With his dewy eyes, uncombed hair, three-day old stubble, and overused blue sweater, George was never qualified as the man of my dreams. In fact, I don’t think anyone has. But George was far from my unrealistic standards. He wasn’t the polar opposite of what I sought for in a man, but he was in the bottom of the pile of possibilities.
A man with no ambition, surely, who would yearn for that? There was nothing about the way he looked, or carried himself, nothing, not even in his posture or voice, that could have indicated his pleasant unexpectedness. I was ready to have him as a friend, but I was not prepared for the brutality of only being just friends.
George was a colleague of mine. He was the artist as we coined him, although with his casual wear (consisting of printed roundneck tees and jeans that were too long for his short stature), nerdy glasses, and cool sneakers, one would mistake him as your average boy-next-door. Where were the hipster jeans? Where was the weed? Where was the long, unruly hair?
Later on, I found out he did have long, braided Bob Marley-esque locks back in college during his bohemian phase. But I knew George as he was – cool, calm, and collected. The kind of guy who went with the flow. The kind of man who was never enamored by the politics of freedom. The kind of boy in the office you knew you could talk to, or who made ways for you to talk to him.
He was easy to impress but formed his own opinions. Self-effacing and occasionally awkward, there was a big brother like quality in him which drew people but not the attention. You knew he had stories to share. You knew he always wanted a good time.
It wasn’t easy liking George. He was in a committed relationship with a lovely woman. But it never hindered him from being familiar with you. There were Friday nights when we were all intoxicated that you forget he’s not single. He could be intimate. He would be close to you physically. You could even smell his Marlboro Black-tinged breath. But he knew where to draw the line and he never took advantage of your secrets, even if he could have, especially with me. Too much was too much, and he left me to my own devices to respond to my many disenchantments.
George was the closest thing I could get to true male company. I had straight guy friends in high school and college, but it was never the same thing. It must be because I had formed a slight infatuation over him, and it clouded any sort of comparison. Around George, I never felt judged. He acknowledged who I was, and respected my decisions. Not once did he exhibit any sort of apprehension in his dealings. Like I said, he knew where and when to stop, and always managed to steer clear of personal entanglements.
Later on, he could not escape his own life’s complications, which he faced, but in my opinion, simply evaded. When I knew him, and I hope to god it was truly him that I knew, George was straightforward in his approach to life. I never met anyone else who had such an oversimplified system to operate upon in a reality so inevitably chaotic. And maybe that’s why facing a challenge for him, was evading it, for me.
Almost two years of working together puts a strain on you. You spend more waking hours with your colleagues than your family and matters are bound to change. We were like tectonic plates. People are like tectonic plates. You get too close and the edges grind, push, shove, and in the end, break apart as you succumb to pressure. There was no break up or fall out. We never were a couple in the first place. I entertained such ideas but it was an impossibility which left my thoughts to rot in futility.
He was ready to settle down with his lovely partner, and they were expecting. And when his first child arrived, it was enough reason for me to disincline from my fantasies.
George as a father was beautiful thing. So much joy poured out of his body. So much life and vigor. He exuded a fatherly worry that made him even more awkward. He was funnier with a son to support and work hard for. He was made more charming, and the steps he took were lighter by the second.
You either grow together or grow apart. Isn’t that what they say? To be honest, I never believed people could grow together. My parents did but their marriage was more the exception to the rule than the trend. It’s so easy to please people these days. But it’s even easier to disappoint them.
I made the mistake of putting George in a pedestal, almost exalting him as a man who could do no wrong. Caught up in the trappings of the working world, the objective view of life – and of people – was blurred. When he took that wrong step, when he finally imploded in my eyes, it tore me to have created a caricature of him, where he was all too extreme, all too comical, and all too fictitious. The sentiments, however, were not.
My old journal would always beg to differ. The words may not mean the same now, but when I wrote them, and when he read a select few, it was the genuine article. Possessed by misguide emotions, I wrote about him, for him, to him, with a ferocity which since then, I had never been able to tap again.
And we were only just friends.
I haven’t seen George in months. I moved on with my professional life, while he looked for and found ways to cope with his own setbacks. He lost his job, he lost his partner, and he lost his son. I could not bring myself to offer any consolation when I learned about what happened to him. I self-righteously told myself it was his fault anyway. If only he took life a little more seriously, he would have seen the cracks that were creeping in. I saw those fault lines. But I never warned him. I was too embarrassingly infatuated, too much in love with my ideas, too caught up with our vanities. I fed his ego, as he fed my fantasies. In hindsight, he was simply fodder for my writing. And I was too proud to save the ego which fed mine.
We still talk. But one cannot help feeling all is lost. We could still see each other, have a drink with our friends, talk in person again, exchange stories, and go home feeling everything has been restored. I could still poke fun at his favorite blue sweater. Or if I’m brave enough, play his domestic woes lightly. But is life really that simple?
I’ve seen the repercussions of believing life is short enough it affords you to be reckless. Too many cautionary tales have ended up as evening conversations, even the ones I shared with George. I’m not keen to adhere to his philosophies. He likes things simple but always ends up with the complicated. He seems oblivious to the signs. I fear I’m more practical than what he thought I was, and what I believed I used to be. I fear his dewy eyes just cannot see past what the present could be.