Last night, I came across a photo of my childhood friend, Nadeem Chawhan. When I was about eleven, I could inhale on my doorstep and get to his front door without exhaling. Nadeem, was one of my few good friends at a very crucial age. There were a group of us pre-teen boys, of mixed-nationalities, living in the same neighborhood compound. All curious about masturbation, girls, shaving, exploring the world, doing dangerous pre-teen boy things and eventually skateboarding. We’d certainly muck about with other kids but those were my ‘Stand By Me’ boys.
I was mostly quiet, bottling up all my woes, while Nadeem was way more socially outgoing, if not physically. He was a performer, an eloquent comedic young man. He was happy with himself. A self-confessed human sloth, even at that age. He often made me do something on his skateboard for him, as he wasn’t as prepared to launch off our dangerous launch ramp into a brick wall in quiet the same way I was. I wanted the pain. Nadeem wanted to make fun of me for such undertakings. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. He had the social bollocks and I had the physical.
Now, I’m in real pain. Grown man pain. Palm bruises that won’t heal. Elbows that are swollen with bits of something or other floating around in them. Still trying launch myself into brick walls, more out of force of habit more than anything. Fountain of youth, I tell myself. A slightly clearer mind, perhaps, but still scab-ridden.
During those delicate early teenage days when a young man desperately tries to assert himself. the cultural differences became more apparent. Nadeem would spend more time in traditional Pakistani garb and go to the mosque, while I was trying to get the neighborhood girls to show me their underwear by saying as little as possible. “You’re so quiet in school and out of school you’re fucking weird but you can kiss me if you like.” They’d tell me.
One day, Nadeem riled me up pretty hard. I can’t even remember the details. We pretending to be soap salesman or something ridiculous. Going door to door selling soap, just generally being cheeky little bastards. Nadeem, probably sensing, I would suck at this game, told out first ‘customer’ I was a mute. So I was unable to unleash the hilarious sales spiel I had planned in my little mind. As we walked a way, everyone in hysterics at our exploits, I was furious. Nadeem wouldn’t let up. He created an alter-ego for me. The more he went into detail, the more my blood boiled. I wonder, if he wanted to see how far he could push me because he soon found out.
As we rounded a corner, we came across one of the girl’s whose underwear I was pretty keen on seeing, with her friends, her older brother and his friends. They were all British like myself and thinking back now, I must have believed they would be impressed with a fight.
So I pushed Nadeem and told him I was sick of his routine. He laughed. I said I was serious and knocked him to the ground. “What are you doing?” He asked, confused.
I got on top of him and began punching him. “Stop. Stop!” He said. I don’t think he’d even been in a fight before. I said, “I’ll stop when you call yourself a Paki-Shit.”
Say,”I’m a Paki-Shit” and I’ll stop punching you I snarled. The crowd of Brits cheering me on,
“Get that fat Paki, Pete!”
I’m not sure how many punches it took, but Nadeem eventually said it,
I immediately let him go and he walked home.
And things were never the same again.
I wanted to cry but I walked up to the Brits and let them shower me with praise, instead.
Nadeem is a motivational speaker now, apparently. I flicked through his profile photos. He looks sincerely content. Lots of photos of him surrounded by adoring young ‘leaders.’ Then I clicked on one, of him and he looked the spit of his father and I nearly cried.
Why am I crying? Because I miss my childhood friend? Because I miss my childhood? Because I never worked through the confusion that caused me to brutally humiliate him that day?
He moved on. But obviously I hadn’t and neither do I deserve to just yet.
Seeing Nadeem’s photo made me desperately want to re-connect with him.. Instead, I thought about how it might play out. I wasn’t convinced it would benefit either of us. Apparently, he has nothing but good things to say about me. Probably, that incident is far heavier baggage for me than him.
Michael, Nadeem and my, mutual American friend from that era, found me a couple of years back. We aren’t Facebook friends, don’t email about the old days or anything like that but about once a year, I get a call when he passes through town with his band. Let’s skate. Fuck yes, let’s skate. It amazes me how, we can pick twenty years later and still be on a similar wavelength. That connectivity can’t pass along fiber-optic cables.
Pakistan is a long way from the Pacific Northwest. I doubt Nadeem and I will ever cross paths again but man, if we do, if we do, I’m not going to beg for forgiveness but I know how I’d like it to go.