I missed the Patriots home opener against the Jets on Thursday night because of a poorly timed Open House at my school. It was the first home opener that I’ve missed in at least six years, and the first Patriots-Jets game that I’ve missed in the last ten years.
While I was shaking parents’ hands and reminding students that behavioral expectations do not cease to exist after the sun has gone down, my fellow Patriots season ticket holders and closest friends were texting me photographs from their tailgate party and inside the stadium.
Along with these photos, I received messages like:
Game day, baby! Wahoooooooo!
Ice cream in the parking lot!
Best day of the year!
Don’t you just love the home opener?
Missing the game was hard for me. I know that sounds silly. It was just another football game. I’ve attended many, many games over the years, so missing one shouldn’t be a big deal. But this is something I look forward to every year. Not only do I love my hometown football team and despise the New York Jets with every fiber of my being, but I love the time that I spend with my friends on game day just as much.
These are always special, memorable days for me.
As a result, I was legitimately sad on Thursday night.
My friends knew this, and yet they still taunted me throughout the evening, reveling openly in their gridiron joy while I smiled and nodded and made small talk with parents back home.
It was mean. It was at least a little cruel.
I expected nothing less from them.
I showed the photos and texts to one of the parents who I know well, and she found their cruelty appalling. She questioned their level of compassion, and she suggested that I find myself some new friends.
She doesn’t understand. This is what friends do.
At least this is what my friends do.
I suspect that this is what only the closest and best of friends do.
Had our roles been reversed, I would’ve done exactly the same thing. In fact, I probably would’ve been even crueler than my friends, sending photos and texts in much greater quantities and perhaps staging or even doctoring some impossible, once-in-a-lifetime shot just to rub it in a little more.
Politeness, gentleness and kindness are excellent and advisable ways of treating acquaintances, colleagues and those tertiary friends to whom you can’t be honest and direct. The kind of friend you have and enjoy but don’t necessarily need.
But the closest of friendships, the most essential of friendships, at least for me, often resemble a sibling relationship, and the best of kind of sibling relationship invariably contains a healthy dose of honesty and cruelty.
My closest and best friends are almost impossible to offend. They are men and women who not only accept me for who I am but want me for who I am. These are the friends who do not require and do not expect caution, deference or unnecessary platitudes from me. They are friends to whom I can always be honest, and I expect nothing less in return . I can say exactly what’s on my mind, without thought or concern about measuring my words or calculating my opinions.
They may judge me, but they will still love me.
These are friends who can be cruel and callous with my feelings (as I can be with theirs), because there is no question of the love that we share.
I explained to this parent that if I needed to be gentle and polite with my friends or they with me, I would question our level of friendship. Artificial pleasantries and culturally-imposed caution should never be a requirement of a truly great friendship. My closest friendships are raw, honest, direct, sharp, unfettered and often filled with one-sided laughs.
There were many one-sided laughs on Thursday night as my friends celebrated the opening night festivities and a hard-fought Patriots victory. They made sure that I knew all that I was missing.
I returned to my home after Open House and watched the game on a twelve year-old television. It was a little sad and a little lonely. I thought about my friends, sitting in the stands, cheering on our team, and I missed them.
But it also gave me plenty of time to plot my revenge.
If my plan works, the next series of one-sided laughs will be mine.