April 23, 2007

"...Being enemies was better for my self-esteem than our friendship was."

In high school your friends became enemies overnight, and then if you hadn't committed too many atrocities during the period of estrangement they could be back on your side just as fast. This is why high school revenge was best suited to shallow attacks that were easily rebounded from: dig the knife too deep into your enemy and you might kill next semester's best friend.

Eric and I had that kind of friendship for years, growing sick of each other periodically and then making each other's lives miserable, but not miserable enough to keep us from drifting back into friendship if we grew bored or united in hatred against someone else. He was crueler than I was, which meant he usually drew first blood, and after my melodramatic reaction I'd work patiently and quietly, waiting for perfect opportunities to undermine his other friendships or plant gossip; I felt it more civilized to depend on more bestial types to wield the actual weapons. In general, being enemies was better for my self-esteem than our friendship was.

One night during one of these off-seasons I was working at my evening job in the mall, a school-neutral place where I rarely faced danger. I suddenly recognized a pasty pony-tailed fellow from a different school. Eric and I had met him at an inter-school conference where he had taken an unsettling interest in following Eric around all day. The guy was in a creepy goth band and of questionable emotional stability. Though Eric's own gayness was practically visible from space, he hadn't come out to anyone yet and reacted poorly to unsolicited male attention; he was as calculating and paranoid as anyone who is overburdened by secrets, and so I knew that this coincidental meeting with his dark admirer was a tactical nuke delivered to me by a benevolent and just god. My strike was surgical.

"I remember you... you were the guy who hung out with my friend Eric!! Have you talked to him since? No?? Well then let me give you his number. He really wanted to give it to you that day, but was too shy. Promise me you won't tell him where you got it! You know what? I'd better give you his address too, just in case. He can be really hard to get a hold of. Hey, I've got to get back to work. Good luck!"

This was my favorite kind of revenge: set free to strike on its own, difficult to trace, and injecting dizzy jolts of power into my powerless and pathetic life. I could barely sleep that night, imagining Eric's awkward phone call from this incredibly dubious suitor. When days passed and I heard nothing, I put it out of my mind.

Eventually Eric and I grew close again and it seemed that we'd be graduating high school as friends. He hadn't told any of us about the confusing phone calls he'd been getting, hang-ups every night when his parents answered the phone. And then actual conversations with an anonymous voice, begging him for a meeting in person. Eric had no idea who it was at first, but the guy couldn't stay hidden for too long: drive past someone's house a few times in a row in the evenings and you are bound to be noticed. Eric's parents began to get frustrated and demanded to know what was going on, but Eric was just as baffled as they were. This went on for weeks, and by the time Eric figured out the identity of his stalker, he had begun making his own threats of a legal nature. Somewhere between cease and desist he finally wrung from the poor loser the most important piece of the puzzle.

The next morning before school I heard Eric coming before I saw him: "YOU!!" He was completely enraged. I listened to his story in astonishment, feeling a curious mixture of victory and shame; it seemed we had reached a treaty but I had neglected to sweep my minefields. I pled no contest, hoping for a swift execution, but even Eric could admire an act of war gone so diabolically out of control. By the end of the day he could laugh about it. A little.

The next morning he found a roadkilled rabbit on his doormat.

Contributed by Tom Blunt

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