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The International Writers Magazine: Lifestyles
Fungus of Friendship
Eric D. Lehman
has ruined many friendships, but I never thought it would ruin
ours. Jeremiah and I had been friends for seventeen years. We
had been though high school and college together. We had dated
the same girls, and of course things sometimes came between us,
but we always recovered. Nevertheless, a few years back we let
a small matter of money end our friendship, severing a decade
and a half of connections.
I could now write
some sort of tombstone, like J and E, 1986-2003. I could create a linear
model of successes and failures, of our journey from beginning to end.
But that final structure bothers me. Perhaps I am fooling myself, but
I think I have found a different way of looking at friendship that I
prefer to that old model, one that fits a more proper structure to relationships,
to their rootlike, three-dimensional growth.
Once, when we were about 25, Jeremiah and I hunted for crayfish in a
stream near my grandparents house where my father and grandfather
had pulled in rainbow trout decades before. We were catching them as
appetizers for the next day at my Fourth of July party. We moved like
herons, plucking fat crustaceans from the lucid water. The crayfish
darted backwards under flat maroon shale and white pebbled limestone,
pincers waving at their huge predators. Jeremiah and I hardly talked,
concentrating on coordinating the chaos under the surface. With scooping
pans and a powder blue bucket, we collected the bounty of the stream.
A concrete dam splashed the cool liquid down into the island dotted
creek. At one point we used huge chunks of the red shale to trap a good
number of our prey in a large pool.
We foolishly left the forty crayfish in the bucket overnight and of
course they died. A rotten gag smell greeted me in the morning and the
meal was ruined. We cooked them anyway, Jeremiah dousing them in spice,
but no one ate them, and with good reason. But that didnt matter.
What mattered was the doing, getting slight sunburn through the overhanging
trees, using the instincts of our ancestors to plunge into vicious action.
This is only one memory in a long row of precious gems that I do not
have the space or inclination to expand upon. Each memory has its own
world, and each builds upon the last. And as these memories fade, I
still have photos from high school, college, and adulthood to remind
me. The fungal thread connections are many and various, our lives we
helped each other build rich and complex.
Nevertheless, Jeremiah seems to make connections no longer. In this
present-tense world where each living cell touches another in various
ways and places, he touches nothing. In the past-world this is false.
He stares from my bedroom wall in a black and white photo with two other
friends and I, sitting on the overgrown median wall of an abandoned
highway in the town we grew up in. During college, he and I devoured
hot wings at CR Wings in Delaware and then ate at Monks Café
in Philadelphia afterwards. He was there a few days before I left for
college, on that street in Pennsylvania, by my parents old house,
under the trees by the curb. He led the Wyomissing High School Chess
Club into a match with a coat hanger on his head, singing "Puff
the Magic Dragon." Back, back, into history, my history, his being
is felt. I have forgotten our first meeting, but the first time I ever
saw him was at a school dance where he was dancing like a gawky maniac.
Some forgotten friend of mine and I looked at each other and said "geek."
And what we really meant was "one of us."
That would be a nice place to end, a backwards stab into time. I was
tempted to send this into the future, as well, to a dream of ours, where
we will be on a green hillside in Scotland, bonfire roaring at the stars,
Led Zeppelins "Bron-y-aur Stomp" blasting into the cold,
stony night, dancing around the fire together. But both of these would
be lies conveniences that ignore the fact that while time is
linear, relationships are not.
This tale has a lateral movement. Images gather like a crowd of gelatinous
cells. Jeremiah and Eric eating a fine sushi dinner in New York City.
Jeremiah and Eric acting together in "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains
It All For You," "Bye, Bye Birdie," "South Pacific,"
"The Mouse That Roared." J and E sipping Earl Grey, eating
nachos, and watching Monty Pythons Flying Circus. J and E driving
home from college at eight a.m., no sleep the night before, Talking
Heads blasting on the stereo to keep E awake. J lies slumped in the
corner against the window, apparently dead. "Mr. Jones" comes
on and he begins to twitch. Then shake. By the middle of the song he
is dancing a dance of life and J and E boogie over the Appalachians
to their home.
Friendships do not begin or end. They do not go from point A to point
B, or even C. Friendships grow like a wonderful fungus into the giant
slime molds of memory. Like those gigantic creatures, which live under
the leafmeal surface of the worlds forests, they eat the dark
soil and become strong. They send out amoeba-like tentacles slowly,
and if they die a bit, thats okay, because new cells flourish.
Then, whether time leaps forward, crawls backward, or stops, the friendship-mold
grows and grows, creating stronger molecules, more productive spores,
a superior beast.
© Eric Lehman June 2006
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