People often get nostalgic for the wrong reasons. Instead of saying “I loved that show!” or “I remember where I was when … ,” the truly important memories should start: “I loved watching that show with … ,” or “I remember who I was with when … .”
When I was growing up in Scotland in the late 80s and early 90s, I was best friends with a boy called Benjie. We were inseparable, reading Where The Wild Things Are together at age six, playing days-long Monopoly games at age eight, spending hours sweatily pounding at Street Fighter II controllers at age eleven, and surreptitiously flipping through a vast array of dirty magazines (stolen from his older brother) at age twelve.
As time went on, I became what can at most be charitably described as the snivelling underling of the friendship. I would do pretty much whatever Benjie decreed. Once while I was visiting his house, he decided he wanted fish and chips from the shop fifteen minutes down the road. Not wanting to make the walk himself, he sent me instead—by the back door so that his mother wouldn’t know what was going on.
Another time he decided he wanted to write a mystery novel, so he jotted down a page or two establishing the main character and the crime and then sat me in front of the computer to bring his vision to completion. While I feverishly typed, he took off his shirt and stood in front of the mirror admiring his pectorals. (I wish I were making this up)
I only see his alpha-ness in retrospect though. At the time I thought we were equals and did everything I could to make us more so. I took up the piano after being dazzled by an impromptu performance at his doting parents’ request. I bought an armoury of Super Soaker water guns after seeing one lying in his backyard. I started collecting compilations of rap music after he mentioned a passing enjoyment of Cypress Hill.
I also took up Judo, a martial art that Benjie practiced regularly and never hesitated to demonstrate on me when the urge grabbed him. I’m not sure what sustained more bruising in the year or so of classes I slogged through before giving it up: my spindly limbs after so many encounters with the mats or my ego after my Mickey Mouse underwear was spotted as I changed out of my judogi at the end of class.
It was around this time that Benjie and I went off to separate high schools. Almost immediately, he fell in with a rowdier crowd (secretly smoking, sneaking out of the house at night, that sort of thing), whereas I fell in with very little crowd at all. I kept to my books and Star Trek obsession mostly, and tried to do all the good-kid things I thought I was supposed to.
As a result, I was increasingly horrified by Benjie’s behaviour, and he increasingly mortified by mine, and inevitably our friendship faded. We hung out less and stopped inviting each other to birthday parties. When I moved to the States for college he wasn’t at my going away party. (I’m not even sure I told him about it.) I haven’t seen or heard from him since the early 2000s—though I hear through the rumor mill that he makes a living these days playing poker.
For all his foibles, Benjie is what I think of fondly when I remember my childhood, or really anything about the 80s or 90s. I distinctly remember Benjie recapping the Friends pilot for me—it was on past my bedtime in Scotland—and many happy Saturdays watching the early evening line-up over pizza in his kitchen: Gladiators, Blind Date, and Noel’s House Party.
The movies I remember, I had watched with him, both in the theater and in his room—especially after his bar mitzvah windfall when he bought himself a giant new TV. And of course there were the video games, not just Street Fighter but classic Atari games at his house, Sonic at mine, and Mario together on our Game Boys. My old Sega copy of NBA Jam will forever have his initials immortalized on the all-time records list. (He cheated—whenever he lost a game he’d hit reset before it had a chance to register.)
In hindsight, Benjie was an ass sometimes, and yet I can’t help but forgive him. Honestly, I’m not even sure forgiveness is the appropriate response. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t know my own boundaries, or the importance of standing up myself, or probably a thousand other lessons I still haven’t realized he taught me. I wouldn’t have the benefit of years of close male friendship, even—especially—an imperfect one, to guide me as I make new ones.
Above all, I wouldn’t be me. When I get nostalgic now about a TV show or a movie or the 80s and 90s in general, I always take a moment to remember Benjie, as well as the other friends I made as I grew older and finally ditched Star Trek. I know that the cultural artifacts and experiences from my childhood changed the path I took while growing up. It was also the people walking with me, Benjie probably more than any of them, who got me where I am today.
—Photo credit: Ryan Somma/Flickr