Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Redemption and Retribution
Once upon a time, I had a friend. He was, I thought, the kind of guy who would come help me bury a body, no questions asked. A guy I would give up my right arm to save, if he needed it.
As these things sometimes happen, I came to realize that I was his friend, but he wasn't mine.
It was a long and painful and expensive lesson.
I won't bore you with the lurid details, but the gist of it was, he lied, cheated, stole, and put me and my family into legal jeopardy, and when push came to shove, left us holding the bag and ran like a rabbit. Brave Sir Robin ...
Eventually, he came back, but by then, I had stopped taking his calls. He pretended that he didn't understand why, and I smiled, was bland, and went on with my life, leaving him to cook in his own juices. Win some, lose some, and I had -- in a fashion -- won that one by bailing before I got burned any worse.
There came a point a few months later when I was passing his house one night and happened to notice a shiny new motorcycle parked in his driveway. He didn't have a job at the time, so I figured it was a visitor.
Nope. It was his, I discovered soon enough.
Man owed me money I had borrowed to lend to him, and was not paying it back -- never did. Every month when I wrote a check to the finance company, I got royally pissed off all over again.
Thinking about him riding his new motorcycle around did not help my calmness of thought in the least. He could afford a fucking Sportster and he couldn't pay me back? Oh, that was not a fun mindset for me, nosiree.
So. Another late evening, and I crouched in the bushes next to the driveway of my ex-friend's house, seriously considering whether or not I was going to dump half a pound of sugar into the bike's gas tank. (For those of you who don't know, this is supposed to be bad. It won't kill the engine immediately, but the story goes, once you shut the sucker off, the sugar'll crystallize all over everything, and required a complete take down to scrape off. Turns out, this is an urban legend: sugar doesn't dissolve in gasoline, and while it might clog the fuel lines like, say, sand would, it won't cause major problems. Not that I knew that at the time.)
I considered it. I could have done it easily without being detected.
But, after no small amount of consideration crouched in the bushes out there in the warm night, I decided not to do it. Turned and walked away.
In some religions, the thought is as bad as the deed, but I don't believe that, even though I do believe that bad thoughts don't help anything.
Why didn't I screw up the bike? It would have been justifiable payback in my mind for all the shit he had done. But I didn't, because our bonds had already unraveled, and I didn't want to do anything to connect us back together. I figured that he would self-destruct eventually, and when that happened, I did not want him to be able to point a finger at me and blame me for any of it.
Some crimes earn you a death sentence. Murdering a bunch of kids in a school. Blowing up buildings. Killing a cop during a robbery.
Some crimes not quite as bad can still earn a life sentence in the graybar hotel.
Fucking over your best friend might not get you stuck into a literal jail, but it does cost you.
Even so, sucker that I was, I would have forgiven the guy, if he had come to me hat in hand and apologized. For years, all it would have taken would have been, "Hey, Steve, I fucked up. I did a bunch of bad stuff to you, I know that, and I'm truly, truly sorry."
Really, that would have done it, if I had heard the ring of truth in it.
Never happened, of course, and twenty years later when he slouched round again, wondering what had gone wrong, I told him. Including the notion that an apology would have gone a long way to healing the rift. Too late at that point, of course, but even so, he still couldn't bring himself to admit that he had screwed up, and tried to lay it off on everybody he had known, including me.
Sure enough, though, my best old-ex-friend blew his own doors off. Became an alcoholic, got busted for various things, ran through four wives, fathered a bunch of children who didn't think highly of him. (And later in his life, a couple who did think that way, apparently.) Wound up working a job which was far beneath his ability, and died young, due to his own excesses. Had a strong family history of heart disease, but smoked like a chimney, and knew the risks.
Such a waste.
I skipped my personal retribution upon him because I figured his karma was so bad it would get him in this life time, and it did. And, while he had family and friends at the end who loved and respected him, he didn't earn redemption in my ledger.
I use this a cautionary tale now and again. Be careful of how you treat people, because some things you do will earn you a life sentence ...