As I so often do, yesterday evening I took a moment to reflect on my life a little. Sometimes my thoughts will veer towards more recent events that have transpired, and sometimes they will wander a littlefarther. This time, I traveled seven years back into my past. Of course, my memory is not that of an elephant, so particular details may be inaccurate.
Back in my high school days, I had a core group of friends whose company I enjoyed thoroughly on a daily basis. For some reason, my mind drew from the depths of my memory a friend in that group: Frank (frequent commenter Gary should see past that pseudonym quite easily as the story is revealed). I remember that I was rather fond of him. Our interests were similar and our personalities were quite compatible. We were friends through Gary’s introduction. Our friendship developed into something closer than I remember having in the past seven years since then, a friendship I remember as having been defined through meaningful conversation. And I remember the events that probably dissolved that friendship.
We were in the Fulton Street subway station, waiting for a train to whisk us away. I can still remember key lime pie shade of green coloring the entire station. Gary, Frank, and myself (as well as a couple of other friends who aren’t integral to this story) boarded the G train. Normally, it would be crowded and full of rowdy students taking swigs of cheap fifty-cent cola and munching on twenty-five cent bags of Wise potato chips in a gamut of flavors. That day the train was relatively empty though, and the young bucks we were, we acted as though we owned that train car. As teenagers will do, we were up to various antics. One entertaining diversion was the bottle cap-turned-speeding projectile. What you do is try to build up pressure in a Poland Spring bottle with the cap still screwed on. Then you try to kick the cap off in such a way that the sudden release of pressure will send the cap careening through the air.Somewhere along the line, Frank was successful in his attempt to cause a cap to blast off: the little white cap shot through the closing doors of the subway train. We rode through the dark tunnels and arrived at the next stop. The doors opened. And then they stayed open. Apparently, the train was stuck. I can’t remember which station it was, but we were held up there for quite a while. Gary took a look out the doors to see what was going on. Then we all did. After what felt like ages, we found out that somebody had fallen into the tracks. EMTs put somebody on a gurney with the sheet pulled up high. We were all wondering about the truth of the incident. And I, in mean spirit and mischief, saw this as an opportunity.I spun some bullshit tale about how Frank was responsible for this incident. As unlikely as it was, I made a far-fetched claim that it was his bottle cap that caused someone injury. The explanation was that the victim of his little crime was the person who fell into the tracks. Frank’s reaction was one of panic: he meant no ill-will by performing that neat little trick, and he most certainly did not have any malicious intent towards anyone, least of all an unseen and unknown passerby. However, my outrageous accusation begged the question: if Frank had shot his bottle cap at someone at the last stop, why are we stopped at this station, and why is a body being pulled out of the tracks here? Implausible as it may be, I spun yet another fantastic yarn, saying that it was possible that this person was struck in the face by the bottle cap and therefore lost her balance. She then grabbed onto the train as it was speeding away and dropped off some distance later.
It was such an outrageously unlikely scenario that I never believed that Frank would buy it. I thought that he would just dismiss my cockamamie idea the same way anybody over the age of 12 should dismiss the idea that there is a tooth fairy that comes in the middle of the night to put a quarter underneath your pillow in exchange for your tooth. However, perhaps luck was in favor of my flimsy illusion: a police officer was making his way from train car to train car from the rear to the front, his radio crackling ominously. I played into this, saying that they’re probably looking for who shot that bottle cap. Frank’s nerves were understandably shot to hell: he cursed like there was no tomorrow, panicked and full of nervous energy. In short bursts, he exclaimed, “What do I do? What do I do!?” Pacing back and forth and poking his head out the door every two seconds, his sanity was suffering as the police officer proceeded, getting closer and closer to our own train car. It would seem that Frank was about to relieve himself of his bodily waste at any moment.
Gary,beingthe adventurous one, took it upon himself to extract Frank out of the intolerably tense situation. Together, Frank and Gary left the subway station, rising to the streets above where they were complete strangers, unaware of the lay of the land. The rest of us remained on the train car.
The next day, Frank was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t in school. I met up with Gary and asked him what had happened. Apparently they tried asking someone for directions and somehow made their way back to a different subway station. Our Frank was clearly nervous enough to stay home, shaken up from his experience. To further “improve” the already morbid prank I created on a whim, whether or not the injured person that had fallen in the tracks was alive was unknown. That the sheet that covered the gurney was drawn up so high on the body lent an ominous feeling that led us all to believe that it could very well be a corpse that was carried out of there and not an injured but live body.
I felt bad: I had no idea that my little prank would have such a profound effect on my friend. To me, it appeared that Frank had played into the scenario for entertainment purposes. I did not believe that he would actually take stock in the nonsense that I spewed. It didn’t seem possible that anyone could believe the words that came out of my mouth, the silly story that I conceived without premeditation or any prior thought. But I was clearly wrong, and wrong in a terrible way.
It was bad enough that my friend, who had so graciously invited to his home one prodigiously rainy evening, was tortured with guilt, uncertainty, and fear of incarceration. But on the day that he found the courage to resume his life, I took away what little comfort he had. We were making our way through the 23rd St-Ely Avenue train station and a very serious looking MTA employee was walking by. He looked intimidatingly intense, with a furrowed brow and a steely searching gaze. His radio sounded off with chatter, and I opportunistically told Frank that they were still looking for him. He played it off as unlikely, but the foundations of the courage that allowed him to return to school and to resume normally functioning as a teenage boy were shaken once again. I took advantage of his gullibility once before, and did so once more.
I don’t remember how I revealed to him that it was all just a joke, an elaborate play whose actors so serendipitously showed up at the right time and the right place. It was probably a very short time later, when things had returned to relative normalcy. But I believe that this was what damaged and destroyed my friendship with Frank.
Though the entire joke rose from happenstance, by chance and not by design, though the entire prank was predicated upon an incredibly flimsy premise, the bottom line is that I violated Frank’s trust and preyed on his faith in my words. Thought I never intended any harm and though I didn’t exactly enjoy the prank, the truth is that I toyed with him and manipulated him for some sick joke. I look back upon my actions and I sneer. I spit on the ground at my feet and shake my head in shame. What mean-spirited tomfoolery I had engaged in as a young man…
And now I feel a profound sense of sadness in losing him as a friend. I wish that I could apologize to him. I wish that I had never betrayed his trust in me. I remember trying to explain to him, trying to apologize. Quite understandably, he refused my friendship, for how could he know that I would keep true to my promise that I would never again pull the wool over his eyes so cruelly? Gary had pointed out that I was manipulative and that such a prank was mean-spirited. I look back and can see that he was quite right. It is no wonder that several years ago when I recounted this story to a newly met acquaintance that I was never to hear from her again, despite my proclamation of woeful sorrow that I had ever done such a deed.
Trust is sacred, and I have since learned that one should never trifle with such a powerful confidence. Though my youthful and immature intentions were not exactly malicious, I was irreverent of the faith that friends put in each others words. But perhaps I have learned a hard lesson too late, for I have very few remaining friends with whom I am close enough to affect in such a profound way (not that I played any such pranks on any of my friends since then). Such is life though…it is interesting that only today do I realize the ironic symmetry in my life. You see, karma must surely exist, for I myself recently lost a friend to a prank, albeit one of willful design…but a prank nonetheless. Perhaps it is the past that only now comes to haunt my present.
Here is to atoning for my youthful sins of immaturity.