Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Vulnerability of Friendship

So I've been re-reading the novel Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and it's the kind of book that can make you laugh and cry at the same time. It's all about drug addicts and dysfunctional relationships and stuff. Anyway, today I read this passage about this guy Randy Lenz, a recovering coke addict who resolves his inner issues by sneaking off at night, after his AA meetings, and killing stray animals. However, a problem arises when he befriends another recovering addict, Bruce Green, who likes to walk home with him after the meetings, which prevents Lenz from killing animals. But Lenz is torn between his desire to kill animals and his real friendship with Green. This conflict between wanting to push Green away and wanting to keep him as a friend tears Lenz up inside. Wallace's description of this tension gets at the heart of the difficulty and vulnerability of being someone's friend. Here's a passage:

"Lenz likes him (Green) and there's always this slight hangnail of fear, like clinging, whenever he likes somebody. It's like something terrible could happen at any time. Less fear than a kind of tension in the region of stomach and ass, an all-body wince. Deciding to go ahead and think somebody's a stand-up guy; it's like you drop something, you give up all of your power over it: you have to stand there impotent waiting for it to hit the ground: all you can do is brace and wince. It kind of enrages Lenz to like somebody. There would be no way to say any of this out loud to Green...Lenz still can't quite get it up to ask Green to walk back (from the AA meetings) some other way at least once in a while. How does he do it and still have Green know he thinks he's OK? But you don't come right out there and let somebody hear you say you think they're OK. When it's a girl you're just trying to X (have sex with) it's a different thing, straightforwarder; but like for instance where do you look with your eyes when you tell somebody you like them and mean what you say?"

1 comment:

  1. I love the description of his tension when it comes to his friends because it is perfect.

    People are awkward and complicated and unreliable, and I think that's why I find relationships difficult to navigate. But the friendships I've managed so far have been worth the risk. I remind myself of this fact when I embark on a new relationship. Knowing that the vulnerability often pays off doesn't help me know where to look when it comes to affirmation, but it does help me continue walking the rocky path underfoot.