38. There are better ways to feel good about yourself

It was on one of the occasional trips Benny made to his old neighbourhood that he met by chance someone who always seemed to be around when he was growing up (they both went to the same primary and secondary schools) and who Benny hadn’t seen for years. It was pure coincidence that he ran into Gil Sharden like that, seeing as Benny didn’t make his way to that area so much now and Gil had moved interstate a long time ago and was only back for a family event. But he looked much the same as he did way back then, older of course but still recognisable — and still a bit of a dork, thought Benny. It was irritating to hear that from in here, and I thought it was slightly lame of Benny to so easily fall back on an old habit of judging so easily and unfairly.

They got to chatting about this and that, mainly of course about what had passed in the intervening years (and it was funny to hear someone today still call him Benny, not Ben, but that’s how long ago it had been since these two first met). But while they talked, percolating up from some hidden vault, a memory of ours was prodded to wake up and make itself known again.

The details seemed tedious now, but there was a girl involved, a funding shortfall on Gil’s part and an incidental pimple outbreak, but the essential part had to do with some hard luck that came Gil’s way and how that played into Benny’s hand and made his situation better at that particular time, but to Gil’s disadvantage. Benny wouldn’t have admitted this part, but I knew that at that time he was very glad the circumstances played out the way they did, which left him landing on his feet while Gil got the raw deal from it all. The dork and knucklehead label that shadowed Gil in those long-ago days played right into the younger Benny’s ability to so easily overlook that it was someone else’s hard luck that was the only reason for his coming out on top.

Now, all these years later, with the girl and the circumstances forgotten, talking to the grown-up Gil there in front of us — he was a chef now and stood relaxed but assertive — the stirred remembrance could so easily have become an awkwardness, especially given the other triggered memory in here … that Benny had even secretly hoped that something like that would happen. Add the long and positive evolutionary roads each of these people had taken since, and the exploitative nature of that initial hoping and the eventual nothing outcomes, and this had Benny almost feeling an eyes-down embarrassment (figuratively speaking… he didn’t, but felt the urge). The ‘win’ from those days was revealed as limp and flimsy, based as it was on someone else’s loss. Benny would have to take off those blinkers and be wary to watch for when similar circumstances arose. I’d try to make the point too when I could, and perhaps whenever I felt this chest start to puff up it would pay me to check that there wasn’t a ‘Gil Sharden’ moment evident.

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