We make friends and lose them. The people we once were have trouble coming to grips with the people we are and the people we’re becoming. To have a lifelong friend is like playing a game of hot potato with another person where the timer never goes off. You learn to deal with the tension, savoring the moments in between.
After college, me and my best friend moved to Venice Beach, far from the icy winters of Chicago. The city had its perks. Beautiful, if unattainable, women. Sunny skies year round. Artists, musicians, and writers galore. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, although I quickly found out that most of the candy being handed out on the boardwalk wasn’t as benevolent as it seemed. Still, I loved this place and all the people in it. Everyone except for the bros.
You could hear them coming from a mile away. Everything they said was punctuated with a “bro.” “Hey bro.” “What’s up, bro?” ”Check you later, bro.” I could have gotten over that. I could have dealt with the fact that they seemed to only care about two things, chasing girls and riding waves. That would have been fine. The thing I could not abide was their blatant disregard for the English language.
At first, we made fun of their jargon, conjuring up the words with as much sarcasm as we could muster. We both laughed. It felt good. Even though we were next to the ocean we were still a long way from swimming in a sea of women. And so, it seemed a literary pretentiousness was our only respite. But slowly his vocabulary changed altogether. He’d no longer say big words like paradigm and dichotomy. Instead, he said things that I wasn’t sure were words at all, like frothing and stoked, which apparently both meant excited and had nothing to do with fire and spit.
But I knew him. He wasn’t a bro, at least not initially.
It’s like Poe’s Law says, you can’t parody any form of extremism without it eventually being mistaken for the real thing. And so, even though he had graduated magna cum laude from Northwestern and even though he’d never learned how to balance sideways on a surfboard or a skateboard or a snowboard and even though the beach was as foreign to him as copulation is to a Trekkie, he became a full-fledged bro, at least in the eyes of everyone who hadn’t known him before… which was everyone but me.
Pretty soon he’d dumbed down his whole persona. He ditched his dark-washed denim and blazer for a cut-off tee and board shorts, and as our circle of friends expanded, my laughs were drowned out by head nods signaling a shared understanding. And with that understanding came something he’d longed for his entire life… acceptance.
“Sorry, bro. Can’t make it tonight,” became the typical response when I’d invite him over. He never bothered to invite me out with his new friends. I never bothered to ask. After all, what could they possibly say that would interest someone like me?
Maybe I was jealous. But how could I not be? Everything I had learned taught me we were on the verge of a new phase in our evolution. Now was the time people should be clamoring to be around those with tact and honed minds. Long gone were the days of glory for those with tans and toned abs. Or so I thought.
I should have been happy for him. In the first month of being a bro, he was happier than I’d ever seen him and had been laid more times than either of us had in our entire lives. A simple “congratulations” would have sufficed. Instead I crafted a seventeen-page manifesto about why a self-respecting woman would never fuck a bro. I posted it on my blog to mostly favorable reviews. However, the only one I remembered word for word came from CaliGirl85 – “Bros may be struggling to hit 100 on an IQ test, have a smaller vocabulary than a picture book, and revel in rainbows rather than rumination. But you’re missing the central point… they’re fun. I’d rather sleep with Spicoli and his surfboard than Hemingway and his gun.”
I thought about that for a long while. All this time I’d placed so much value on intellect and analysis. I’d forgotten perhaps the most important thing of all. What’s the point if it isn’t fun? “What about cancer research,” I heard the asshole former version of myself saying. “That’s not ‘fun.’” Maybe not, but I imagine the people working to cure cancer aren’t doing so because of a malicious intent to extend a life of misery. No, they’re romantics like the rest of us. They know that a garden full of flowers gets the most benefit from picking out its weeds.
I looked around. All I saw were weeds.
I thought back to when we were younger. It wasn’t easy being a kid. Especially a kid who’d rather read a book than throw a football. You may be welcomed by teachers in classrooms but not by peers on playgrounds. And so you retreat. You come to think of your mind as your closest ally. You find warmth in contemplation and salvation in a witty turn of phrase. But a sharpened mind is a fickle beast. Pointed in the wrong direction, it devolves into a perilous pain. At this point, you probably believe more thinking is the shovel that will dig you out of this hole. In reality, you’re only digging your own grave.
For the past fifteen years, cynicism had been my shovel and loneliness the grave. It wasn’t until I decided to embrace my inner bro that I finally found the rope to climb out.
We met up on the boardwalk surrounded by vagrants and vagabonds. They didn’t look much different from us now.
I wanted to tell him exactly how I felt. That the dichotomy I imagined between our new selves was a mirage. That my paradigm had shifted. I wanted to believe there was a perfect combination of words that when strung together would bridge the gap between where he was and where I’d been. I wanted to qualify my actions and justify his change. I’d written a two thousand-word essay doing just that. But when it came time to tell him how I felt, I went another route.
“I’m sorry, bro” I told him without a shred irony. There was a long beat before the sides of his sunburnt lips curled into a smile. “All good, bro,” he said.
I was stoked.