It's amazing what kinds of things lodge in your head when you're a teenager, never to be pried loose.

I've been talking to a friend of mine, Tommy, whom I've known for... shit. It'll be twenty years this year, sometime in the fall semester, depending on whether you're counting from the time I first typed at him or the time I first talked to him face to face.

Goddamnit, now I've made myself feel old.

Leaving aside the glorious multitudes of things my parents inadvertently taught me by counterexample, I got more of my people-ing ethics from Tommy than I have anyone else, ever. Most of my really unusual ones were from him, particularly the one where I persist in believing that the strength of one relationship does not hinge on the relative weakness of others. Credit where credit is due: I did have to look these things over myself and decide that I thought it was a good way to run my own life, then implement them without fucking things up too badly in the process. But Tommy was the first one to (inadvertently) propose this stuff as an alternative to the way I was treated at home, which to that point had been my only reference for how emotions were supposed to work.

(I would like to add here, for those who have just joined us, that my mother is blatantly insane. She is Lwaxana Troi. She knows this. She thinks this herself. She is proud of this and does not understand why the rest of the Enterprise are such fuddy-duddies. There's more to it, but if you just keep in mind the image of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry swanning around in an elaborate wig, leaving confusion and homicidal impulses in her wake, you'll get the right general idea.)

Tommy was my first love, and I mean that a lot more literally than most people. It's usually used in the context of a romance; for most people, the first time they're aware of any kind of love at all is within their family, and the milestone is your first connection with someone outside of that default. These people are lucky bastards. My family does not particularly love me. They say they do if asked, but if you watch the way they behave, the only real response is an Iñigo Montoya-like "I do not think that word means what you think it means". I don't really have any connection to them either; they're more or less a bunch of random people, whom I generally dislike, about whom I somehow know an awful lot of things.

The less literal version of my relationship with Tommy, that I go with for ease of conversation, is 'best friend through all of high school', but that doesn't really cover it properly. He was a year ahead of me in school, and I cried wretchedly for months when he moved away to college. Somewhere in the middle of that, I realized that if my actual sibling -- the one who was related to me, who lived in the room next to mine -- fucked off to boarding school, I would barely notice. Most of what did it was that I sincerely missed Tommy, and felt like something was missing when he wasn't there. I never felt like that about any of my relatives. It was one of the first moments I realized something was honestly, palpably wrong in that house, and it quite terrified me.

I already didn't know what was was going on most of the time, and you keep telling me you love me but this is not matching up with the description of love at all, WORDS DON'T MEAN THINGS ANYMORE, I DON'T KNOW, HELP.

Nobody at home did anything about this, of course, but nobody ever did anything about anything that made me unhappy. I can remember sitting at the computer talking to someone in a chat window -- probably Tommy, in fact -- crying hysterically, in full view of both parents, who didn't even acknowledge my presence.

That I had an incredibly fucked-up childhood is evident from the fact that I got into my late teens before I told someone I loved them and had any idea what that meant. Not even in the complicated grown-up 'figuring out the logistics of shared lives' way, just in a basic emotional way. I did it rather poorly -- I seem to recall it was in the front seat of a borrowed car, at highway speeds somewhere on the 101 loop, in the middle of a bout of hysterics over whatever my mother had done most recently -- but I did tell him, and Tommy did not put me out by the side of the road to walk home, so overall I think the episode was a success.


  1. This is definitely familiar. The friendships I've made have sustained me more than any familial relation, and even though my best friend is no longer around, I miss her more than anyone I've ever lost, for the good she did for me.


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