General Fiction posted February 22, 2020

This work has reached the exceptional level
May the former prevail

Friend versus ''Friend''

by Elizabeth Emerald

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.
The author has placed a warning on this post for sexual content.

Part 1: Friends in Quotes
Three weeks ago, I read a compelling compilation of narratives each of which had been originally related aloud by the one who lived it. In one story, the teller, Auburn Sandstrom, a bottomed-out addict, called a Christian counselor—at two in the morning.
“…And he stayed up with me the whole night, just talking, just listening, just being there until the sun rose…I was very grateful to him, and so I said …How long have you been a Christian counselor?

"...And he said …You got the wrong number.”
Talk about rising to the occasion! To stay on the phone all night, with a strung-out stranger, after having been startled awake, just because that stranger needed a friend.
Auburn’s tale got me thinking about what it really means to be a friend. The word is used thoughtlessly; worse, ironically; worst, so thoughtlessly that the irony is unintended. Examples:
You can find lots of “friends” instantly at acquaintances, buddies, chums, companions, mates(play/work/class), pals, peers. Alas, a peer, for instance, does not a friend make. Take it from me, excluded by my cohort in high school. Even had I magically morphed into Miss Popularity, even granting that some in that rarefied circle might have actually liked me wouldn’t have made them friends. At best, they’d have been fawning admirers; at worst opportunistic toadies.
Then you have the sarcasm-intended-quote-marks-writ-large “friend” as in: Nice “friend” you’ve got, stealing your girlfriend with one hand and your wallet with the other.
In its most insidious incarnation of all, friend—sans any sense of snideness—is used indiscriminately in reference to all of one’s acquaintance who aren’t overtly malign in intent. Notwithstanding the exclusion of the aforementioned thief in particular and one’s tormentors in general, amongst such friends not snarkily enclosed in quotes lurk the deadliest of misnomers. Assorted manipulators, all living on the same One-Way-Their-Way Street. And all coming your way to “borrow” a cup…that is, a cup’la hundred bucks here and there. And everywhere. And while I’m here, could you lend an ear? Better yet, a pair. I’ll give ‘em back, I swear. After all, I’m going to need you to be able to listen to my problems again…and again… Surely, if we don’t need quotes for such friends, we’re needy indeed.

Part 2: Friends Sans Quotes
Now that I’ve cynically depicted what carelessly passes for friendship and railed against those blatant imposters such as are the shamelessly self-centered users, what now?
I’d best defer to one with expertise on the subject, communication consultant Dianna Booher. I snatched these choice snippets from her: Casual friends call you when they have time. Real friends call you even when they don’t have time. Casual friends talk to you about their problems. Real friends talk to you about your problems. Casual friends try to make you laugh. Real friends allow you to cry.
Not so hard to define a friend, then—especially when you crib the definition from someone who’s done the work. (Take your bow, Ms. Booher.)
Ah, friendship! How easy it is to talk it. Harder, indeed, to walk it. Auburn Sandstrom’s “Christian counselor” took a long hard hike with her one stormy night ‘til the sun came up. She gave him quite a work out, for sure.
This faux-red-head here doesn’t dare try to top Auburn’s saga nor put herself on a par with Auburn’s selfless—sleepless—savior. That said, on Sunday I was unexpectedly thrust into a friend-in-need-ship. As my distraught companion raced in lonely frenzied circles, my challenge was to run alongside her and try to keep pace. Literally, as well as metaphorically. Could I possibly keep up?
In fact, Lauren and I had been planning to run together that morning. By “together,” I mean we were to enter the same race—a 5-miler—in which she’d doubtless beat me by just as many minutes. Our only togetherness would be at the starting gate.
I hopped in the car as Lauren pulled up with apologies for being 5 minutes behind.

I drolly replied that this would nicely balance her being 5 minutes ahead in the race.
Pleased with my half-witticism, I awaited Lauren’s chuckle. What I got instead was: I’m a little late because of something that just happened. Something bad.
I stopped my pre-race rummaging the depths of my backpack and glanced at Lauren’s tense face—which expression made moot my murmured platitude: Everything all right now, I hope?
Lauren put the car in park and her head in her hands.
Things are as bad as can be. Scratch that. They’re only going to get worse when the shock subsides and the pain explodes. Soon as I got to work yesterday my boss hailed me with the F-bomb. As in F-I-R-E-D. My job has become obsolete, thus so have I. My erstwhile skills are not marketable—heck, I couldn’t even give them away.
Then, as I’m gathering my things under the suspicious glare of my "soon-to-be-escort-outta-here-ASAP-before-I-can-plant-a-bomb-for-revenge"—gallantly provided by building security—my phone rings. It’s the preschool calling about a pending SPED plan for the boys, on account of their being a bit dyslexic. Oh—and by the way, seems the twins might be a tad autistic to boot. Surprise! Double trouble—times two.
When I arrived home around noon, I found my bedroom in disarray, all my lingerie and jewelry strewn about. I heard noises from across the hall in the den. I was about to call 9-1-1 when I recognized my husband’s voice. I heard laughter and went to see what the hell was going on. I saw a huge-haired, obviously-bewigged, beyond-blonde platinum-pretender on the couch, decked out in my silver satin negligee, wearing my gold choker and diamond drop earrings and Wizard-of-Oz-only-knows-which-witch’s ruby-slippered seven-inch spikes.
She was my husband. Slithering salaciously, simpering saucily before the WEBcam, SKYPE-ing his penis to an admiring, over-and-un-dressed crowd from the Vice-Versa contingent. There was a rainbow-bedecked banner on the wall: “Best-of-Both” Club.
So I’ve lost my husband. On the bright side, I guess I’ve gained a wife. Who I pray will have better luck than he did getting and keeping a job so that she can support the family now that I no longer can. And who I hope will have more patience and skill dealing with our dually-handicapped duo than he ever would.
Because otherwise I’m in trouble. My parents are, respectively, dead and demented. I’m not close to either of my sisters. I mean that literally: the “closest” lives in Spain; the other in China. I’m very close to my brother—indeed, he lives right downtown, in the county jail—pending transfer to MCI Walpole upon his conviction. Which is a done deal considering he conveniently—albeit superfluously—dropped his driver’s license as he fled Santander with his dye-packed booty, thus ensuring his getting caught red-handed in both senses.
As for friends—we used to get together regularly with several people. But they just kind of faded on us. Now I know why—my husband told me last night that about a year or so back “word got out.” Meaning, one couple in our circle spotted him strolling the street, dolled up—they recognized him by my lavender sequined gown—on his way to a drag contest. In which—he proudly told me—he won first prize.
So, I don’t have any friends. Except you.
Ten minutes prior, before Lauren pulled into my driveway, I’d have called us running buddies. We ran races “together” as I said, once or twice a month at most. But now—by her calling me a friend, I felt called to be one.
We never made it to the race. Instead, we got out of Lauren’s car and ran as fast as we could. To my amazement—and doubtless to hers—I managed to stay foot-to-foot with Lauren for the entire 7½ minutes it took to run our mile. Then, spent, we walked, arm-in-arm, the mile back.


Thanks to MKFlood for artwork: Friends

This piece was inspired by a fortuitous meeting with a casual friend in crisis--the substance of which is entirely the product of my twisted imagination. (There were surely two tons of fun in the fabrication!)

"The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown"; edited by Catherine Burns. The Moth is a non-profit group based in New York City dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Founded in 1997, the organization presents a wide range of theme-based storytelling events across the United States and abroad, often featuring prominent literary and cultural personalities. (WIKIPEDIA)
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by MKFlood at

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