Paraphrasing the philosophical stoner known as Smokey, some people might ask if they can borrow a cup of sugar or some ketchup, but my folks wonder if I can spare a 5K run. One of my straight friends called this past Friday evening and asked if I could be an emergency fill-in for a 20K relay Saturday morning after one of his team members had to withdraw last-minute.
My body was sore, and after a month away from my regular fitness routine I doubted I was in the shape required for a 3.1-mile sprint. However, I knew how much my friend had been looking forward to this particular relay race, how much fitness means to his spirit (being riddled with bullets a few years ago inspired him to trade a fast, rough life in the streets for a fast, breezy existence on bicycles and nature trails), and so I felt duty-bound if he trusted me as someone with whom he could go into battle.
Worry overwhelmed my sleep that night, stayed with me as I met my other teammates the next morning, and didn’t fully dissipate until I handed the baton off to my friend, who ran the anchor leg to a second-place finish out of 120 teams. I hadn’t been in a relay race since high school, and had forgotten how a sense of commitment and responsibility toward others could push you, carry you and force you to achieve things that your mind and body tried to convince you were impractical.
I didn’t want to let my friend down. Even though they were strangers, I didn’t want to disappoint my other two relay partners, and team competitions are one of the few areas of life where you usually don’t have to worry whether that sentiment is reciprocated. Friendships – my own, and more generally, platonic bonds among gay men – have been on my mind lately. As a lifelong bachelor, all I have are friendships, so I’ve pursued them with a focus most people reserve for romantic relationships. I have nurtured and neglected them, and taken them for granted. I have been used by some friends and saved by others, while losing all contact with a couple of people I once could never have imagined life without. I’ve been pushed away by people who thought they were unworthy of my friendship, and I have lied (by omission) to those closest to me as a safety buffer for everyone. Friendship is all I have, and it has been as disappointing and messy, as comforting and uplifting as everything else that gives meaning to our days.
The recent suicide of Martez DuBose should amplify conversations about how we, as gay men, care for and pay attention to those we call friends. DuBose, whom I didn’t know, struggled with a public popularity and a private crystal meth addiction, and posted a heartbreaking cry for help to Facebook weeks before he took his life.
I stand in judgment of no one in DuBose’s world, because after a lifetime among addicts, I still know their helplessness. Had I found myself in DuBose’s position, I am almost certain I would have been afraid of most gestures of concern. Few of us are ever in the optimal shape to be a friend. May we find relief, and duty, in remembering we are not running alone.