Some months after that, the friendship wound down, and at last stopped altogether. There was no dramatic parting of the ways. The phone calls and shopping expeditions just got more and more desultory. The moment that probably should have been a clean breaking point, but wasn’t, came in the library during one eternal lunch period. We were both sitting against the stacks on the wall, and we’d been snapping at each other. The gist was that Rachel was telling me that she was sick of me. Finally I got revved up enough to say, “Well, if that’s how you feel, why don’t you go somewhere else?” She replied, with far more exasperation than warmth, “Where else am I supposed to go?” And that, for the time being at least, settled that. It didn’t occur to me till years later that I would have been well justified in walking off myself, in that case. Or maybe it did occur to me; but, I stayed, until it was over.
I suppose I might also have thought, if incoherently, that it was, somehow, poetic justice. I’d once given my friend Richard the cold shoulder, after all, more or less at her behest, in that library, perhaps in that very spot. Rachel shared the opinion of the overwhelming majority, that “Dickie” was a shrill, giggling, mincing faggot and hence not worth acknowledging, much less consorting with. (“He’s gay,” she told me matter-of-factly, one day in her kitchen. “Everybody knows he’s gay.” Then, with a small laugh, “It’s his fault. He was born that way.”) I had felt both uneasy and annoyed that day, as Rachel urged me away with barely a pretense of politeness; all concessions to conformity aside, the truth was, he did annoy me, quite a bit in fact. Part of it was simply that at the end of the day, we really didn’t have all that much in common, Dick and I; like his overbearing mother, Richard was deeply conservative and conventional in many ways. I did not share his affection for Reagan, or for Bette Midler tearjerkers. I found his sense of humor juvenile, his mannerisms irritating, his clinginess an outright pain in the ass. Even then, though, I knew that at least part of the giggling and the eyerolling and the pestering came from loneliness.
That day in particular it certainly seemed that he knew he was on the verge of being dismissed, somewhere under all the determined cluelessness. His voice had gotten shriller and gigglier even as I squirmed away from whatever he was telling me—something about how he’d gotten on some mailing list but they’d gotten his name wrong, they’d addressed him as “Rickie,” with an “e,” like a girl, apparently they thought he was a girl, too, wasn’t that funny?! Finally I gave up and told him baldly that I, we, had to go, now. I looked him full in the face. That was the day that I learned that you can, in fact, read expressions in peoples’ eyes, not just around the eyes, as I’d been told by my father or some other logical person. Something happened to the blue; it darkened, then went flat. Something broke.