All friendships end either in death, or in betrayal.
The thought comes to me, as I am bathing. It sounds profound, probably pessimistic, not a little depressive. I roll the phrase around in my head, looking for a way to make it untrue. Surely, some friendships mustn’t end? Not all of them end only in two ways? Some must end happily! Can a friendship end happily on one side only?
As I eat my breakfast, the morning sun shines through the window into the dining room, a low beam slicing the light haze, striking the trays of food on the buffet against the far wall. Steam swirls up lazily from the open bowl of scrambled eggs. Focusing on it, I lose myself in reverie again.
How can a friendship end happily? Even when good friends must leave each other, the friendship is maintained, no matter how many years extend beyond the parting. Whether farewell or goodbye, it still continues indefinitely. No end is apparent, only change.
What was Maggie thinking? The pain of the sudden thought stabs me, and I grunt, my reverie suddenly ended. The chair scrapes across the floorboards below me as I stand, leaving my plate empty on the table. As I leave, I hear a mild hush follow me, along with the eyes of some. Head high, shoulders back. I don’t much feel like it, but sometimes pride is all a man has.
When a friend betrays another, when does the friendship end? When the betrayal occurs, or when the other learns of it? Has the betrayer ended it, or the betrayed? Who holds the knife that cuts the thread?
Was the friendship over when I found Joseph with Maggie, or when one of them started their tryst? Or was it up to me to end it? Did it end yesterday, or will it end today? Even more complicated when two friendships, intertwined more than we guess, end at the same time.
If we forgive a betrayal, has the friendship ended? Some might argue no. The relationship continues. But surely, the character of the friendship must change, once trust has been broken. No man can step into the same river twice. If that were applicable, then no friendship is ever continuous through its perpetual change of character. Forgiveness is moot here, though. It may never happen. Certainly not today.
As I walk outside, my boots clump on the plank walkway. I look up and down the street, the morning sunlight warming the upper facades across from me. Some curious eyes dart away from mine as I meet them.
What about irreconcilable disagreement? Even without a conventional or dramatic betrayal, friendships that end not by death must wither through an irreconcilable difference. If a friend tries to force a friend to act against his best interest, or against his moral sense, he has betrayed his friend. He no longer is loyal. He no longer understands his friend, nor cares, and both care and understanding are fundamental to friendship.
I look far toward the north end of town. I see Maggie on the walkway. A beam of sunlight extends from between two buildings and illuminates her, her plain dress fluttering in the light breeze that has come up. Her bonnet doesn’t protect her eyes from the light with the sun at this angle, and she raises her hand to shade them as she looks across the street. I follow her gaze to see Joseph, on my side of the street, step down from the walkway onto the hard packed dirt.
In death, a friendship must end. There is no possibility of further communication. Fondness certainly continues, and even a devotion and loyalty to the one who has passed on. Do we not defend our absent friends in the face of gossip they can no longer answer? Do we not love and miss them? But we cannot maintain a friendship in a conventional sense. It must end and become something else entirely.
What if a friend kills a friend? If the death is accidental, then it is the death that ends the friendship. Could a bad accident, if caused through negligence, count as betrayal? If it is murder, is it the betrayal that comes when the decision to kill is made? What about mutual combat? Is the friendship over when whatever transgression that started the combat occurs? Is there a chance to redeem it then? Or when the death is caused?
If a friend asks to be killed, does the friendship end when the killer gives up on his friend and chooses to honor his wish? Or when he kills him?
I step into the street, looking toward Joseph. He is tall and lanky, his characteristic duster left behind, no longer draping his frame, making him look taller and thinner than usual. Joseph, whom I have spent many a long day with. Joseph, whose short laugh and flashing eyes have punctuated many jokes. Joseph, who has split many a night watch with me. Joseph, who has spent more than one night with Maggie.
How do friendships begin? Seldom do we look at someone and say “I’m going to make him my friend,” at least not if other motives control. That’s how a salesman makes friends. The best friendships arise randomly, without purpose. Common interests can bring us together. Common interests can certainly drive us apart, too. But going into a friendship, we likewise seldom weigh its possibilities at the outset, either. We make friends out of joy and love. How sad would it be if we never entered a friendship without thinking, “How will this end? Death, or Betrayal?”
Joseph and I are now walking toward each other. If we could keep walking, maybe in another world, we might keep going until we meet, maybe shake hands, maybe embrace the way good friends do when comforting one another against sorrow.
We are walking, and it is our last walk together. We have had many walks, and many talks. All walks must end at a destination. When talking ends, a destination is reached just as decisively. Can we keep walking? Could we ever keep talking?
All friendships must end, either in Death or Betrayal.
How did this one end? It’s over already. Only one thing left to do.
I see the muzzle of Joseph’s gun clear leather, but mine is already level.
My bullet strikes Joseph high in the center of his chest, and he drops like a rag.