English: Several stacks of gym towels on a woo...

His name’s Ryan. We’ve known him for years. He’s a friend of Michael’s, my son. They went to primary school together, cub scouts together, till Ryan had to move away ’cause of his father’s job.

They stayed in contact. Wrote letters. Met up at half-term and Easter, for a week in the summer, sometimes at his, sometimes at ours. They had a lot in common. Sport mainly, but music too. When they met they were always active: cycling, football, tennis, bowling, walks, sledging in winter.

Then they got older. Tried drinking and smoking. Ryan got into it more than Michael. When they met he always wanted to get hold of something and Michael happily gave, till one time we found him in the bathroom puking on our towels and had to take him to the hospital to get his stomach pumped.

I told Michael then to think about where their relationship was going. Sure they wrote letters and were best friends at primary school, but they lived at the opposite end of the country. They were older. They were changing. Sometimes friendships run their course. They die. But Michael was having none of it. They were blood brothers or something like that.

So they continued writing. Went to university. Well, Ryan did. Michael took a gap-year, visited Ryan one weekend and didn’t come back. We thought he’d run away or OD’d or something. We were frantic, so we phoned Ryan and asked what was going on, what had happened, what had he done.

But it turned out he’d done nothing. Michael’s train was delayed, stuck somewhere between Crewe and Birmingham and the operator hadn’t told anyone and Michael didn’t have a mobile.

Michael came home then went to university and still wrote to Ryan and still saw him, though more and more it was Ryan visiting ours during the uni holidays rather than the other way round. He’d come for a week, eat with us, use our towels and shower gel. He was like a bad penny except not as useful. You can spend a penny. Ryan gave and gives us nothing.

After they graduated, Michael came home, got married, stayed in the area, settled down. Ryan went abroad and they wrote but less and less until now it’s down to a letter a year, if that. Michael moved on, had kids, but Ryan still turns up once in a while, like today, to eat our food and use our towels, and acts as if nothing has passed between even though they clearly have less and less in common.

Ryan is single, probably always will be, Michael has a wife and kids. Ryan flits from job to job, Michael has a career. Ryan owns a bag, Michael has a house with a mortgage. They don’t even like the same music anymore and Michael hates sport.

I look at them and don’t see the point. Michael gives room and board when he stays. Ryan gives him some hideous exotic gift. They sit and catch up but the room quickly fills with silence till one of them breaks it with a banal, do you remember when…?

I asked Michael about it once, asked him how Ryan was and told him I was amazed they still wrote. Why bother? And you know what he said?

Because, mum, I can give him towels and he can take them.


23 thoughts on “Ruined Towels Do Not A Friendship Break

  1. A lot of us have “Ryans” in our lives, I think.
    Our “Ryan” has wondered aimlessly for decades, sponging from all and sundry. He has finally settled down, has a steady girl and a full-time job now. I guess leopards can change their spots, sometimes.
    Nice post, thank you for sharing.

  2. Very wistful, reminiscing, semi autobiographical? Had the strangest dream about all your stuff, couldn’t get around it at all…

  3. It says ‘fiction’ on your tags…………. I’ll take your word for it (often people assume that everything I write is non fiction and I’m not sure why).
    I love the way you wrote this piece, it feels like a parent telling a story and I could see the situations unfold.
    It felt ‘real’. Well done and thank you for posting.
    I love the way the towels links everything together.

    • It was the parent narrating the story. Glad you picked that up. Some of its true, some of its not, you take some things from life and fashion it, that’s fiction right?

      • It’s interesting that you should say that…” Some of its true, some of its not, you take some things from life and fashion it, that’s fiction right?”
        Before I came to WP the things I wrote were almost exclusively non fiction and I had convinced myself that I could not write fiction (at least not as prolifically as non fiction). Then I found an old story I had written and then another one. Then I started writing stories that I used to make up for my boys when they were little. These stories were easy to write because I could be as outlandish as I liked and the only rules were that they needed to have animals in them somewhere and the two main characters had to be called George and Harry.
        As you know, some photography blogs sometimes have a ‘what is it’ photo or a ‘write a story about this photo’ post.
        I played around with some foolishness on these and I got a good response. Suddenly it felt like I might, with a bit of practice, be able to write fiction.
        What I have ended up doing, so as to feel comfortable, is including stuff that I have witnessed.
        And, as you said, ” Some of its true, some of its not, you take some things from life and fashion it, that’s fiction right?”

        I’m still new to this but I think that weaving in the ‘true’ stuff into the fiction gives it heart. At least it does for me, and that was what I was picking up when I read your story. It really does not matter to me which bits are true, just that it has heart, and your piece does.

      • Glad you felt it had heart and thanks for your reflections. I think most people can write fiction; they just have to know when to embelish and what to leave out. A lot of non-fiction is selective too, like In Cold Blood, and it doesn’t bother me as long as it’s a good story and has a truth even if it’s not the truth because the truth is not always as interesting

  4. I liked the contrast. The story is very relatable maybe not as extreme but I think that a lot of us can attest to having a Micheal and Ryan story. Best friends who become like fleeting acquaintances. It’s such a sad reality.

  5. wow! that’s quite a story: I notived you used ‘mobile phone’ instead of ‘cell phone’ which I assumed all americans use

  6. Oh wow. That last line is great. People can only ever judge a relationship from their own standpoint. Sometimes history is all you need to sustain something – good on Michael.

  7. This is so wonderful. Greats story telling. As you said in a comment before, I could just TELL that there is more to their friendship than the parent sees. That, is the essence of relationships.

    — Lauren

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