“If you have one friend in life you are lucky,” Brother Ron told us, cutting the volume to Meatloaf.
Class was held in the middle basement below the gym and above the furnace. We sat on threadbare sofas, springs a-popping and we chatted about the Sturm and Drang of adolescence. We had the quintessential Petri dish of personalities represented in my class. There was the Roy Hobbs wannabe, the Burnout with Santa Monica skater locks, the fresh-pressed, Windsor-knotted Statesman, the gifted Scientist or Unibomber (hadn’t figured him out), the Pianopuss, the Dweeb, and then there was me— the cleancut lollygagger. I hadn’t fully hardened into myself. That is, there were lots of things I wanted to be. I didn’t say much the first few sessions. I was still a transplant who started in Xavier before switching over into Molloy. Still, had doubts, but I couldn’t give up yet, not with the way my elementary school principal lobbied to get me in. Molloy had this kind of irritation about letting in those who rejected them as freshmen.
Brother Ron was an amazing soul. I never thought of him as a man of the cloak, but as a human being. I’d have to say he single-handedly transformed my sophomore year. Funny word sophomore. It means wise idiot. I don’t think I had the same stuffing as the fellows in my class. They’d already spent a year in Molloy. I was merely learning the ropes. And I wasn’t ready to admit I’d made a mistake dropping out of Xavier. Later on, I’d drop a lot of things way too soon. Looking at it now through my battle-worn eyes I can make these grand assessments, but then again I still hadn’t reconciled leaving elementary school.
I attended a small Catholic school in my neighborhood. I had the same kids in my class for eight years, with a few transplants and a few émigrés along the way. When you have that kind of continuity, a big change rocks your world.
Here I was listening to this man, Brother Ron, who to me, looked suspiciously like Barney Rubble and here he was saying that in all his life he only had one true friend. Any of us would be lucky to have the same.
The Burnout was quick to interject. He had six or seven Bones Brigade brothers who would ho-ho, halfpipe, grind innumerable stairs, and wallride the Holland Tunnel if given their druthers. He knew loyalty. Brother Ron nodded his head. He had a hint of that your full of shit look, but wouldn’t belt it out. The Statesman admitted he only had three solid friends. And the jock, the Roy Hobbs wannabe, said he had three good buddies and he and his cuz were so tight that he’d have to stick him into his batch.
When it came down to me, I kept quiet. I fussed with a string of lint on the sofa. I stared at the beautiful, circumference of rust within the popped spring. If I could sneak through it I was sure to find eternal salvation. But, I didn’t morph into a Lilliputian, I remained in my mawkish frame. The Burnout let me slide, so did the Jock, the Statesmen, the Pianopuss, and even the Dweeb. But, not Brother Ron, he pushed my button to the point where I had to say something.
“I don’t know if I’ve found my one true friend.”
There I said it. It felt like I gave birth to a geeky Godzilla. The fellows spared me any further pain. And Brother Ron flipped “Paradise by a Dashboard Light” back on the stereo. I had no idea what the connection with friends was to that song, but I felt like an open wound with lots of Hydrogen Peroxide. The puss finally dribbling out of me and I was blowing on it, hoping for it to scab.