My wife seemed agitated. Anything can cause that — parenting a teenager, living away from home or learning a new language that makes no sense. As Americans, we invent new words all the time. That doesn’t make learning English any easier.
I struggled to understand why she spent so much time with friends, both on the phone and in other meeting spots. Why not prefer to sit and stare at an old guy who trims his toenails and snores?
I had anxieties of my own — those late-life thoughts about keeping up with the bills and predicting the malady that will finally get me. It will be nothing I thought of.
I missed the point. We all need friends — those confidants who invites us to explore those unique parts of ourselves. Who else but a friend would understand that I miss my visits to Pelican Bay State Prison? My Manila friend Charlie would. Our inmate buddies always appreciated our visits and their stories of conspiracy and betrayal.
I would miss visits with my friend Rick with whom I conspired in silliness for the TV station that employed us. Who else would understand Rick’s concept of a Dave robot, constructed in the engineering department. What a great commentary on bosses who wanted us to be two places at once.
I would miss visits with my friend Bob, a former Lompoc High School graduate who accomplished so much more with his diploma than I did with mine. Over coffee, I absorb his wisdom.
I value my friends and am traumatized when I lose them as I did this summer. That is when I got the email from the friend of 25 years calling me a “smiling sociopath.” I didn’t know I smiled that much.
In that case, I found the perfect antidote — unique to me. I made a video for Access Humboldt celebrating my old friends. I even mentioned the lost buddy with whom I had taken thousands of pounds of baseball gear to Caribbean kids. I used the voices of children for a dramatic reading of my friend’s caustic email. I won’t soon forget the sweet young girl softly mouthing the words “smiling sociopath.” What a take-down.
The problem is that I need a more fundamental approach to friendship. A story I produced for TV about hoarding helped me realize that.
The woman had called complaining of mice and insects in her apartment of 27 years. But her hoarding was part of her problem, making pest control more difficult. She would collect things for her friends, but then just store them away. She said it was her way of feeling loved.
I understood her, because I have the same problem. For years, I have hoarded belongings much to the concern of people who love me. Old baseball jerseys and books and memorabilia filled a void in my life, reminding me how exceptional it has been. To dispose of my belongings would be to dispose of myself. Telling her story helped me come to grips with my own.
I found that we don’t know how many hoarders there are or where they live — not until their material spills out into the open. Sometimes, we learn too late to save the hoarder.
I also learned that we don’t know how to help them —not in my friend’s case. She asked lots of people and got evasive answers. She came to me as a last resort.
My story had opened a wound. Social servants were still discussing the hoarding issue while my friend shared her living space with mice. Meanwhile, she was recovering from heart surgery.
That’s why for her sake I decided to bring out the heavy artillery — me. I told my television audience that I was a hoarder, too — that her story was my story and that we don’t need study grants. We need help.
I was just off the air when my phone rang — my new friend telling me how much my efforts meant to her. She told me how she had cleaned up her house as she learned about old friends she had forgotten. She had been reminded that loved often fills the void in a way that hoarding cannot.
That is what friendship is. And rediscovering important friends has helped me too address my obsessions. I would say that is a pretty good partnership.
It is amazing what a “smiling sociopath” can accomplish.
Dave Silverbrand’s columns and other writings are available on his website, http://www.davespeople.com.