This has been weighing on me for a week now in its most specific instance, but in a broader sense it’s something I think about all the time: When it comes to a friendship, is blind loyalty wise, kind or just performing a great disservice to the friendship that was fostered in the first place? Who (and what) does that sort of loyalty serve?
I have a friend, someone I’ve known since high school, who found himself in a legal kerfuffle of sorts for involving himself with a girl one year too young to be considered an adult while he was in a legal position of authority. The affair went on for a long while and was consummated. It is, on paper, admittedly unpleasant. This wasn’t a 39 year old man vs. a 13 year old girl sort of thing, but to the eyes of the Illinois legal system, it wasn’t far off. Her parents pressed charges, he went to jail. As soon as I heard it was happening, about a year ago now, I sent a Facebook email and told him I was thinking about him and I wished him the best. I don’t recall him responding, but a mutual friend filled me in as events unfolded. He’s out now, he has a wife and a beautiful child (and did when this happened, at least the wife part), but his legal troubles are not over.
A week ago, he sent out a Facebook email to a handful of people who have known him as long as I have, and he asked us to complete a sort of form letter giving positive comments on his person, his character, his intentions, his family man status, his overall trustworthiness. I know he’s gotten a few back but I was not among them. In fact, tonight I saw that he posted to a mutual friend’s (the same one who kept me posted on the situation) wall an inquiry on where her letter was, and that it would mean a lot to him if she sent it. On her public wall. For all of us to see (though granted, it only made sense to a few).
I recognize that facing the law can be scary, especially when you get into the adult man/underage girl facets of it. He stands almost no chance unless her parents back down and decide to walk away. If they and their lawyers want to lock him up until his child is of driving age, they conceivably could. Legally, they wouldn’t be wrong.
He and I are, if I have to classify it, casual friends despite some memorable teenage moments. We ran into one another downtown after literally years of not seeing one another and we sort of picked up the pace towards each other upon spotting and hugged. It was wonderful to see the man he’d become, despite this dark cloud hanging over his family (they are beautiful, I was so happy to see his wife and meet his kid at the same time). So why wouldn’t I help a friend in this time of need? What is holding me back from writing that letter? It’s just a letter, right? Every little bit helps and whatever I can do to stick it to lawyers and keep a buddy out of the clink should make anyone feel good… right?
Well, no. Not really. And that’s the rub. For me to complete that letter would involve a 100% suspension of my knowledge of the law. It would mean that I could not possibly put myself in the mind of a mother whose teenage daughter was out and about with a man nearly twice her age for an extended period of months, both knowing the risks of their actions. If those letters served as documentation in a court of law, I would be purging myself to a certain extent. He’s part of my history, but I don’t know him well enough as an adult to comment on his character (this particular situation notwithstanding). If this man was a better, closer friend I might struggle with it more. I would be shifting in my seat, extremely uncomfortable when he asks where my letter is. I would not know what to say because it would all sound like judgment or simply me turning my back on him and his family in his time of need.
I think about this a lot. I still don’t really know how to handle it. If we were sitting together I would put my hand on his shoulder. I would squeeze his palm. I would silently nod a nod of strength to let him know that he has friends and people who care about him. So why is writing it down such a difficult thing? Is it because the questions are more specific than I feel I can accurately answer? Is it just that it’s on paper? I really can’t put my finger on it, but it seems that for our friendship, where it stands today, it is not solid enough that if I were to be hypothetically called in to defend my answers, that I could. I simply do not know this man anymore. Arguably, I haven’t known him since we were teenagers together and now that he is a man he’s done this thing which anyone, if caught, goes up against the authorities for doing. I could never compliment or endorse my way around that fact, no matter how kind or flowery or articulate. Am I a bad friend? A bad once upon a friend? I don’t know. I just really don’t know.