I am not exactly a sociable person. In my youth I was, when I drank most nights and surrounded myself with a hoard of acquaintances posing as best friends. But, as my life has become more family orientated I have significantly slimmed down my social circle to include only those I consider true friends. I can count these people on one hand. This group may be small, but when it comes to friends, quality beats quantity every time. When I decided to go to university to study film I began assessing the people around me, scrutinisingly so.
Having lived a colourful and bizarre life of my own, I value the experiences, trials and tribulations of others. I admire people who have seen and done things that I have not, people who place themselves in new, exciting and different situations. When I began culling my real-world friends list, I was caught between two friends who could not be any more different, or hold a disdain for each other any more potent. For the sake of anonymity, we will call them Tom and Jerry.
On one side, I had Tom, an upper middle class tween who refused to leave his parents’ home; clinging desperately to his mother’s apron strings and his father’s wallet. He was of mediocre intelligence and had little to no aspirations other than to inherit the small but steady family business. His nights were spent drinking and snorting cheap cocaine that was more Daz washing powder than class A China. He flaunted his lack of responsibility and disposable income in front of those who were forced to work back-breaking 50 hour weeks in low wage positions to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. He was irritatingly obnoxious and had no social conscience or even awareness. His only trips abroad were family vacations. He was content, wandering aimlessly through the town he was born in until he dies an old man. Yes, Tom was a walking, talking middle-class-millennial stereotype, but he had many redeeming qualities.
Amongst his better traits stood loyalty. When Tom committed to a friend, that bond was forged by a master blacksmith, the shackles unbreakable. Tom, despite his lacking ambition, would stand by me and his other close friends, walking side by side through a burning inferno should the need arise. Tom was also funny, and took nothing too seriously. His boyish charm and a complete lack of responsibility allowed him to be a laid back, carefree presence. He was, mostly, terrific company. I never doubted his friendship, he had never given me a reason to.
Jerry was an entirely different kettle of fish. Born on a rough estate to a single mother who drank more vodka in a week than the Russians could brew in a month. She was not a bad mother, she never beat or abused him; but rather from his teen years forward, neglected him. Jerry quickly became troubled and despite his impressive intellect and ability to absorb new information at an incredible speed, began struggling at school. Soon after we entered Year 10, Jerry was excluded indefinitely when a random search was conducted of his locker: amphetamines and a switch blade were found. Fifteen years later Jerry still denies the knife was his, and to this day I believe him. Why admit to the being the owner of the drugs but not the knife? His exclusion always seemed far too convenient, but off he went to an exclusion unit. I didn’t see him for nearly a year.
Jerry and I found each other again at 16, when we had both left school. He was regularly high and off on some insane adventure with grown men who reeked of bad influence. During the next five years he battled drug addiction, homelessness and a short stint in prison for a string of small thefts he had committed. At twenty-two and clean for the first time in his adult life, Jerry began working as a labourer for a local family firm we were both close with. He worked hard, saved up some money and at twenty-five set off to visit every county in the country. Again I would not see him for a full year.
When we all met again, we had vastly different lives. Tom was working with his father, as expected, and lived in a house that his father had bought for him. He still lacked any responsibility but at least he had finally found himself some independence. Jerry had visited every county and along the way had developed a passion for photography; his work chronicling his wild adventures. The three of us talked over a few pints, catching up. As is common when consuming large quantities of lager my bladder was fit to burst. I left the pair talking and went to relieve myself. I knew they were not fond of each other, but they were talking in a friendly manner and the evening had been very relaxed. I returned to find Tom stamping on Jerry’s face with the pub landlord trying desperately to pull him away. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
The police arrived and Tom was put in cuffs and thrown in the back of a police van, still seething from the confrontation. The landlord told police that one minute they were both sat quietly, chatting over a pint, the next, Tom had launched himself at Jerry. He pounced on him, knocking him to the floor and punched him repeatedly in the head. Two officers asked me if I knew what had occurred between the two, but I stood gormless and clueless trying to figure out what had just happened.
I walked Jerry home, concerned he may have concussion from Tom’s size ten leather boots landing hard and heavy on his face. I had to ask him what had happened. He stopped, looked at me through two bruised and swollen eyes with a tear glistening ready to flood as he told me the tragic truth. Jerry revealed that he had recently been contacted by his biological father, whose identity had been withheld from him by his mother. He had showed Tom a picture of the two of them together, clueless as to any connection between the two men. Tom recognised the man as his own father and instantly reacted. In his police interview, Tom told the officers that he didn’t want a junkie taking his inheritance. Jerry refused to press charges, telling the officer that he couldn’t do that to his brother, even if his brother hates him.
From these two siblings, I discovered how to see the value of a person. The man with everything fought viciously to prevent his wealth being shared. The man with nothing only wanted to be close to his father and half-brother. With no financial support or help from his father, Jerry opened a photography studio. He is relatively successful and teaches teens from the youth centre how to use digital cameras and editing software at weekends. Tom ran his father’s business into financial ruin two years after taking over; he still refuses to have a relationship with Jerry.