It's an odd place to receive a compliment, or perhaps an odd thing to even take as a compliment, but yet it was and I did. I was at the wedding of the Marvelous Miss Diss on Saturday in San Francisco, the city that, while I certainly far from grew up there, is the place I'm from.
During his toast her father, a short man with a soft sort of welcoming manner that can invite you to think your welcome and wanted and perhaps even essential, was going through Katie's connections. Her college friends, her family, her upcoming new family with Preston, the man she had just married in Grace Cathedral. And then he singled out the group of us that came in from New York, the group of us that went to high school together: "And then, of course, as Jarret likes to call it, there's the Chozen Family."
I was floored. On many levels. One, to have something I've written quoted back in my presence, well, if you'll excuse my ego as its struts and preens, was discombobulating and extremely rewarding. But what meant more to me was to have my name even mentioned during his toast of his daughter. You'd have to know Katie to understand it, but we all know somebody like her really. Most of us have been lucky enough to come across the Miss Diss of the world in some capacity: someone who floors us with their generous spirit and leaves us with the impression that we have just encountered a human being who is just better and more graceful at this than we are. Diss is just one of those good people.
I think highly of her.
Katie and I were friends-as-acquaintances in high school. We had many classes together. We were those kinds of friends who speak and talk on campus, but know little about each other and never talk away from the cloistered environment of our campus. In fact, that's true of most of the people I was with at her wedding. These are people who came into my life post college, when we all centered in New York.
So it was an honor to be mentioned in her father's speech. It was a nice acknowledgement of a friendship that has come to mean quite a lot to me. It was my own selfish little moment.
I was never really part of a group as a kid. I fight the definition quite a bit, even when it's probably not all that necessary. Before we left for the wedding Mike and Tony couldn't wait for the event. This was our group, they kept telling me. And every time they did I corrected them, or put in my two cents. It's not really my group.
I explained to them that I always felt kind of like an outsider of sorts, that they had all known each other and been friends long before I was there, and that in many was I felt like I lived in the suburbs of some big city. Which is not to say that I felt left out, because that certainly was never the case. For the past 6 years we've all spent time together, as a group, on almost every major occasion there is. One might argue that this by its very nature is what makes a group. And yet I hesitate.
The first time I was part of a group was in college. Before then I had been hesitant to the entire idea. I don't trust the group mentality, it all seems so easy to me. That and I always separated myself from the kids I went to high school with. When you move around a lot as a kid, always starting a new school or beginning again in some way, shape, or form (even if your parents separate for a few years before getting back together, as mine did, yet you stay in the same school, as my sister and I did) you are an outsider by your very existence. The two options are to relish in this status, or fight it. I always reveled in it. I liked associating myself with me, and having friends who were picked from different groups and different places.
And the kids I went to high school with were rich. I don't know where my aversion to wealth comes from, but I've always felt uncomfortable around comfort of a lavish sort. I've never quite let the idea of money settle in. I think this comes from Jennifer, if indeed things like this come from anywhere. She used to rail against the people who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, that place that I am not from but which had the biggest impact on me than anywhere I've ever lived. She had these long, intricate, ornate diatribes about the ills of wealth, the dangers of money, the soulless life of the super rich.
And the kids I went to high school with were super rich. Of course, this was also a woman who, while she would spit against the evils of letting money become important, had no problem at all spending my father's when he started a small company before high school that did rather well. Then she wanted diamond rings and trips to Hawaii. I never really noticed the hypocrisy. I just listened to the words. And when I looked around at the kids I went to high school with I had to admit that she had a point.
It can prejudice you. I cast myself in opposition to what many of those kids stood for, and didn't really bother with the details. I struck a pose, and let it all ride from there. I took a sort of pride in standing on the outside.
Of course, it's also natural for me to stand to the outside. I can be incredibly pricklish to people who don't know me. It's a way of letting them know, right off the bat, to not take me for granted. I'm smarter than you are, probably smarter, and I can be meaner to, and in a heartbeat. So don't fuck with me. With my friends, I'm open. They know the crap that carries through my head. But I guess it just takes awhile to crawl beneath the barbed wire and over the tiny walls. Wear eye black to block the light.
Like anyone is who accepts an ingrained prejudice, I've been proven wrong many times over. I've also been proven right a thousand times, which I guess I use to continue my prejudice and distrust of wealth. Isn't that how it works, though? Isn't that why gays can't marry and women are who we see them to be. Create a box and you'll find eventually that someone fits into it.
And for the past six years I've shared these people's lives. I've been with Joanna when she broke up with that guy we all knew she was going to drop in the trash. I met Dusty when she started dating him. Stu when he chose to go back to grad school. Alden when she moved out to New York City. Kristin when she moved out. And Katie.
I've said to Tony and Mike many times that while I didn't feel comfortable with the group label, I felt I was the luckiest one in the group. When I graduated high school I walked away completely. I wanted no part of that place or those people. The fact that Jennifer had left had as much a part of that as anything else. And then the fact that "Mom" M passed away shortly thereafter continued my disassociation with San Francisco and all the pain it stood for. I didn't hate that place, but I would proclaim many times that I would never live there again. Ghost towns are good for no one but the ghosts. They don't support human life.
But of all of us from high school I felt like the lucky one. If I'd had my way, I would probably know none of them right now; I'm good a striking the useless pose when it suits my scars. I just never wanted to be labeled. I wanted it to be organic.
In the end that is exactly what happened. Organically, and without my even realizing it, and it could be said in spite of my own best efforts, I've become a part of this group of people from a place I never let myself settle into. There was so much wrong with Menlo as a high school that, aside from the relationships I fostered with teachers, classes and a few select people, I never really let myself dig beneath the bullshit to find what might be going on below. A lot of it was shit. But these people certainly deserved a much better chance than I ever gave them back then.
Katie has become one of my dearest friends. She is one of the few people I can legitimately say I would do almost anything for. I sat in the back of Grace Cathedral with Tony, Stu, Dusty, Mike, Heather, and Alden as Kristin and Joanna stood beside her and her husband to be, Preston, stood in front of her.
As the preacher ran through his vows, prepping Katie to repeat after him, she giggled, and then guffawed. It was a moment instantly recognized by all of her friends as pure and unadulterated Katie. It wouldn't be her wedding if she hadn't lost it for the briefest of moments, let loose a sound of pure bliss. We wouldn't be her friends if we didn't know that moment for exactly what it was. This wouldn't be my group of friends if I wasn't sharing it with these people.
After the wedding, at the reception, I walked around and talked with Katie's family, meeting her sister for the first time, talking with her father and mother, dancing with her Nana. Those are the things that friends do. I couldn't help but feel a little foolish for my younger self, a little stupid for the light I cast these people in. Katie has a remarkable family. Very warm people who I look forward to keeping tabs on and knowing and being a peripheral part of their lives. That's how these things go.
On the red eye back home Sunday night I sat with Tony, one of my best friends, trying to explain to him my theory on groups and what they mean. As I spoke my words became flimsy before my eyes. They collapsed with the weight of gravity and fell to the ground, to be trodden on and left behind, maybe picked up and used by some kid who doesn't know any better for now.
I still don't feel entirely comfortable about money, but I'm making my way around that issue. At least I know enough not to confuse it with my friendships.
The Chozen Family is not a set thing. Sure, the central figures in the group are set, but people come into it at an ever expanding rate. It grows as we all bring others into it. Preston is a member. Dusty is a member. In the back of my head I knew this. I just hadn't taken the time to quite accept it.