Have you ever looked up the definition of friend? If yes is your answer (and I doubt it is!), then I’m willing to wager you remember precisely what had prompted the search. I’ll bet it’s something you’d like to forget; something you wish had never happened.
Some 40 years ago, shortly after we’d been introduced backstage at a famous London theater, a then 19-year-old out-of-towner on his first visit to Blighty asked me the following unforgettable question:
“Would you forgive a friend that betrayed you?” I was taken off guard.
I mean, we’d only just met. I stammered: “Well, that would depend on how bad was the betrayal.”
“Okay, then,” he said, “what if you’d known he was capable of betrayal before you became friends? Would you still have befriended him anyway?”
To be altogether truthful, the kid’s impertinence was by this time beginning to get under my then notoriously thin skin. Who did he think he was, anyway, trying to trip me up. I was a full decade older than he, for crissakes, and far more familiar with life’s sudden twists and turns.
I repeated his question: “Would I still want him as a friend if I knew beforehand he was dog doo-doo? Of course not!” “So having too late discovered you were a fool to trust the guy in the first place,” he asked, “why then would you still want him as friend?”
The taunting teenager had a point but I chose to ignore it. I figured I’d do better to step on his cockiness: “So are you saying you don’t ever forgive?”
He smiled. “On the contrary, I’m all for forgiving. What I don’t believe in is giving traitors more than one shot at betraying me.”
I was about to echo something I’d read somewhere about the value of forgiveness, something wise, but this kid was quick.
“Once you know someone is capable of betrayal,” he said, “you’d do well to stay the hell away from him. Otherwise the next time he lets you down you’ll be in a hole six feet deep. In no position to forgive him—or anyone else!”
But back to that earlier mentioned F-word. I found myself thinking about it yesterday morning, while talking on the phone to a man who had been, since we were both eleven years old, my best friend. At the time he lived in Banse. Or was it that other Laborie community called Majomel?
We both were schooled by Mr. Alcide Testanier, along with that legendary Laborian Watson Louis, whose older brother Edwidge had graduated from student to teacher in the time here recalled—and was chiefly responsible for my early interest in storytelling and quality literature.
I cannot recall a week-day morning when I did not receive a basket of fruit from my friend, whom everyone called Tertullien but to me has always been Dickson, though his given name is Augustin.
He moved to the UK about the same time I did but we did not hook up until much later, by which time I had entered into a doomed-to-fail marriage, and was in the Royal Signals. (For the now-hilarious details of that period of my life, read It’ll Be Alright in the Morning!)
I was already making a name for myself as a rock singer when we first met, somewhere along North London’s Holloway Road, where for several years the legendary independent producer Joe Meek operated his famous recording studio until he put a shotgun into this mouth and blew his brains out—having first blown away half of his landlady’s chest.
To condense what I suspect will be the heart of my next book, let me say Dickson remains the best friend I ever had. The vicissitudes of show business being what they are, I often had to rely on him to eat. We often shared his bed and were as close as it’s possible for two males to be without being sexual.
We had a language all our own and could engage each other in conversation, regardless of the audience, without fear of eavesdroppers. Dickson accompanied me to my very first bodybuilding contest, the Mr. Home Counties (I won, naturally!). He attended as many of my singing performances as was possible (he had a regular job, after all!).
My respective girlfriends went to Dickson when we were in trouble, cried on his shoulder when they needed comforting, poured their hearts out to him. But not even once did he say a word about me that was unflattering. If the complaints were indefensible (as were the majority), he kept that to himself.
It would’ve come as no surprise to learn some of my special ladies secretly wished they had fallen for Dickson in the first place, and not for me. Which is to say he was everything anyone could wish for in a friend.
We’ve known each other over 60 years, Dickson and I, and not once has he come close to disappointing me. If it means anything, those who know me well (and don’t just imagine they do!) know also how much I cherish my friendship with Dickson.
Indeed, I’ve countless times spoken of him on TV and on the radio; I’ve also referred in scores of articles to his unconditional loyalty, enduring love and kindness—and patience.
I have no doubt that if he should look up the definition of friend he would have no quarrel with it—even though none of my own dictionaries comes close to defining what Dickson has selflessly been to me for over six decades.
My only hope is that he never feels the need to look up the word betray! Then again, knowing the man, he’d probably make
excuses for my million, er, lapses and infelicities.
By the way, the cocky kid referred to at the start of this piece was recently in the news acknowledging undeniable hanky-panky with the hired help and pleading with his wife to allow him back into the family home.
By all accounts his pleas fell on well-tutored ears. If she forgave him his most egregious indiscretion, still Maria Schwarzenegger had also decided against the risk of finding herself dumped in a hole—whether or not six feet deep!