It is not policy or politics or ideals that separate us anymore. It is basic human decency.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Dear Friend,

I saw something funny the other day that reminded me of you and I wanted to post it on your Facebook wall when I realized you no longer had a check mark next to the ‘friend’ box underneath your name and a picture of you and your family sitting among some leaves.

At first I thought it might be a mistake. I considered emailing Facebook customer support to see whether you had been hacked. But then I thought about it a little bit and I realized it’s been about a year since I’ve seen anything from you. No ballet recitals, no pumpkin patches, no first day of school photos…no Friday Be Like memes.

I decided to take look at your page, you know, a one-way catch up. And in that time a lot of the stuff you posted, your feet by a pool of a timeshare in Maui, a small gathering with coworkers, last Christmas with your extended family, were well outnumbered by political stuff. It wasn’t just an interesting editorial or two, but from what I could tell it was a mainlined mishmash of horror stories from websites I’ve never heard of. Most of them were apocalyptically themed and had to do with some made-up specious act that someone on the left (or center, or mainstream right) had perpetrated.

The only thing they all had in common through the months was they got progressively worse and worse and more leaning towards the eve of destruction. You even had Tomi Lahren, the Katniss Everdeen of half-formed thoughts and malaprops, up there.

I smirked.

I shrugged.

I tried to understand.

Clearly you have either a) actually been hacked or b) your shits are uncomfortable and infrequent enough to the point that you want to die.

Or maybe Isis has something to do with it. Maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know. You seem to think Isis has something to do with everything. Them or Obama. Oh wait, Obama is the head of Isis according to you, so nevermind.

I wanted to send you a note, maybe see if you’re OK. Or maybe to see if you’re trapped in a basement with your only source of light filtering through one of those scary giant fans chopping up shadows across your face like in an ‘80s video. Maybe you’re being fed a steady diet of manager’s special red meat, Lime-a-ritas and WD-40 and are being brainwashed to believe we are living in the first Mad Max movie.

Then I thought better of it. After all, who am I to you? Who are you to me? We haven’t called one another in five, maybe ten years. The last time we hung out was in a group and neither of us made much of an effort to talk to one another other than the token handshake and half hug and how’s the family/how’s the job? We no longer live in the same town and I haven’t been living in that area code for quite some time, decades actually. We are not on each other’s Christmas Card list and we don’t email or text.

I feel a little bad about that. Because I remember a different time when we talked every day. We sat next to one another in class. We played mud bowl tackle football over winter break. There is a picture of it hanging in a bar somewhere. You are there, so am I. So are about 30 other dudes whose smiles will always be home to me.

But things are different. Those boys are not just men, but they are becoming old men. And other rigors of life, the kind that were once just mystery in our father’s eyes, are now clear as the challenge of today. And you have changed and I have changed too. And maybe it’s good that you unfriended me. It’s the natural order of things. People grow up, they learn, they take certain lessons to heart and leave others out with the recycling, and they move on.

It’s human nature. Though we are pack animals, we are meant to wander, to seek. To find a herd that is expressly us. And maybe you’ve found that herd. Maybe a bunch of angry white men whose rhetoric is anti-Democracy, pro-demagoguery is what you are after. And how is it my place to question whether that’s what you want? I don’t put on your shoes and go to your work and come home to your wife and children every day, so how do I have to right to pretend to know who you really are after all these years and, more importantly, what informs you?

And judging by the looks of things, why should I even want to?

So I shut the window and ostensibly closed the door of our friendship, just like you had so many months ago. And I was OK with that.

Until I wasn’t.

Later in the day and into the night, I couldn’t help but wonder what was the fork in the road that divided us? We had the same teachers and coaches. We rode our bikes on the same streets while our moms ran into one another at the same grocery store.

So what did happen? If the truth be told, politics was never one of our strong commonalities. Your family was a little conservative and mine was a little liberal. So what? In the end I feel like both sets of parents voted for the best candidate, someone who they thought could best represent our town, region or country with the actual people in mind.

I no longer see the world the way I dd when I was 12, or 20 or even 30. The small town we grew up in was mostly white, and my opinions about the world were informed by mostly white people. They were, suffice to say, not at all accurate. And before we go further, I admittedly have not always taken the high road. I have said and done racist things. I have dismissed the condition of those born less fortunate than me as something that is their own doing. And I have gotten jealous of those who look/think/act different who have somehow managed climb up from all that American sludge and do better than me.

Though I am not trying to justify it, part of the reason for the above is exposure, or lack thereof. We did not have a lot of minorities or gays or radicals in our town, and if there were, they were in placed in the margins of our daily existence of school, sports and messing around on the weekends.

When I got older, I went out and explored a little. I left the area for college. After that, I lived in large metros and small towns in four different states. I have worked for mom and pop shops and giant corporations. Through all of that I can say people are similarly different everywhere. Each place has its leaders, its spoilers, its greedy contingent and its do-gooders.

I know for sure now some truths are unavoidable. Racism exists. Social injustices exist. Life is not always fair for families and children especially those struggling to tread water just above the poverty line. Women have to clamor—constantly—to be treated anywhere near as fair as their male counterparts. And when they do make noise, even a little, it is often rebuked outright.

And maybe it’s OK for you to lash out your frustrations online as a representation of what informs your opinion, but not necessarily who you are. And maybe you have looked at some of my posts and thought I’m batshit. In fact, I know you have, the proof is in the unfriending.

The problem is you still see the world through the lens of a child. You have yet to learn the lesson that no grown-up can match the memory of how he grew up—especially if growing up was a happy time which I think it was for both of us. Being raised white in a mostly white suburb meant we were the luckiest subset of the luckiest bunch in the world.

So what is this time of greatness you’re reaching for? Is it when you could step on the necks of the voiceless and not be penalized for it? Or is it simply back then music sounded better, food tasted better and your joints didn’t hurt as much?

The reality is, you are wrong and I am right. I am on the side of the right and not because I am being self-righteous. Time moves on. History has shown us again and again that those who cling to memory, who seek a past that didn’t really ever exist except for in the fog of your own failing synapses, are either doomed to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors or be left behind. Right now, the past you cling to so hard is a one-way-ticket to your own obsolescence.

But there’s something else you must know as well, because deep down you may know all the truths above and are simply having a hard time reconciling them.

You have become dangerous.

I do not say that lightly or as a joke. I am OK with conservative values and I am OK with having some differences on issues of our time. That’s fine. We are a nation of disagreers. Look at Thanksgiving, a four-day weekend specifically put on the calendar so we can travel untenable distances to sit around the table with people we have nothing in common with except maybe a handful of nucleotides, and basically proceed to cough out our own personal beliefs between the passing of stuffing, which was much better last year when grandma’s recipe was used.

No, your rhetoric has gone from family-based, America-first to you’re ready to strap on a suicide vest and blow this democracy the fuck up like a final scene in a Michael Bay film. You are actively and perhaps unwittingly promoting the work of the KKK, of neo-Nazis, of evil megachurch false prophets, of dictators who are laying waste to sovereign lands for a statement. The butts of your jokes are often blacks and gays and women and Native Americans and science.

The miniature witch hunts and meritless insecurities you support are McCarthyism—only not as a fringe movement but as a raging cancer of the fringe attempting to take over this country at large. I know you don’t like the comparisons of your movement to Nazi Germany, and yet the exact same rhetoric is working in the exact same fashion to get you riled up, fired up and goose stepping to the freakishly awful missives of a buffoonish demagogue who has spent a career, a lifetime, taking advantage of people like you and me and our folks and gaming the system—for personal gain.

When your children and my children hear the hateful yet scattered spittle-flecked screeds of that mawkish leader and his surrogates, they change too. Even limited exposure has showed them only a type of warped and dystopian grown-up reality that we were never exposed to as children.

So if you do, in fact, hold on to anything of the past—an innocence, a purity—you flush it all down the shitter with your grotesque and self-loathing vision of now which you so readily share.

I know these are not a comforting statements or necessarily kind ones, but they come from a place of me trying to understand for months and not being able to grasp how very very much you must hate your life. So much that you want to flip over the game board and ruin it for everyone.

The truth is, the world, whether you like it or not, is not conspiring against you. You are not that important. None of us are. The moment after you draw your last breath, the world will keep turning. Someone will be buying a coffee, a baby will cry its first tears, one car will run into another car and ruin the day of each party involved. Whether you see it that way or like it, that’s how it goes.

So our friendship, or what once was a friendship, doesn’t mean a whole lot either in the grand scheme of things. For what it’s worth though, I did cherish our time together and I do have one final wish for you: I hope you somehow find happiness, not hatred, to guide you through the rest of your time here. Ultimately, you deserve that. Nothing would help make the world a better place and nothing would make me happier—whether it says we are friends or not.

Andrew J. Pridgen is the author of “Burgundy Upholstery Sky”.