The International Writers Magazine
Eric D. Lehman
men lead lives of quiet desperation." -
Henry David Thoreau
blocked our path to Westminster Bridge. People milled about in confusion,
desperately shouting to each other from either side of the cordon. Behind
the throngs, Big Ben and Parliament glowed ghostly green and pink in
the cloudy night. Subhash, Jeremiah, and I stared in anguish at the
"We shouldnt have gone for the champagne."
"How can we not have champagne on New Years?"
"Lets go around."
We threaded our way back east through the narrow streets, skirted the
giant ferris wheel, then turned north to the river walkways. But another
line of bobbies was forming, blocking access to the area along the Thames.
We were trapped, barred from the focus of the nights festivities.
"No way." Subhash shook his head. "Im going through."
He began to shove his way through the crowd toward the police.
I guess we should follow him?" I shrugged and forded
the streams of merrymakers. Subhash shouldered right up to the bobbies
and slipped between two of them.
" One of the officers turned around, just as I pushed
past him and his mate. "Hey, stop!"
"I gotta go with him." I turned and continued. Jeremiah followed,
holding on to my long riding coat.
"We ought to do something about this." One of the bobbies
mentioned, giving up.
Elated, we thrust our way through the crowd to the railing, where strings
of bright lanterns swayed in the wind. We were about a hundred yards
from the bridge, diagonally across from Big Ben and Parliament. Two
hours until a new century. We passed the time reminiscing about a New
Years Eve we had spent together three years earlier in Times Square.
The giant clock face of Big Ben clicked closer to midnight. Spotlights
swung around the cloudy sky. Jeremiah pulled out his camera. Three British
girls in front of us introduced themselves and we prepared together.
And then, fireworks. Magical, wonderful, sky-filling fireworks. Flames
burst out of hidden outlets in the river. Multicolored lights and champagne
popped and splattered everywhere. We chugged the bubbly remnants, cheering
and shouting. Everyone was kissing and embracing, in one of those brief
moments of togetherness we all hope to be a part of.
Finally, the beautiful madness died down and the three Brits invited
us along to a house party. They wandered around and we followed them
for a while. But they were aimless, weaving this way and that. Jeremiah
and I looked at each other. Something passed between us.
"This is about us tonight. Lets go." I smiled.
"Youre right." Jeremiah nodded. "Lets go,
He glanced at the girls, shrugged, and followed us. As we sauntered
towards Westminster Bridge, random women ran up and kissed me. I wished
each a happy New Year. "I love your accent!" They told me.
I smiled and continued up the road with my friends. We crossed the river
and headed north, wading through the sea of garbage in Trafalgar Square.
Two hours of the new millenium had passed already. The cold European
night began to seep through our jackets and we slowed down, unsure of
"We havent eaten since seven."
"Nothings going to be open."
But we were wrong. As we stumbled up Charing Cross Road, a line of hungry
partiers stretched around one of the city blocks. A fried chicken joint,
of all things. But the wait could be hours. Then, I noticed someone
peeking out of the door of a nearby Indian restaurant. I pointed.
He nodded. We casually walked over and he knocked, peering through the
glass. A small Indian man appeared, glanced at Subhash, and unlocked,
letting us in and relocking after us.
Our first meal of the millenium was spicy and rich, a veritable taste
explosion. Curries and chutneys, lamb and beef. We bought an expensive
bottle of Chateau Neuf-de-Pape and toasted our success. "Always
merry and bright!" Discussion focused on our plans for the next
few days in Amsterdam. We had already devoured London, strolling down
Baker Street, posing at the electrified statue of Churchill, and fooling
around with cigars in the Freud House. We had consumed barrels of fine
wine, hogsheads of strong ale, and gallons of good British tea. In fact,
the previous morning we drank possibly the best tea of our lives at
a tea house surrounded by the wet, green lawns of misty Regents
In a way, tea had helped bring us here, to this extraordinary place
and time. Tea helped build this connection. The first time I had really
enjoyed tea was with Jeremiah in high school. We would relax in his
parents kitchen, drinking Earl Grey and eating homemade nachos,
discussing our love lives, our philosophies, our plans for the future.
And now, here we were, in that future, sharing another turning point.
The probability for this was slim. Like that pot of perfect tea, long-term
friendship between males is elusive. The boundaries are hazy and vague.
Competition for females divides us. Our responsibility usually ends
at helping each other lie. I had been friends with Subhash for thirteen
years, Jeremiah fourteen. That is a long time, long enough to fail many
My friendship with Subhash had miraculously never hit a major snag.
On the other hand, Jeremiah and I had occasionally faltered, each time
swearing it would never happen again. I had caused one of his girlfriends
to dump him. He had kissed girls I was in love with. We had betrayed
confidences and talked behind each others backs. I had shown a
distinct lack of forgiveness for his weaknesses and a remarkable blindness
about my own. Each time we had survived, despite this selfishness. But
now we lived in different cities, on opposite coasts of North America.
The chances we had to reconnect were few.
So, in the fall of 1999, after Jeremiah and I met in New York, I knew
that something had to be done. I wasnt sure what was wrong with
him. He had lost something. He was no longer the merry jester I had
known. People change, of course. But not like this. He was subdued and
silent. A shadow. I thought about my responsibilities in this matter.
Should I just let it go? Would he fall out of the loop like so many
other friends had over the years?
Fear hamstrung me. Despite the thousands of connections Jeremiah and
I had made over the years, I didnt know what his reaction would
be. Maybe it was me who had changed. Maybe I was expecting too much.
And who was I to evaluate someone, when I had my own network of problems
and flaws? I was scared that no matter what I did, I would lose one
of my oldest friends.
I decided to take a risk. Not wanting to use e-mail and dreading a phone
conversation, I did something old-fashioned and formal. I sent a letter.
I am writing this serious letter because I am worried about you. Perhaps
my worries are unfounded, but nevertheless I will voice them. We havent
talked a lot since you moved to Cali, which is to be somewhat expected.
However, email is easy and I hope that we can begin a dialogue again.
Of course, you may be angry after reading this, and not want to speak
to me at all. I hope not. I am simply concerned. You may have come to
these same conclusions on your own. Perhaps you would have come to them
some time in the future. But I feel that I must share them with you.
Are you happy? I mean, really happy? Of course, who is? We would probably
say "Im comfortable." However, there is a huge difference
between comfort and happiness. I may not know much of what youve
done over the past few years, but I know this. You drown yourself in
whatever you do. As long as Ive known you, you have been involved
in many things completely involved, heart and soul. This can
be a good thing. However, right now youre drowning yourself in
your work. There is nothing wrong with the work you do, but there is
something wrong with it being your life. You even told me that your
girlfriend has complained that you spend too much time with work. Shes
right. This makes you an incredibly productive worker, an asset to any
company, but you end up neglecting everything else.
Please dont think that this is a critique of your job. As long
as you are happy with your work, the job is not a problem. But the job
is not all of life. You have so many talents, so many interests that
have fallen by the wayside, so much love to give to everyone. I think
something, possibly the total involvement you have with the job, may
be sucking the life out of you.
The first thing Roger said to me after he told me that he hung out with
you was "Budziks changed. The spark went out of him or something."
This, from Mr. Negative himself. I had to agree. I was depressed after
seeing you. In many ways you were still the same old Budzik, but there
was something missing, a vitality, an urgency. You have the spirit and
the heart to be something more that just seems extinguished right
When we used to sit and talk late into the night, you inspired me. I
felt like you would do something, write a masterpiece, become a successful
actor, create some amazing computer connection, or start a new religion.
I got the feeling that you werent satisfied being ordinary. I
wouldnt have finished a novel or even developed my poetry without
your influence. Now, I want to try to return that favor.
Some of this sounds like a cheesy inspirational pamphlet. I wish I knew
something better to give you, some magic words to open your heart. Some
may say that I am overstepping some sort of boundary here, but as one
of your oldest friends I would rather you be angry at me and at least
be thinking about what Ive said.
You may disagree with parts or all of this letter. Great. Disagree with
me. Show me how you are using your abilities, achieving your potential,
becoming your best self. Please. I hope I am wrong. But if I am in the
least part right, I urge you to change your life in whatever ways you
can. You have so much inside you and to see that go to waste pains me
more than you know.
Dont let the fire inside you burn out.
Your friend, Eric
For months I received silence from San Francisco. Subhash and I made
plans to go to London for the Millenium celebration, deciding that we
would regret not doing something out of fear or frugality. I arranged
a side trip to Amsterdam. We tried to rebuild our own precarious connection
with shared experience. I gave up on Jeremiah.
And then, on December 26th, while at my brothers house in Chicago,
the phone rang. My brother picked it up and laughed. "Schmeeb!"
A tremor went through my chest. Jeremiahs code name. Still smiling,
my brother handed the phone to me.
"Eric, I got your letter and I thought about it for a long time.
I broke up with Courtney. Im meeting you and Subhash in London
in three days."
"What?" I was dumbfounded.
"I talked to Subhash earlier today and I just bought the tickets.
Ill be at Heathrow waiting for you."
Turned out I was wrong about the job. The problem was actually the girlfriend,
with whom Jeremiah was simply incompatible. He had become something
he was not to satisfy her. Dancing, reading, writing, drama the
things he enjoyed had disappeared from his life. So, he reevaluated.
He found the courage to start again. He did what we all must do. Have
the strength to care.
The three days after Jeremiah called me were a whirlwind of taxis and
airports. Subhash and I met in Philadelphia and headed across the Atlantic.
When we finally found our way out of the white labyrinth of Heathrow,
a camera flash greeted us. Ahead, behind a flimsy barrier, my friend
Jeremiah stood, grinning a face-splitting grin from ear to ear. Sube
and I strode up to him, hopped the rope, and I embraced him.
It was one of the finest moments of my life.
© Eric D. Lehman ,Prof - Feb 2004
Place Above the Clouds
More World Journeys
all rights reserved