I lost a lifelong friend today. Not to cancer or to Alzheimer’s but because of a riddle.
“Do you know why Obama hasn’t been assassinated?” he asked. I couldn’t bring myself to be a partner in this riddle by playing along. I couldn’t bring myself to say, “No, why hasn’t Obama been assassinated?” It made me sick to my stomach when I shrugged my shoulders just to placate him. I felt I had to participate after all these years of loyalty to this life-long friend. I had to stand and take it – to stand and listen to him repeat his riddle yet one more time.
“Well, do you know why Obama hasn’t been assassinated yet?” he asked again. His reiteration caused me to turn and look away, knowing that the answer would be vitriolic. “Because,” and he began to laugh. “Because it would be a waste of a good bullet,” he continued laughing while slapping my back.
Now, this man had been a friend since before we could talk. Well, we could talk, but no one understood what we were saying because at 5 years of age we both had such strong speech impediments that he and I had, in the beginning, our own special insular world that no one else understood. We grew up and played sports together, double-dated together and went to UNC-CH together. Jobs and military service separated us, and it took awhile to get back together, but we did. Moving back to North Carolina was that much sweeter when I learned we would be only an hour’s drive away. Our first reunions were as if we had never been apart. And then there was a change.
My friend became rich, and he deserved every penny. He worked hard, long hours, but as he moved up the income bracket, he seemed to equate the size of his bank account with a sense of being right – about everything. There was no room for discussion. I began to make excuses for even a quick barbecue sandwich together.
My wife encouraged me just to talk to him. “Tell him that you enjoy and treasure his friendship, but make it clear that there will be no more talking about politics.” I knew my wife was right, but when I did try to mend fences, it was not the same. I could not get past his dark heart. So I went about making new friends.
A past work partner returned to Chapel Hill.
He had become a pharmaceutical executive, and at our first breakfast together, I listened to an Obama tirade. Then my college roommate returned to North Carolina to join a medical practice. Surely, I thought, here was someone I could renew a friendship with given the great college days we’d spent together. He had been a kind and caring “peace corps” kind of guy, but it took just a little over 30 minutes from the time I walked through his castle-like house on the way to his patio for steaks for the Obama bashing to begin.
Then followed my favorite niece’s wedding where I was certain there would be joy and a respite from worldly thoughts and tiresome politics, but as my niece’s new husband soaked up the champagne, he rolled out conspiracy after conspiracy with Obama’s place of birth at the center of his paranoia.
My wife and I just returned from vacation where we visited
a Native American museum in Oregon that made us cry when we stood before an exhibit that told the story of the U.S. military slaying Indian women and children and slaughtering thousands of buffalo to deplete their food source, thus forcing these natives to migrate off of desirable land. I dumped our bags in the living room and settled into my chair to catch up on all the newspapers that had accumulated, and there on the front page was the debate over the Confederate flag that wouldn’t have existed if we hadn’t bought and sold Africans.
I walked into the kitchen where my wife was making tea, steeping the bags in a large glass pitcher, and I watched the swirling liquid turn darker and darker.
“Here,” my wife said. “Drink this. It will make you feel better.”
“If it were just that simple,” I said to her. “If it were just that simple.”
Wallace McLendon, a retired librarian, lives in Chapel Hill.