The following is a short story based on real life experiences. It honours friendship – in all its forms and recognises the enormous responsibility we have to those friendships – in all their forms.
It was murder for hire, any which way you looked at it.
I should have seen the clue in the company’s business name, but the brochure was brimming with promised remedies that belied its logo.
I was looking for treatment for an old friend. It had become obvious my friend had a problem with co-dependency and after 14 years I was certain this was causing major health issues.
It was a delicate situation. Part of me thought I shouldn’t interfere, but let nature take its course. The other part was telling me it was my duty to do something. I was delighted to find the pamphlet promising so much help in my mailbox. It was like a sign from the gods.
We had been together for what seemed like a lifetime. In fact, it was a lifetime for my teenage sons. My friend, so strong and reliable, gave me reassurance when I brought my first baby home from the hospital. When the stress of two toddlers and a baby became too much, it was this friend’s presence that helped chase away the blues and alleviate the stress. During the countless tragedies and crisis that occur in all families, my friend was there, giving strength and serenity, in a quiet, dignified style. My friend never spoke.
It did not take us long to become close. The respect and admiration were instant, at least on my part, when we first met. This feeling grew daily as I began to rejoice in a strength and beauty I had never before experienced in a friendship.
LOVED BY SO MANY
I was not the only one to experience this. There were many others. My friend lived right next door to our house so day and night I would see and hear them visiting my friend with party-like joy and excitement. It seemed my friend was like home to any weary traveller passing by.
My friend offered no judgement or advice, just a firm sense of stability, never asking for anything in return. I knew it was my turn to help.
It was a sad statement on the world that the would-be assassins could not see how important my friend was and that their main concern was ensuring payment for the dastardly deed.
The clue I had ignored in the brochure was the word “surgeon”. I had stupidly confused this with doctor, which implies non-invasive help of the kind for which I was searching.
I began to have doubts when the receptionist asked if I wanted the surgeon to diagnose my friend. I’m not sure what it was about that question that made me uneasy but two days later my suspicions were confirmed. The surgeon took one look at my friend and delivered his dire sentence. He said the only answer was major surgery and there was nothing to lose as my friend would die soon anyway.
At that moment it seemed the whole world shared my grief. The grey sky that had been promising rain for days finally let loose with a downpour of flood-like proportions. An icy wind decided to join in the mourning, howling and turning the tiny raindrops into sharp weapons that stung my face and arms.
A PRICKLY AFFAIR
My friend’s problems started with a small dalliance with a prickly character many years ago. It grew and grew until I finally realised this relationship was unhealthy and could actually be killing my friend.
I don’t know when it occurred to me how much a part of my friend the prickly one had become, but even then I did not see the danger. They looked so right together and my friend seemed so happy.
Indeed, the prickly one was attractive enough and, at times, downright exquisite. On rare occasions she would make an extra effort with her appearance, using vibrant colours and floral accessories. On these few days her beauty was nearly blinding in its intensity but all too soon the rest of us would be left to clean up a huge mess. After years I had begun to think of them as one and to share my feelings of love with both of them.
When my friend started showing signs of illness, I was distressed at the thought of tearing the two apart, knowing the separation could mean the death of at least one of them. Where my friend was the prickly one’s main source of support, the prickly one in turn acted like the glue that held my friend together.
I felt I knew enough about life to understand that co-dependency can be dangerous. It’s the nature of all living things to thrive and survive. When a person foregoes their independence and begins to rely on another, it’s natural for one to become stronger by sapping the energy of the other. I believed that was what was happening to my friend but I knew I was not qualified to make the decision, so I turned to the experts.
I was horrified at the verdict that would certainly end in death. To lose my friend would leave an empty gap in my life that may never be filled.
I was incredibly sad to think of all the others who would be confused and bereft in the absence of my friend.
In desperation, I pointed out to the surgeon that, while obviously unwell, my friend still exhibited some signs of health. The surgeon scoffed at this and described it as a last-ditch effort to avoid his suggested major surgery. It was astonishing to me how some people can make such callous decisions without any cost to their emotions.
It was probably naïve to think this way when there is so much mindless killing in the world. We tend to think of murderers as remote from us and we do not expect them to come to our home and give us quotes as though we’re asking the price of a new appliance.
Knowing my friend would never speak up and realising my protests were falling on deaf ears; I decided to get a second opinion.
While waiting for the next verdict, I asked anyone who would listen for advice. Some said my friend’s problem was not all that uncommon and others who had suffered the same illness continued to live for many years. Other friends suggested relatively minor surgery might increase my friend’s chances.
A LIFE SO PRECIOUS
It was terrifying to realise that this life, so precious to so many, was now in my hands. I knew my friend was silently relying on me to do what was necessary. If it turned out my friend was really dying, to ignore the surgeon’s recommendations would be cruel and dangerous. On the other hand, if the surgeon had misdiagnosed, it was possible both my friends would die. That was a burden too large to carry.
I couldn’t help think about people who have had to make these decisions on a large scale and the demons they must carry; politicians ordering soldiers to war, officers ordering their men to advance. These were on such a large scale compared with the decision I had to make, previously I had barely given them a second thought.
It is only when we reach a major crossroads in life that we analyse our past and look more closely at what is happening around us.
I thought about the many friends in my life that I had taken for granted and eventually lost. The loss was not always through death. Sometimes it was caused by a move and a lack of tenacity regarding letters, phone calls and emails. Sometimes it was caused by an emotional growth spurt that wasn’t shared. Often it was a case of the family taking precedence over friends. Whatever the cause, I knew it was important to remember them all and what they added to my life.
When it came to taking stock of my special friend, I knew the list of what had been added to my life would be a long one. I reminisced about a night when a dinner guest and I went outside to see my friend in the front yard. In full party mode, the moon was shining in such a way that it looked like my friend was covered in fairy lights. It was at that time I decided my friend was not only special but magical as well.
It occurred to me how very little I knew about my friend. I was even sure of how old my friend was. I had no idea of what traumas and losses my friend had suffered. The only thing I did know for sure was that my friend had always lived in the area and that fact alone added to a sense of stability and permanency that was now being threatened.
When I first fell in love I believed I could not breathe without the boy who had captured my heart. Though we were not lovers, I knew it was the same with my friend. I relied on my pal for so much.
Maybe I was the co-dependent one and it was I who was sapping all the strength from my friend. Certainly, I had not contributed much for such an extraordinary friendship and it seemed all I could offer now was a cruel, early death.
The what-ifs were beginning to crowd my mind, turning the decision-making process into a near-impossible task.
What if I had done more for my friend?”
“What if I had ensured a better environment for my friend?”
I wanted to know if I could have prevented the illness now threatening my friends’ life. I was sure I was in some way responsible and I guess in a way I was. Many of my thoughtless actions could have contributed to an environment too unbearable in which to live.
It was these heavy thoughts that awaited the next expert opinion. The receptionist had said there would be a two-week wait – it seems all medical issues are put on hold these days. I knew the decision could easily wait weeks, perhaps months but I was still impatient. I was ready to grieve or to rejoice, but not to wait.
Eventually, the due date arrived. Unlike the day of the surgeon, the sky was blue and its cotton wool clouds floated peacefully and promised nothing more than a shape-shifting performance. The sun was warm and bright and lizards basked luxuriously in its radiance. Surely this beautiful day would not be witness to another death sentence.
The new expert seemed friendly, with a sweet smile and kind eyes. He looked nothing like the surgeon, and for this I was grateful. I explained the situation and it was not until the man cleared his throat that I realised I had been rambling for some time. I could think of no other reason to delay, so nervously introduced the man to my friend.
The man left my side to carefully inspect my friend.
“Listen luv“, he said.
“I understand your concerns and I think we can save your ‘friend’.
“All we need to do is lop off a few limbs near that new growth and get rid of that cactus growing all over it.
“You might be able to save the cactus if you replant it, pretty when it flowers, isn’t it? But I bet those flowers make an awful mess when they drop.
“And if you put some mulch down I’m sure you and the possums, birds and insects can go on enjoying the gum tree for a long time.”
My friend went on to provide joy to me and a home to countless creatures for several years but eventually it’s life ended and the gap from its absence has not been filled.
The cactus that was growing all over it – its prickly adornment – still lives, on a smaller scale, but has never flowered since being separated from my friend.
Wishing you fabulous friendships and a gleeful week, Tamuria.