difficult for them to tolerate anymore.
Or because they saw the ugly side of Laura and couldn’t handle it. But no matter the reason and no matter who is at fault, we’ve unfriended each other.
So how do I stop being a catch-and-release friend and become a real friend?
How do Denver and Ron do it? What does it take?
Effort. The two men make the effort to have coffee together and talk, making an effort to learn about and from each other.
Willingness to be uncomfortable. How many upper class people—or middle class ones, for that matter—are really comfortable with befriending a homeless, uneducated and downright dangerous person? How many homeless people are comfortable in Starbucks and art museums?
Time and trust. It takes time for both men to learn to trust each other. Several years into their friendship, Ron allows Denver to drive his daughter’s possessions to her new place in Denver. Hundreds of miles—a huge wad of cash to finance the trip—a homeless man who has finally gotten his driver’s license. That’s an interesting combination, and it’s a test for Ron’s trust in Denver.
So what else does it take to be a loyal friend? Any ideas?