catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 22 :: 2008.12.05 — 2008.12.19


From Buster to Batman

C.S. Lewis writes that “friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life.” Although I agree with Lewis, I think that he neglects to note here the difficulties and troubles of friendship. Indeed, even Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who writes eloquently about the importance of community in Life Together, says, “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others.” I think the general consensus of those who write about friendship is that it is a gift that is worth the inevitable trouble it brings.

I’ve always had strange friendships. My parents could probably have predicted this early on since I was the queen of invisible friends. The friends that I loved the most as a kid were Buster and the Franklins. Buster was my puppy, the only dog I’ve ever owned, and he was half Beagle, half German Shepherd and half Dalmatian (hey, in the world of imagination, who needs to learn fractions?).

Buster was the best dog ever because he would follow me everywhere, even if I forgot him. And he never got mad. Also, he loved playgrounds. My family would go on long car trips and every time we passed a playground, Buster would start barking until we stopped and let him out to run around and go down the slide.

The Franklins, on the other hand, were a little harder to deal with. They were four brothers, the Franklin brothers, and they all looked and acted exactly alike. They used to drive me crazy, always talking and scaring me and chasing me and leaving my toys all over the floor. As my mother used to say, “Those Franklins!”

I did have some visible friends, too. My best friend when I was six or so was named Violet, and she was the strangest person I had ever met, which of course meant that she fascinated me. Violet lied all the time, milked the family goats every morning, ate eggplant soufflé for dinner and never wore socks that matched.  She convinced me that the white spots on my fingernails were vitamin deficiencies that could only be cured by eating chewable Flintstones.  She also told me that she made her Electrolux vacuum cleaner out of some rusted parts she found out behind the barn, and she told her mom on me when I whispered confidentially that I didn’t like the eggplant soufflé.

Then, with no warning on my end, Violet disappeared from my life. Her mom sued my dad, and with typical childhood innocence, I accepted the change with little struggle. But I missed her for a long time. I only saw her once more after that, when we were both in high school. What I remember about her and her family still makes me smile, but I do wonder what life would be like if Violet were still my friend. 

Even though I lost Violet, my childhood friendships were simpler than they are now. Imaginary friends are much easier than real ones. It’s like the difference between playing with army men in a sand box and running a midnight mission during Operation Desert Storm. Bonhoeffer was right; friendship is incredibly important, but it is also very serious and, at times, very difficult.

Recently, I spent four weeks living with a woman whom I affectionately nicknamed “Batman” because of her superhero fetish. Friendship with her came at a time when I was not ready for any more problems. I had just spent my sophomore year of college fighting for my very life, or at least that’s how it felt. And when I met Batman on a summer project she was a mess: a drug addict and an alcoholic, her arms covered with tattoos, her electric guitar smoking and her graduation from Bible college severely uncertain.

Only a few days after I met her, I convinced Batman to lay off her addiction to anxiety medication, and she handed me her pills. Less than ten minutes later, she wanted them back. I stood my ground, and a battle began that led us through a treacherous three-weeks. I learned things about her that few people knew, I listened, I asked questions, I took her shopping for a new lip ring, I made her spaghetti when her lip ring got infected and she couldn’t eat sandwiches and I visited her for her one and only week in rehab.

I gave a large chunk of my life to her friendship and I invested energy and emotion into getting to know her and helping her. Then she left. She was funny, she was quiet, she was an amazing musician, she had insights about God that never would have occurred to me-and she left. I’ve tried to call her, but really, we have little in common to talk about.

My brief life with Batman led me to think about what I gain from friendship. It was not a very long relationship, and I don’t know if I will ever spend time with her again. But I remember what she taught me about people: they are not what they seem. The more I got to know her, the more I realized that getting to know her was an adventure. There was much more to her than I expected, and I have a lot of funny, sad and strange memories from the four weeks we spent together, most of which came from moments when she broke my stereotypes about drug addicts with tattoos. She taught me about trust and about breaking trust. But now, all these things that I learned and gained from Batman are fighting with the pain of losing her so quickly.

Why did I love Batman so much? Just because I should?  No. I learned from Batman, as I will learn from my other friends, and what I gain from being a friend is more than what I will lose.  Even though I had no idea how it would turn out-whether or not I would survive the Midnight Op-friendship was and will continue to be essential to my life.

Bonhoeffer is right about the necessity of disillusionment when it comes to other people.  But Lewis is right, too-friendship is a gift that brings us happiness. Despite the trouble it causes, friendship gives us new knowledge, memories and virtues like patience.  All of my friendships, both imaginary and real, have been strange. Some of them have been very easy and fun while some of them have been very painful and hard. But I continue to pursue these relationships because, in retrospect, they have all been worth it. 

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