When I was an criminally underweight Freshman in high school, there was this girl that I spent a large amount of time with, we’ll call her ‘Margaret.’ My friendship with Margaret was solid and rare; we cheated off of each others’ tests, we exchanged idiotic notes throughout the school day and advised each other through short-term relationships, crushes and obsessions. It was a pretty decent and worthwhile arrangement; one of those situations where everyone naturally assumed that we were a couple, and we would just nod and play along, certain that our platonic agreement was cooler and stronger.
Now that I’m older, I know for a fact that platonic relationships are impossible. You cannot be friends with someone of the opposite or desired gender without wanting to sleep with them in some capacity.
So, as these stories go, our solid friendship was to be short-lived, thanks in part to the contents of my pants. I eventually fell hard for Margaret, far outside the reaches of what a strong friendship could provide, and felt it necessary to destroy the good thing we had going for the chance at a more physical and advanced form of bodily communication. I knew going in that it was sabotage, but something had to give. I couldn’t look at her anymore without wanting to tell her. I couldn’t hear another story about a bad date without begging her to let me make things right. I couldn’t even eat or listen to the radio. Surely, a friendship this strong would only be strengthened by this revelation, right?
I actually believed that. I also listened to Marilyn Manson, so… yeah.
As detailed in the classic CDP essay, ‘No Scents Whatsoever,’ my attempt to cross into this forbidden territory was tragically shot down by what could be accurately described as a gaffe of Shakespearean proportions. Margaret turned me down in the most unexpected way possible, our friendship hit the wall and I almost ended up getting arrested for indecent exposure.
‘No Scents Whatsoever’ is also featured in 65 Poor Life Decisions, which you should order right now. In fact, you should read that essay in order to get all caught up. Go on, I’ll wait.
‘No Scents Whatsoever’ only told the funny part of the story, though. The ‘let’s all laugh at the poor kid who whizzed everything down his leg at the football game’ part. What happened the next day was far more interesting, deep and somewhat damaging.
Upon returning to school, I knew I had to do something, say something, to hopefully justify my actions and attempt to get things with Margaret back to the way they once were. We almost instantly ran into each other; the once-simple transitions and conversation now awkwardly vacant. We both had some serious explaining to do.
ME – “Hey. We should probably talk.”
MARGARET – “Hey. I know.”
ME – “Look, I’m sorry for messing everything up by trying to mine something that wasn’t there. I didn’t think it through, and I know it’s going to be impossible to go back to the way things were, but…”
Margaret cut me off.
MARGARET – “I just…I can’t go out with you right now. I’m really sorry.”
The tone in her voice suggested that she wasn’t necessary believing the words she was saying. This conflicted me, but more than anything, it pissed me off.
ME (still frustrated and embarrassed) – “Well, why the hell not? Because I know your secrets? Because my jaw clicks all loud when I eat? Because I wear the same stupid cologne that your dad wears? Why can’t this work?”
MARGARET (incredulous and saddened) – “Ryan, I can’t go out with you because you don’t believe in God.”
My eyes got wide, and I shut down. Right there, in the middle of a crowded high school hallway, the two of us hit a moral and emotional crossroads that was still probably years out of our league to correctly tackle. Somehow, through our several months of wonderful friendship and happiness, we never allowed a massive topic like religion butt in and ruin the party with its polarizing attitude and smug grin. However, this was clearly an issue that Margaret took seriously. Seriously enough to turn down a relationship with someone close to her.
MARGARET – “I…I just can’t do it. I’m sorry. It’s not like I don’t want to…I just can’t.”
I didn’t know what to say. Part of me wanted to beg her to shake it off and give this oily heathen a chance. Part of me wanted to hold her and praise her for being so deeply rooted and mature in her faith. Yet another part of me wanted to know how she was so sure I was an Atheist. I had never mentioned my beliefs to her explicitly; I’m assuming she simply took a cue from all my terrible jokes and constant mocking of organized religion. Either way, she jumped the gun.
If you asked me if I believe in God right now, I’d say ‘not really.’ Had you asked me at the age of 14, however, I probably would have said yes. In any case, how do you respond to a statement like that? It’s not like Margaret told me she disliked my haircut, or that I listened to terrible music. I couldn’t remedy the situation by saying ‘I’ll try harder next time!’ or ‘I can learn!’ This was serious. An issue of faith that had no room for a guy like me. I could be her friend, we could even grow to love each other as friends, but she would never be mine unless one of us drastically changed their spiritual views.
I was dumbfounded. I had reached the Boss Level with no cheat codes. It was over.
ME – “Are we going to be….okay?”
MARGARET – “Yeah, we’re cool. We just can’t…you know.”
ME – “Yeah, I know…I think.”
Wow. All that stuff I did for her to show that I was quality best friend and boyfriend material wasn’t even close to cutting it. She didn’t need someone who was willing to borrow her a shirt after a lunchroom food fight covered her own with pineapple juice. She didn’t need someone that bought her an ice cream cone every day after school. She needed someone to pray with. Someone to attend church with. Someone to court her. A jock or preppie guy was the usual sort of challenge I was used to overcoming when it came to women, but this?
Jesus Christ, why didn’t any of this come up earlier?
As previously stated, I knew I wasn’t possessing the mental facilities to properly re-evaluate my entire stance on spirituality during my Freshman year. If you need proof of my immaturity, know that at the time of the argument, I was wearing a shirt that said ’69’ on it. All I knew was that I wanted to go out with her, and this new roadblock driven between the two of us wouldn’t go away until our friendship was completely off the rails. I had to do something to keep Margaret close, protect our bond, slap God directly in the face and prove to everyone that I was able to go to the next level for her.
For most women, this would be a show of gratitude; like meeting her parents or ceasing communication with ex-girlfriends. For Margaret, this meant church.
And I was in.
There was a teen-centered church service that Margaret liked to go to every Wednesday night in the city. It was one of those places where the minister wore blue jeans, boasted a goatee and desperately attempted to phrase the words of Jesus in a way that apathetic teens would understand and care about. Decent music was played. Coffee was sold. Candles were lit in the darkened, small conference area, and I was there with Margaret, wondering just how far I’d go to prove a point or see her in her bra.
I tapped my feet and hands simultaneously under the table, trying to ward off a panic attack as claustraphobia and religious anxiety sank in. I looked over at Margaret, who was saying hello to friends and placing her order.
MARGARET – “Coffee?”
ME – “Uh, no. I don’t drink coffee.”
MARGARET – “Wow, I had no idea!”
I thought to myself, “You clearly have no idea what ‘having no idea’ means. I’m sitting here, waiting for Mr. Biblepants McGee up there to start blowing smoke up my ass about the paradise of accepting God’s love, when all I really want is yours.”
Instead, I just said:
ME – “Well, you learn something new every day. I’ll take a bottle of non-blessed water, please.”
MARGARET – “Oh, you’re hilarious.”
Fun Fact for you. I was raised Catholic. Catholic mass, for those out of the loop, is basically an hour-long punishment every Sunday morning. You show up, exclaim to the world that you’re a worthless and flawed human being, beg forgiveness and give thanks to God for allowing you to live. At the age of 14, this was the only religion I knew, and I was preparing for more of the same as I chewed my nails to the marrowbone and wondered if this was all really worth it.
I’ve done a lot of things to win the affection of women. I’ve written beautiful songs and poems. I’ve driven hundreds of miles and talked for hours on end. I’ve spent money I didn’t have for gifts I didn’t understand. I even got punched in the face a couple times. But none of that compared to the uncharted, uncomfortable waters I was wading into. I peeled the wrapper off of my water bottle and the service began.
Of course, the night went well. The pastor did a good job of reminding me that Jesus was a fairly amazing guy, and no matter what I believe concerning my mortal soul in the hereafter, it wouldn’t hurt to try to remember some of the interesting teachings and words of the Big J. Same goes for other visionaries, like Buddha or even Martin Luther King. That, I could honestly handle, and even now as an adult, I hold a certain amount of faith in the words of prophets, just not the way they are perverted, twisted and used as a weapon by some of his closest followers.
I feel the same way when an e-mail floats around that was incorrectly attributed to George Carlin or Kurt Vonnegut. Stop disgracing the name, people!
Throughout the night, I was on my best behavior. I bowed my head when everyone else did. I shredded my napkin to bits when I got bored. Each time I heard something that I wanted to dispute with every fiber of my cynical and humanistic being, I just looked over at Margaret and thought about what I’d be missing out on by being an asshole. “Get your mind right,” I reassured myself. “It’s for the greater good.”
I ended up going back to the church with her for most of the Summer after my Freshman year. Our friendship bloomed back into the rare and wonderful thing it used to be, and we both settled into the harsh realization that we’re better friends than lovers. By the time Summer was over, we were both seeing other people, and we were happier for it.
I’m glad that I was pushed out of my comfort zone, even if it was for all the wrong reasons. I knew that she knew, too, and she made a point to let me know that she appreciated it. We both knew that I’d never be the guy to complete a successful courtship. The guy to save his virginity until marriage. The guy that voluntarily gave his time to organized religion for any reason other than a friend’s companionship. At the end of the day, we both emerged a little smarter, a little further apart, and a little more aware that we were absolutely horrible for each other. When Sophomore year started, we were too busy and preoccupied to speak to each other.
Six years later, while I was working at the hardware store, Margaret walked in. We exchanged a few words and e-mail addresses, with the mutual promise that we wouldn’t lose touch with each other again. That was the last time we spoke.