As much as I cared about him, I wasn’t a slave to fate. I could choose to ignore my feelings, strong as they were. It would be painful, but no more so than letting myself pine for my friend.J.M. Richards
Tall, Dark Streak of Lightning
The Work Bestie and I became friends the night I got really drunk on hot buttered rum, and he kept all of my secrets. He became my best friend the semester we spent four days a week, often twelve or more hours a day together. Every time I turned around, it seemed like he was there.
The work required some of that, but we also enjoyed each other’s company. He was there all the time. Not just on campus but coming into the office, finding me wherever I was, summoning me to wherever he was. He’d call me out from the office to the build for what seemed like no real reason, and I’d stick around anyway. I liked being part of the group. He’d take me with him on errands that he said I was necessary for, but then I really wasn’t.
This was compounded by the fact that his pulling me out of my work, for things he didn’t really need, made it take longer to get my actual work done, so I ended up spending longer days at work than I used to. I work on deadlines, not a time clock, so no one at my work minded my extra hours. I didn’t mind either. My work was a place I often hid from my home life. Separate from the Work Bestie, I counted on that campus for sanctuary. It’s just that this is when I started staying in my safe place after hours, more often than not.
Even after I was done working for the day, I would stay. We’d all (students, Work Bestie, and I) usually have dinner together, and then I’d work on my physiology homework. That class was brutal, and I could never get much schoolwork done at home. It was late for loitering at Starbucks by the time I was done at work, so I was handling my schoolwork in the living room of the student housing most nights. Honestly, I think I would have dropped out that semester if it weren’t for the Work Bestie and our Pirate Friend (she used to live on Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, she didn’t loot gold doubloons or anything, but I like to call her a pirate) giving me so much encouragement.
Sometimes when you spend too much time with someone, you start to get sick of each other. Sometimes the more time you spend with a person, the more time you want to spend with them. It got to where it felt like something was missing when he wasn’t there. Good things or bad things, if I had a thing that I wanted to tell someone, the Work Bestie was the first person I wanted to tell. We exchanged eye contact like passing notes in class, like “you see it too, right?” Making friends as an adult is often challenging, but this was effortless. We just fit.
After that semester’s graduation, the whole group of us, students, instructors, and admin staff, went out for a celebratory dinner. After dinner, most of the grownups went home, but the Work Bestie, one other instructor, and I joined the students for a quiet after-party. One by one, everyone else excused themselves for the night until only the Work Bestie and I remained. We sat on the couch in the living room of student housing and talked and talked and talked. We talked about our loved ones, the projects and workshops of the past, and about things we wanted to do in the future. We talked until I fell asleep.
I vaguely remember resting my eyes just a moment with my head against his shoulder, just until they were less dry. I unexpectedly woke up (unexpectedly in that I don’t remember falling asleep and in that I don’t know how we ended up like that) with my head against the Work Bestie’s chest and his arm around me. And for a moment, I felt so completely at home that I never wanted to be anywhere else again. And then the panic hit me. He was not my home. He was someone else’s boyfriend.
That night we’d become friends, I’d talked him back into his relationship. I’m a romantic at heart and hate to see years of building something lost for no good reason. Having been friends since then, I was always supportive of his relationship, as friends should be. I mean, nothing had happened, really. I’d fallen asleep, fully clothed, sitting side by side on a small couch on a cold night. It just wasn’t an appropriate way to feel. I had already arranged to stay the night in a room in the student housing and it was definitely time to say goodnight.
The Work Bestie walked me to my room, which seemed an odd gesture even at the time. It was one thing when he walked me to the building I was staying in, protecting me from coyotes, el cucuy, and whatever else goes bump in the night. It even made some sense to tuck me in when I was very drunk, but I wasn’t this night. We’d had some red wine, when The Italian was still awake and pouring, but that had been hours earlier. It made for an awkward situation, saying goodnight in the living room and then a few feet away in the hallway. I was a little flustered even just going in for the goodnight hug.
The Work Bestie gives great hugs. This was different, though. This was the moment lightning struck. Not that I could do anything about it. He was in a relationship. I said goodnight and entered the bedroom alone. I hoped that a goodnight hug was all he wanted. I hoped that he didn’t feel what I felt, that he didn’t know what I’d felt. I hoped that it would all evaporate in the light of day.
The next morning was fine. That hug had just been a glitch in an otherwise comfortable friendship. We got through the day’s work and went out as a group in the evening. I wasn’t planning to stay the night at work again. Still, once again, he and I stayed up late into the night talking about all the things, only we were on a couch on the other side of campus because apparently our late-night talking and laughing had made it hard for others to sleep when we were in student housing. December in the high desert is very cold at night, and once again, we cuddled up on the couch just to keep from shivering.
I began to feel that uncomfortable pull again. When our conversation finally ended, I confessed that I was attracted to him. He said he was attracted to me too. I didn’t believe him. I feel like he would say something like that just to be nice. He’s so intelligent, yet so often, the guy who doesn’t get it. I was saying we have a problem, and he responded like it was a casual compliment with the equivalent of back atcha.
I’d stayed too late to drive home and too late to go into student housing. Our Pirate Friend had already left the campus, and her room was separate from the regular student housing and seemed the easiest to set up for the night. The Work Bestie hooked me up with a space heater, but it kept tripping the circuit breaker. He’d tuck me in and leave, and then I’d call him on his phone a minute later, saying it’d gone out. He’d change the configuration again. Eventually he worked it out so it finally stuck. He called me from bed, his voice sleepy and deep, to ensure it was still working. The way he said my name when he said goodnight killed me. Besties are not supposed to sound that sexy.
I knew then that I wasn’t going to go back to the way it was before the lightning strike. I wanted so badly to leave my makeshift lodging and find him in his bed that night. I lay awake pondering how things might have gone differently if I’d known that drunken night that I would end up wanting him. What if I hadn’t lamented the loss of a long relationship in such a way that he chose to make things work after all? We’ll never know how that semester could have ended differently if he was single because he wasn’t single.
I needed to keep a respectful distance after that. I believe that people can be friends with people of a gender they are attracted to. Otherwise, bisexuals would be the loneliest people on the planet. I don’t believe you can be friends with people when one or both of you want to be something more. Not even if you don’t want to want more. I didn’t want to want more, but all of a sudden I wanted him in ways that weren’t appropriate. Thus began the year we weren’t friends.
You’re important to meConcrete Blonde
(You’re important to me)
Night and day and day and night
If I can, I will make things right
I… I wanna be your friend again
I’m sorry (sorry)
For the things I wish I hadn’t said
I’m sorry (sorry)
For the things I wish I hadn’t done
I’m sorry (sorry)
For the way I wish I hadn’t been
I Wanna Be Your Friend Again