Endings at a Park

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The list of unspeakables had gotten long.  Ashley and I sat in the park near Incheon’s Arts Center, eating sandwiches and watching the children play in the enormous fountain.  My chicken wrap dripped mustard sauce like sweat; it was a Sunday and the sun was bright and warm.  Summer was just stepping to the front of the line, the heat of the days making things like breeze and shade more valuable.  The children in the park ran through the fountain to cool themselves off.  Ashley and I sat right in the sun.

“Have you noticed that we’re the only non-family here?” she asked me.  It hadn’t dawned on me, but she was right.  Everyone in the park was either a parent or a child.  When a little girl fell down, there was always a mother there to pick her up.  Boys played catch with their fathers.  Sometimes the children would walk past us and, seeing the lightness of our skin broadcasting that we were from somewhere else, they would wave to us and say “hello.”

A relationship between two people – whether it be friendly, romantic, or some sort of mixture of the two – is only as good as the list of unspeakable things is short.  Ashley and I sat in the sun and talked about movies, feminism, and childhood.  We laughed when a small boy took off his clothes and urinated in the fountain.  Still, our list was there and I could feel it stuck between every pause in the conversation.  It was all the bad things that had happened between us – the people that couldn’t be mentioned, the nights that had gone bad.  Certain words, like “lawyer,” had grown fatter in meaning because of the things I’d said.  Simple questions like “what’d you do last night” changed into inquiries, switching from conversation to control.  Those questions weren’t simple any more.  Questions have memories, and my questions were filled with the memories of those nights when she’d left me alone to go off with other guys.

But there had to be something that brought us to the park on a hot Sunday afternoon.  It wasn’t coincidence, or boredom, or the allure of eating a chicken wrap and getting mustard sauce all over our fingers.  It was the three months we spent together, talking for hours every day, making each other laugh and becoming great friends.  When there’s a list of unspeakables, something must be there to keep two people pushing past it, making conversation in the face of it feeling forced and awkward.  Or at least a person likes to think so anyways.  Like every sentence she said told me that no matter how much she might have hurt me, she was still there.

Every now and then, the water in the fountain would stop, and the children, their wet clothes soaking up the heat, would wait anxiously for it to start again.  Some of the little ones would wander around, confused.  Still, they seemed to know where they were, aware that they were inside the confines of something – the park, the fountain, their families – and if they would wander away from the collection of children at the fountain’s center, they would never have walked too far away.  Not so far, they seemed to know, that they couldn’t turn and come running back to the water when it started up again.  It would only take a few beats to rejoin everyone, in the heart of the fountain, where all the complexity of the world was washed away by giant geysers of white water shot five feet up in the air.  I wondered if, at the end of their day, headed back home to dry off and get ready for school the next morning, those children, thinking back to their Sunday in the park, would feel like smiling or like crying.

Monday morning I called Ashley.  I was exhausted.  I told her that I cared for her, and then I told her that I couldn’t handle having her in my life anymore.  Our list had gotten too long, the hurt too much.  Strange, isn’t it, how empty one can feel when they know they’re doing the right thing?  It must’ve felt, I imagined, the same way those children felt leaving the park.  I suppose the end to anything, no matter how good or bad the events that preceded it, is always at least a little bit sad.

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The Ethics of Unfriending

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For a little over two years, I have been a part of a big and wonderful place of cyber-belonging called Facebook. And in those two years, I have “unfriended” exactly one person.  Granted, I did unfriend that same person at two different points in time, but never-the-less, only one individual has warranted an unfriending. Yet somehow I’ve been unfriended numerous times, which makes me think that I like people much more than they like me in return.  Although I don’t have the hard stats in front of me, I’m well aware that my I-was-unfriended/I-unfriended-someone ratio is not good.  Once, about a year ago, I sat down and looked at all the relationships I’d ever been in, and determined that my got-dumped/did-the-dumping ratio was a pitiful 10:1. The most humiliating part of that is I’ve only been in 11 relationships.

Last week alone, I was Facebook unfriended by three people.  My “friend” count went from 269 to 266.  I shook my head, knowing that I would now have to find three other people to send friend requests to.  My friend number had to be balanced back out, obviously.  Maybe those folks from high school who kept popping up on the “People You May Know” list would have to finally be friended.  You know who I’m talking about – the dude you vaguely remember, who shares like 45 mutual friends with you, and who you’ve sort of been in a friend-request blinking contest with.  I’d look at that person’s profile pic and think, “If he sends me friend request, fine…but I’m NOT sending that loser one!”  Seeing that I had lost three friends in a week, I was suddenly feeling nostalgic.

Going back to the one person I unfriended, I think it’s important to state that I told her both times that I would be unfriending her.  The unfriending was not done in a covert fashion, as most seem to prefer.  Oh no – I did my unfriending ethically.  She didn’t have to go on her news feed and think, “Where are Bill’s status updates,” and then slowly and in horror realize that the unfriending had taken place.  It seems only ethically right to send the person a message before committing the evil deed.  I’m not even saying that the unfriending party has to offer an explanation, just an acknowledgement that, hey, it’s time to say so long.  I’ve enjoyed your photos, “liked” a few of your comments, and now I feel I need to move on.

Now, I don’t think the “unfriending message” has to always happen. Sometimes it’s obvious why someone unfriends me – like in the case of the one girl I dumped.  But other times, I’ve been the victim of a shock unfriending.  Just recently, I found a former co-worker, the art teacher from my old school, on the “People You May Know” page.  I had no idea she had unfriended me.  Why on earth did this happened?  Was I culled? Did I say something offensive?  Did I post too many status updates? Maybe she was on an ego trip and was just axing people randomly for her own satisfaction.  It’s a mystery that will never be solved because, right now, silent unfriending is an acceptable norm.

I remember when I was a kid, there was a boy named Eddie Snyder who was a bit rough with my toys.  It was hard, but I had to tell Eddie that our friendship was over.  Did I feel awkward?  Sure I did.  Eddie understood though – it was for the sake of the toys.  In real human relations, there’s the understanding that saying goodbye is a part of the game.  No one likes to do it, but we realize that it’s the right thing to do.  The question, I guess, is: Do we consider Facebook relationships so trivial that normal rules of friendship don’t apply?  It’ll be interesting to see what the answer to that is in the future.  And, if that answer is ‘no,’ does that mean unfriending messages become the norm, or do goodbyes become a thing of the past, an artform abandoned for silent retreat?

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