Grant is alive, and that fact alone is evidence that I am a changed person. "I now promote peace and harmony and all that important shit," I tell him, spouting some of the canons of the yoga ashram Annie had me join recently. I am gingerly sipping my Yogi tea, which tastes like dusty, ground-up nutshells. Lately I've hardly even had to pick my tongue up off the concrete in fits of caffeine deprivation. "I'm a changed person," I continue, "if not, I would have killed your worthless ass back in Charlotte last week when you almost got us thrown in jail."
I am referring to when Grant, drunk, raided a Charlotte grocery store and attempted to pilfer all their baked goods by walking out with them hidden -- half-masticated, wrappers and all (probably) -- in his mouth.
Grant, though, is not at all convinced I am a changed person. "Do I need to remind you that the last time you went somewhere to seek help to become a better person you were asked to leave the building?" he tries to remind me, but his memory is faulty. It was he who was asked to leave, or asked not to return, or something like that. He had joined some traveling snake-oil seminar designed to make him a more loving person by the end of the weekend, but they'd asked that he not return after the first day.
"That wasn't me, that was Lary," Grant reminds me, and this time I realize he's right. It was our other friend Lary, who, in that instance, had taken to telling the other attendees that just because he was a child molester doesn't mean he didn't deserve love, too. Lary's former girlfriend Mary Jane had asked him to sign up for the seminar, but she should have known better. Lary will do anything you ask, but then he will make sure he does it in a way that ensures you'll never ask him again. For example, Lary has helped me move four times, and each time he demolishes 40 percent of my possessions, thinking this would keep me from asking him again, but what he doesn't know is I don't need that shit anyway. Especially now, fresh from having renounced any attachment to earthly stuff, including, but not limited to, anger and resentment.
"I'm cleansed," I quip. "I'm like a screen door; it all just flows through me." Sip, sip.
"Bitch, you are not a screen door," Grant says. "You are more like a human hair trap."
"Goddammit!" I shriek, "I am not a human hair trap! Lord Jesus God, far be it for me to rise above your decrepit ass and try to be a better person! I am just looking for some peace. Peace, I tell you! And all you wanna do is drag me back into the cesspool to wallow with you so you won't be alone." I try to sip my tea, but to be honest I really do kinda hate the taste, so I smash my cup back on the table and glare at Grant.
He looks back at me smiling, with his eyes all sweet and blue as blow-torch flames. "Hair trap," he says as he sucks down his coffee, and I would have put him in a headlock if not for the fact that his head is the size of a hot-air balloon. It's one of the first things I noticed about him when I first met him a dozen years ago, his huge head and his huge smile to go with it. I was working a blue-collar job and hauling around a big bag of soon-to-be-broken dreams, but then Grant insisted we begin to meet up regularly to report on the progress of our hopes and aspirations.
If not for those fairly consistent confirmations I doubt I would have had the courage to take many steps toward changing the person I was then into the person I am today. For example, I remember once Grant and I both tried our hardest to become alcoholics, but then in the end we figured there was way too much commitment involved to pursue that goal effectively. Then once I thought I should actually consider getting an office job because I thought I didn't have any other options. "Bitch," Grant chided me, "have I taught you nothing?"
Now here he is sitting across from me, all these years later. "OK," he says, his giddiness subsided, all serious now. This is, after all, one of our infamous affirmation sessions. "What is it you want again?"
What I want, I want to tell him, is to be a changed person, but then I realize that's all I've ever been, thanks to him. A dozen years worth of hopes and aspirations; today it turns out that some are realized, some are dashed, but a lot are still standing, which suddenly strikes me as remarkable. It takes a lot to still be standing after a dozen years. All those hopes and dreams -- this friendship -- they don't pass through me. They stick.
Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (www.hollisgillespie.com).