Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Liar, Liar (Flash fiction for Terrible Minds)

     Growing up in Philly I didn't have many girlfriends.  I had a job, a horse, and various dogs and cats.  My best friend was Terry, named for his grandfather Terrence, Tree to me.  Tree, because at 6'3'' he could be overbearing both in height and personality.  Both of us "onlies," we never wished for siblings; we had each other.  Virtually everything I did was under his scrutiny, and he was ruthless, just like a brother.  The teasing was constant, as was our laughter.  Our parents assumed we would marry.

     Tree was the most driven, confident person I knew, if not always the most perceptive.  This was a boy who knew in third grade what he wanted to be, and he did it.  He knew his parents should divorce, and some years later, they did.  The bigger picture, however, sometimes escaped him.  Cell Biology, sophomore year in undergrad: citric acid cycle.  This course was one of my larger nemeses, yet ten days prior to the final, Tree had the whole mess memorized.  As he recited it (to my growing horror and shrinking posture), I made a mental plan to start studying immediately.  At the end he turned to me, "I've only got one question: what's glucagon?"

     Yet at other times Tree was in total command of the big picture.  On our last day of college we drove home together, and I burst into tears as I started the car.  He just laughed, though kindly, and promised to take me to lunch the next day.  He also made me switch seats so he could drive.

     No one escaped his vitriol.  Ethnic groups, religions, women, gays, the handicapped: all we equally open to abuse.  He once hazed a shy fraternity brother so brutally that the victim had an actual seizure.  His favorite joke involved a harelip, imitated with great, loud relish.

     Years passed.  We moved to different cities and married other people.  Tree had two children, a cheating wife, a divorce, and finally, cancer.  By the time he broke the news to me, we'd allowed ourselves to fall from best friends to old friends.  We cried together that first time, then Tree sucked it up.  He threw himself headlong into surgery, radiation, chemo, and when those failed, alternative modalities.  We continued to speak on the phone, but only visited in person a couple times.  Three years in I learned from family members that the last remission was over.  I gathered my nerve to call him.  Tree was subdued.  Treatment options were nil and not an available topic.  Neither of us wanted a big emotional scene, so I asked about the kids.

     "How's Haley?  She doesn't really know anything, right?"

     "Not really."

     "And Ryan?  How's he coping lately?"  Ryan was fourteen at the time.

     "Oh, Ryan's great.  Still dancing."

     Whoa.  Danger.  Danger.

     "Did you say *dancing*?"


     Extra long pause, color me speechless.

     "What kind of dance?"

     "Oh, you know, clogging.  And a little tap."

     "How long has be been taking lessons?"

     "Since he was three."

     Really, eleven years?  Eleven years go by and Tree never once mentioned to me that his firstborn is a dancer?  Was all that vitriol burned out by all the radiation?  Or was he just ashamed?  There is no one alive who despised effeminate behavior - even in women - more than he.  I was powerless to retaliate, though if the situation were reversed, he'd have laughed maniacally.  I stumbled around some awkward conversation about dance (big recital next month), and ended the call.  We never said goodbye.  The Tree I grew up with had been gone for years.

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