BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL
“Friends, Good Friends–and Such Good Friends”–by Judith Viorst (1977)
I came across Judith Viorst’s essay on friendship many years ago. It was included in a writing text, as an example of one of the major (“classic”) expository writing strategies: Classification. The content is about degrees of friendships and kinds of friendships, an essay mostly about women but also does include “men who are friends.” Viorst posits some eight or nine categories. I liked/like her essay, so much more concise and example-driven than Cicero’s “classic” essay on friendship, which I once wrote about in a college paper.
I like Viorst’s varieties of friendships, which I modified for my own use, but based on her commentary: acquaintances, companions, social friends, intimates. Yet within my own classification, I even found myself making too many subdivisions, sub 1, sub 2, and on.
What more can be said, then, written about, that is not already available, from Aristotle (now that is one-long-analytical-philosophical piece–EVER) and Francis Bacon, and not to forget Emerson–and more?
For movie-lovers, the screen is filled with examples of friends and friendships, categories and kinds. (There’s that Jack Ryan character, in Clear and Present Danger, sorting out friends, and all the President’s friends.). And Stand by Me: classic. Nor can we ever forget Bogart and Bacall; Rick and Ilse?
Pause with me for a moment. Hold that thought-picture from Casablanca, while I come to “black books”: those small black books within which are found addresses of friends, relationships, passwords, codes, comments. Such little black “address” books become a Revelation of Life and Times and Thoughts. And mysteries. Small address books, black, leatherette, red tabs, handwritten entries, perhaps with some phone numbers. No pictures. Special books. I never had such a black book. Instead:
There I stand, on May 9, 1948, between The Twins, my first “friend-girls.” Though my hands are folded in the prayer-mode, my first little black book was My First Communion Prayer Book, not an address book. It was probably similar to this:
Most likely, the book was in my little suit pocket. I used the little prayer book for a few years, until I graduated to something akin to the Saint Joseph’s Sunday Missal, then on to the Saint Joseph’s Daily Missal through high school.
Some years ago, I underwent a special period of nostalgia. I searched for a link to a past life, and another black book. I found The Book of Common Prayer, with its soft leather and gilt edges. I bought this particular book (in 2007) mostly for its beauty and its comfort-for-me content:
Since the beginning, however, my little black books have morphed into larger black books, but then on to a Day-Timer, and AT-A-GLANCE (2-year format) “books.” Yet were I to have a “small black book,” it would include, among other items, the coded names and coded notes about my “something-special” friends. I once intended to write about my “friend-girls,” those women in my life who were/are special, yet certainly are not “girlfriends.”
So there we were: C. Z.: At Sister Lakes, Mich., and her cousin, D. K. My first REAL Friend-Girls. Teen years in the summers, high school, and college. “Friends Forever”–until after my marriage. C. my confidante. Confessor. Mentor. Guide. Wee-hour discussions, for hours and hours, about poetry, God, friendship–and love. Then gone. A loss. One of the essential pieces of The Great Puzzle I Am…. [R.I.P. July 1998]
L. A.: Next-door neighbor: Married. I loved her. I am fourteen. I am sixteen. I am eighteen. I still love her. [R.I.P.]
T. M.: On a first date. Movies in downtown Chicago. The Longest Day.
DUMB! Didn’t think she’d ever date me again. I was right: she didn’t. A war movie, for God’s sake?!
K. N.: Nice Czech-Bohemian girl from Chicago. I had her pictures pasted everywhere. I was a fan-atic. She was my pubescent-time fantasy. Silly infatuation with a goddess, Jeanne Eagles. I was The Man with a Golden Arm. KimKimKim. I suffered from Vertigo:
P. S.: “My” BRIDE OF CHRIST. Most holy and beautiful. A spiritual distraction, came to be my first dark night of the soul. To the nunnery! Curse God! Conflicted. “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Not so. Or so I thought. Time healed.
D.T.: SECRET ADMIRER. I kept address and phone number in secret place. Secret letters. Mail from “D.T.” The Vixen? The Destroyer? Just a friend? Serious discussions. Two lost souls.
M. V.: “You’ll never forget me.” Too young. I’ve never forgotten her. “You’ll never forget your first….”
And, finally (here),
E. W.: Untouchable, with braces. Virgin on Pedestal. Adorable. Adored. Forever a Good Memory of a time that was good and wholesome. And how I did so well learn how to spin that bottle with her!
My friends, and such good friends at the right time.
© James F. O’Neil 2015
[For some interesting viewing of “friends” and “friendship,” try Random Hearts (1999) and/or Regarding Henry (1991).]