Thursday, May 24, 2012

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

I went to school with kid who was just like Mark Zuckerberg.
By which I mean Philip was a bit of a loner. He was president of the chess club and during lunch, he played Dungeons & Dragons with Simon – who, as far as we knew, was Philip’s only friend – in a corner of the students’ common room.
Mark was also super-brainy but not in a sexy Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” kind of way – more like that kid in “Chronicle” whose used his super powers to pull apart the legs of a spider. Nobody talked to him. The girls thought he was weird and dorky, while the boys found him so strange they didn’t even bother bullying him.
Now that I think about it, Philip never spoke to anyone, other than Simon. He kept his head down as he trudged down the school corridors, sat at the back of the class and after a while, even the teachers forgot he was there.
After school, we all moved on. Some of us went to university. Some went overseas to study. One suffered from severe depression and killed himself. A friend became a TV news presenter. Another had a sex change and went on to become a huge drag queen star in Sydney.
And Philip became a stockbroker, made millions trading bonds and Euros, and became the richest of us all. Since none of us were friends with Simon (who opened a coffee chain and also became very rich), we followed Philip’s progress in the newspapers.
“How the hell is Philip worth that much money?” my brother Jack demanded. “He walked to school and ate peanut butter sandwiches during lunch!”
“His mother must be so proud,” my mother sighed as she carefully scrutinised Philip’s picture in one of the financial magazines. You could tell she was mentally editing the article and replacing his name with one of her children’s.
When I bumped into Philip on the street a few years ago, he barely recognised me though he explained this was because he’d spent the whole time in school looking down at the ground.
His skin had cleared up, he’d had Lasik done on his eyes and, thanks to my flatmate Amanda’s patient tutoring, I could tell that he was wearing this season’s Armani.
We talked about nothing. He said he was busy putting a deal together for a few big banks and Fortune 500 companies and I said I was leaving legal practice to become a penniless writer.
“Good luck with that,” he said with a shy smile. I couldn’t help but notice that he’d straightened out his teeth and that they were now a brilliant white.
“My mother is in deep shock,” I told him, while wondering which dentist he went to.
And just before we parted, I hesitated. “Listen,” I began awkwardly. “Umm. I’m sorry about…you know…I’m sorry about how we treated you in school.”
Philip looked surprised. “What do you mean?”
“Well, you know, we…well…I’m sorry we didn’t really make more of an effort to be…you know…uhm…friends with you.”
Philip looked down at his shoes which, again, thanks to Amanda, I could tell were Gucci. “I appreciate you saying so, but it wasn’t your fault. I was really shy in school. Plus I had problems at home. My dad…well…he…” Philip trailed off. “I just didn’t fit in, I guess.”
When we finally said goodbye and walked off in opposite directions, I was secretly relieved that neither of us had pretended we were ever going to stay in touch. It was too late for all that now. Too much had been unsaid and too little done.
And then a few days ago, an old school friend said he’d read that Philip had bought a chunk of Facebook shares when it floated and that within 24 hours, he’d sold everything and made a killing. A day later, Facebook’s shares began spiralling downwards. Philip had got out just in time.
“Oh my God!” Saffy said when I told her. “How much money did he make on that deal alone?”
“A lot, I think. It’s so depressing.”
Amanda sighed. “It just goes to show. It’s the quiet ones who always surprise you in the end.”
Saffy, who’d been thinking, spoke up. “Is he married? Your friend, Philip, I mean.”
Amanda rolled her eyes. “Here we go.”
Saffy’s breasts inflated. “What? It’s a legitimate question!”
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about Philip. Whatever problems he may have had at home, we had not been very nice to him at school. If we had, maybe... Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I hope he’s happy.

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