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The International Writers Magazine
Lifestyles - From Our Archives

The Fungus of Friendship
Eric D. Lehman

oney 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 didn’t 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 Monk’s 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 Zeppelin’s "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 Python’s 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 world’s forests, they eat the dark soil and become strong. They send out amoeba-like tentacles slowly, and if they die a bit, that’s 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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