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The Story of Kenan and Chris
I’ve often told my story of Kenan and Chris. It starts like this:
They had known each other since preschool.
Their friendship had been cemented in a true test of valor: a bedwetting and cover up that rivaled the most fantastic of spy movies and remains to this day a sworn secret between them.
There had been a period roughly between third and sixth grade where he and Chris had hung out so much that the practically became the same person. There speech patterns mixed until they had developed their own language, with special pronunciation and thier own precise intonation. They had eaten the same food, hung out with the same friends, and even played the same sports. Their only disagreements had been congenial debates arising from Kenan’s fierce devotion to the Chicago Bears, which, considering his birthplace, Chris agreed was somewhat understandable.
And like all friendships there had been rough patches; a bloody cut was made in the form of a blond girl whose name was at the forefront of both Kenan and Chris’ mind for much of seventh grade. It wasn’t to be however, for either of them, for while the word racism was never uttered at John the Apostle Elementary School, a white girl, or boy for that matter, having a crush on someone of a different race was a rarity that never came into existence. Brown skin aside, both boys had the same body shape, a soft chubbiness that is considered adorable in childhood, but soon morphs into that ugly word that has haunted teenagers for decades. So her name was forgotten, and the shallow cut thoroughly healed one late night over jalapeno chips and video games.
They continued in this way, weeks blurring into each other into what, Kenan liked to think, both would each remember as the best days of his life. But high school is the greatest of all dividers, a social jungle that seems so important to its inhabitants, only to be recognized in its barbarity too late. Kenan traces the moment of their separation to Chris’s first varsity football game, while Chris says it began the minute Kenan picked up a joint. Regardless of its origin a decade of friendship was beaten by one busy year. Every similarity they had once shared was lost. Kenan lost weight as Chris gained muscle. Even their speech, their special dialect that hadn’t been touched since fourth grade was done away with. Before they knew it, Chris was speaking with loud and forthright confidence and Kenan affected a way of speaking that screamed black. Chris was called an oreo by Kenan’s friends, Kenan a pothead by Chris’, and just like that they were placed carefully into separate boxes to complete their high school experience.
And that is what it had become to me: a story. A story about two young boys who were best friends and then weren’t, just like that.
Sometimes I’ll add in the details. I’ll talk about how Chris managed to balance popularity and his education brilliantly, winning an early acceptance into Stanford University where he graduated to a satisfying job as a corporate shark. And I’ll talk about Keenan’s return to Chicago, his brief stint with acting before he realized that he was, in fact, much better at directing the films than starring in them. His brief heartbreak, his first movie award… By then it becomes too personal and I have to stop before they notice the similarities between Kenan’s story and my own.
Sometimes I’ll lie. I’ll tell them how Kenan felt when he saw Chris in a bar, tie pulled down slightly, a beer held surely in his hand. I’ll talk about Chris’ wide eyes when Kenan plopped down in front of him, and how he just started talking, “Man, you won’t believe the day I’m having. I just lost a fifty to the girlfriend. I mean who woulda thought the Bulls would lose to the Heat.”
Or maybe it’s when Chris finally finds the time to check his facebook, for the first time in years. He’s got 40 plus friend requests. And he’s scrolling through the vaguely familiar faces, until one pops out at him. I mean the guy’s wearing a purple fedora. And when he clicks to see which one of his friends turned out gay, he sees the name Kenan and accepts without hesitation.
But usually I just tell the truth. I’ll divulge that Chris lives in San Francisco, and there is no way he would show his face in a regular’s bar in the South side of Chicago. I’ll admit to them that Kenan doesn’t have a facebook page. And that neither has contacted the other. I don’t know why Chris hasn’t, perhaps he can’t find the time in his busy schedule or maybe he has simply forgotten. But I’ll confess that Kenan is just scared. He’s scared to take off rose tinted glasses. He’s scared to discover that childhood friendship is really as meaningless as he suspects. To prove that what they had wasn’t really meant to last, and that maybe high school just provided a catalyst for the inevitable. That his memories are just small pieces of the past: only really useful to be knitted together into a halfway decent story.