“Then fall, Caesar.”

by Rob Vitaro, 1999

It was just a stupid card game; I didn’t even play it that much. All I knew was that the rare card Jeremy wanted from me was worth six dollars. I could tell he really wanted it, but I wasn’t interested in a trade; it was worth six dollars! Just to appease him, though, I asked what he would give me in return. Strangely, he offered me a common card of equal usefulness (as far as the game was concerned), but worth only a measly fifty cents; I even had one of those already. My mind staggered in confusion as I tried to comprehend why my supposed good friend would knowingly rip me off. I felt insulted, as if he thought I wouldn’t know the difference. Did he think I was an idiot? “You would actually make that trade, knowing full well you’re screwing your friend in the process?” I stammered. He showed no remorse. “Well, I’m not going to make a deal unless I get something out of it.” The smug look on his face was alien. Who did he think he was? “Well, then you’re devious and sinister, and I’m not going to trade anything with you now.” I couldn’t believe the whole thing; what a great way to begin English class. How could the eleventh grade be this stressful? Luckily, there was no group activity that day, just a class discussion on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; the two of us didn’t have to talk to each other throughout the class. By the end of class, though, I had already cooled off; after all, it was just a stupid card game. I asked him what the homework assignment was because I couldn’t see from the glare on the board; he just packed up his books and bolted out the door. Okay, so he was still mad. Whatever.

Second in our class, Jeremy was an extremely intelligent person. His work ethics were admirable; he was diligent not only in academics but also in athletics, whether it be the track team or his private karate training. However, even though one could usually guess what Jeremy would be doing with his free period, he was sometimes a very unpredictable person. It was rare for him and I to have a disagreement on anything, but when we did it always puzzled me. He constantly claimed that he didn’t understand a lot of American traditions, expressions and customs, and that was why he reacted “differently” in certain situations. Personally, I thought he used that as a scapegoat. Though born in Taiwan and raised in a Chinese-speaking home, Jeremy had lived in the U.S. since he was a toddler. He could complain all he wanted, but with his long, shiny black hair reaching past his shoulders always in a ponytail, in my opinion, Jeremy was an American. I won’t deny that Asians have a different system of honor than Americans. Jeremy took some things to heart where maybe I wouldn’t. But he was my friend, and I knew where his limit was; at least I thought I did before this had happened.

The following day I still got the cold shoulder from him, but I wasn’t worried much. People handle anger differently, and for some it just takes longer to begin to work things out. I kept a distance and waited for Jeremy to come around later that day, but that never happened. By the third day I was confused, hurt, and depressed-but only because I had just been dumped by my first girlfriend. Jeremy used to be one of my confidants; now he wasn’t talking to me. That didn’t stop me from talking, though. I talked away, and he just sat there pretending to read. I knew he was listening, but he never said a word. In hindsight, I can’t help but recall him holding back a satisfied smirk, as if losing my girlfriend was justice. After a week, I began to think the whole thing was becoming ridiculous. I asked other people if Jeremy said anything to them, but they had nothing to give me. I knew he was a private person (I was about the only person he ever confided in), so that didn’t surprise me. But something was seriously wrong; this couldn’t completely be over that “devious and sinister” thing. It was just a stupid card game! It must have been the spark that set off weeks or even months of a waiting fire. I almost went up to him one day to demand an explanation, but I just couldn’t do it. I too began to be stubborn and full of pride; by two weeks I was fed up and angry. I couldn’t believe he had let it go this far. There was no way I was going to hang my head in shame like a punished child and beg for his forgiveness, though. I wanted to know what he was so mad about. It looked as if he was willing to never be friends again, and put absolutely no effort into fixing what was wrong. If that was how he wanted it, that was fine with me!

When two months had passed, I thought I was quite numb to the situation. Jeremy seemed like such a different person. I had gotten used to him by now; the whole thing was almost comical. When teachers asked me to pass along information or papers to Jeremy for whatever reason, my response would usually be, “Um, I think you better do that ’cause he doesn’t talk to me anymore.” I think my laugh that followed was what shocked them; they knew full well what good friends we used to be. They would ask what happened, and I’d laugh again. “I called him devious and sinister.” They were just as confused as I was. Through the laughs, though, I could tell deep down inside I missed my friend. I knew I had hurt him in some way, and even though I had no idea what it was he hated about me, I was willing to be the first to apologize. “Humbling myself might just be worth it, if I can fix this,” I thought. I had determined (how, I don’t know) that a face to face confrontation, even a phone call, was futile, so I secretly signed his yearbook. I apologized for hurting him, though I made it clear I still had no idea what it was he was really mad at. I received no response, not even over the summer; I bet he burned the book later.

Senior year was probably incredibly awkward for Jeremy. No matter where he turned, there I was in all his classes, and in some of his after school activities. It was just dumb luck. At one point a new teacher split our very small class into groups of two to do a project; naturally, as Murphy’s Law would have it, Jeremy and I were paired together. The surprising thing was that it was almost like nothing had ever happened between us. We wanted a funny presentation, a debate between Ross Perot and Bill Clinton, and we laughed ourselves silly preparing it in class; he even laughed at my jokes! But outside class, and especially after the project was over, it was back to same situation. I wasn’t at all surprised. I had no problem with Jeremy by this point; I was just really disappointed he couldn’t even try to work things out. It seemed as if he loathed me being in the same room. At the end of the year, it must have been incredibly frustrating him to stand on stage and accept the award of salutatorian, only to have his mortal enemy join him there with the award of valedictorian. I reached out to shake his hand; it was my salute to him, but also my last-ditch effort to save our friendship. The cameras flashed from everywhere; he could have at least smiled. After graduation, I thought I’d never hear from him again.

Then one day in college, almost a year and a half after the dreaded card incident, I received an e-mail from him. “He must have got my address from Jay,” I thought, a mutual friend of ours who sent out a group e-mail just a few days earlier. I was caught totally off guard. In the letter, he tried to explain why he “broke communication” with me, but it raised even more questions in my head. He said that I was competitive with him in school, and with video games (events straight out of seventh grade!). He claimed I was selfish with our mutual friends, leaving him out of “the group.” He even wrote that I was selfish for dating a girl who had previously dated a good friend of mine-that occurred a year after he stopped talking to me! His most perplexing case revolved around me being manipulative; his examples were vague. “You made me do things I didn’t want to do,” he said. In all, the letter almost frightened me because it seemed as if he had kept these things bottled up for almost six years, and even after not talking to me for so long, it still angered him intensely. His tone throughout the letter made it seem like what I had done to him was the worst betrayal in history, as if he were Caesar writing to Brutus straight from the grave. As I nearly laughed at this analogy, I began to get a good look at myself. Had I taken our friendship and his feelings for granted? Was I so stuck on my “Nice Guy” label that I honestly thought I was incapable of hurting someone? How sensitive (or insensitive) was I to him all these years? It seemed as if he valued this friendship so much more than I did. Why was that? Could I have prevented all this? He gave me the chance to respond, and I did almost immediately. I explained what I could, but it was mainly full of more questions like, “What do you mean? I don’t understand. Can you give me an example?” But I knew it was all futile; for him, this letter was closure. He never responded.

A year later, I was taking time off from college, and was at Applebee’s with Jay, his parents, and his girlfriend. It was a casual dinner, a time for catching up with my good friends, now sophomores in college. Halfway through the evening, a few guys came in and got a table; one of them was Jeremy. Jay’s parents were a little surprised that he didn’t come right over to say hi to us. We began to tell them all about the last two and a half years, and they were simply shocked. I was just hoping, though, that he might come over, even just to say hi. To my surprise, he did. He came over and said hi to everyone at the table.

Except me.

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