Beads of sweat were forming on my hand as I held the warm phone and listened to the rings one by one. RING… I tried staying calm as I waiting for the answer. RING… I looked down at the phone. My finger makes its way to the red button on the right. Should I just press end? RING…
“Hello?” a distant voice answered sounding busy and tired.
I took my finger off the end button. I took a breath, “Hey, its Ari.”
There was a pause, a silence that seemed to last hours. Did he hang up? Was he that angry? Were my actions that bad?
“Yeah, I know,” he finally answered.
“I was calling to say -” I began, as I paced to the other side of the room.
“Well, you don’t have to,” he interrupted quickly, sounding sharp. I bit my lip anxiously. Did I really hurt him that much?
“Listen, I want to talk,” I persisted, something inside pushing me further.
Again there was the empty silence. I ran my fingers through my hair, the gel beginning to fall in the front. My breathing was getting heavier.
“I’m sorry, Yehuda!” I quickly added trying to sound gentle but only coming across as violent.
“Sorry isn’t -” he interjected in a harsh voice he never used before. Was this the same guy who was my best friend in Junior High?
“Look, I want to talk it over,” I interrupted. I had to apologize to my old friend who had chosen the right path, the school’s prize masmid, while I spent my high school years in the halls and principal’s office. “I know sorry won’t help. It won’t fix anything.”
“Then don’t say it,” he snapped. “I’m busy now.” Now I was getting frustrated myself. Couldn’t he give me a minute? I wanted to work out my mistake so we could continue – the way it should be. He sounded heartless as he bluntly ended, “I don’t have the time to talk right now.”
“Dude, I want to talk it out,” I insisted. “We’ve got to work it out!”
“Hello, I really don’t have the time right now,” he almost shouted but with a slight trace of anxiety in his voice. In the background there were rushed voices calling his name. He reluctantly concluded, “I’ll try to call you back later.”
“Can we just talk now?” I asked, my patience failing. I didn’t hear an answer. There was no answer. He had hung up.
I threw my phone down onto my bed, cracking my knuckles and cursing under my breath. I sat down and shoved my hand into my pocket, fishing for the pack of cigarettes I had grown addicted to during the recent turn of events. I clamped the poisonous thing between my teeth, lit it, and breathed in what could potentially kill me. Slowly I let memories float back into my mind.
After spending my parent’s money in Eretz Yisroel during my free, post high school years, while not actually learning, I once again bumped into my old friend. Our lives had grown hopelessly different, and I had never expected to speak with Yehuda Cohen again. In a small summer community, hidden in the Catskill Mountains there was no way for our paths not cross. Polite “hellos” and friendly handshakes soon became forced nights together. Because his mother was in her final stages of cancer, he would often confide in me. I thought he was looking for a friend, but sometimes, from the tone of voice, the way he avoided my eye and only wanted to talk about his problems I felt that I was merely a guy for him to talk to.
Meekly he approached me after Maariv, “Have a minute?” he finally spit out. I nodded, and we moved to the side of the entranceway in the old shul.
“What’s up?” I asked.
He gulped awkwardly, “I know you’ve got a lot going on.” I waited for him to continue. “Look, I need your help.”
I asked in a confused tone, “Help?”
“I need help,” his voice was hardly audible.
I furrowed my eyebrows. “Help?” I repeated.
“As a friend…” he croaked pleadingly.
I couldn’t tell where this was coming from, but all at once the bottled up feelings I had kept corked up spilled out. Was it anger? Maybe I was just so tired of hearing these loathsome stories? I just couldn’t hold back the words I had never thought to say.
“Friends?” I asked. “We’re friends? We were friends in seventh grade, but that’s over now. You chose to lose touch with me.” I glanced at him. “Wait, do you think we’re friends? I thought we were but the last few nights… I don’t know. Friends? That was years ago. We’re not friends now.”
“What…what are you talking about?” he began but I shook my head.
“I don’t call this friends,” I snapped. My final words seemed to finally break the last bit of confidence and strength in him. He looked at me sadly and turned around without adding another word. His footsteps echoed down the path, the crickets softly accompanying him with a gentle melody. My eyes carved deep into him, blind to how harsh I had been and deaf to what I had said.
My mind floated back into reality as I waited for his call, smoking cigarette after cigarette. I stared at the blank white ceiling thinking how ironic this world is. What are the chances that someone would get cancer after dismissing someone else’s cancer so unsympathetically? Close to zero, I thought. Bitterly I replayed the doctor’s words. Not long, his voice echoed in my mind. You’re in the stages of advanced cancer. Why should it be me? Why should I die now, not leaving one kind action to my name?
The phone began to ring, and I looked at the Caller ID. This was the call I had been waiting for.
“Hello,” I uncertainly answered.
“It’s Yehuda,” I heard on the other end. “I’m calling back. Sorry about being so rude.”
I bit my lip nervously again and then swallowed, “I should be saying sorry.” My voice echoed in the silence. All I heard was traffic on the other end. “I want to apologize for what I said… what I did.”
I could hear Yehuda breathing on the other end. There was a pause; “It doesn’t matter anymore.” I wasn’t sure of what to say. He went on, “Her leveya was a month ago.”
It didn’t seem fair. Was I too late? “Yehuda,” I asked in a low voice, “You remember that night?” There was a mutter of agreement, “I…I… look I need to say I’m sorry.” I waited a moment collecting my thoughts once more, “What I said… it was just…”
“What do you want?” Yehuda softly queried. “You can’t do anything to change it. It’s over.”
“I just want to know you forgive me… I just…” again I couldn’t finish my thought. My head was spinning in confusion. “I’m going through days which are indescribable,” I interrupted, sadly continuing. “You don’t understand what I’m going through.”
“It can’t be worse than my life,” he sarcastically muttered. “Why are you asking now? It won’t help anymore. ” He paused, his voice sounded bitter as he repeated, “Nothing is worse than my life.”
I was trying to hold back the painful truth. I wanted him to forgive me so I could die innocently. “No, no, no. Yehuda I’m dying.” I paused and let the words sink in, “I was diagnosed a week ago. I…I have cancer too.”
He took another deep breath and then awkwardly tried comforting me.
“When you needed my help, I didn’t even listen though it was so easy.” I kept going, “Yehuda, do you forgive me?”
“Ari,” he tried to say soothingly, “I forgave you. Ari… please. Just stop, I forgive you.”
“I feel like I have no friends anymore.” I confessed. What was I saying? It felt so demeaning. Something pushed me forward. “Tell me you’ll be there for me when I need you. I know I can’t do it alone. I need your help…” I was struggling for words, “I need your help… as a friend.”
There was deep emotion in his voice as he truthfully answered, “I’ll be there Ari. I’ll be there as I friend.”
“As a friend,” I murmured over and over under my breath. He closed his eyes to our mistakes and was there every time I needed him. He was there to hold my hand through it all. He held it till it was cold and lifeless. He held it as a friend.Alti Bukalov
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