In five days I will lose my best friend. Or, at least, my current best friend. I’ve been through more than a few.
The Early Ones
My first best friend I met on day one of kindergarten when I helped him stop crying. He missed his Mommy. That lasted through third grade. A Greek kid came next. His Mom let me eat pizza from their family restaurant/bar for free. After a couple of years a Little League baseball buddy of mine took the top spot followed in about nine months by an adopted Korean guy adrift in a Midwest sea of cornfields.
High school witnessed me becoming more of an extrovert and I had many acquaintances and good friends, but only one was deemed best. He would later go on to date and nearly marry the woman who was my first real love. For a long time this felt like a betrayal, but time tends to dull teenage ire and I harbor no ill will.
Onto college with the inevitable cusp of being considered an “adult”, and I had two buddies who were holdovers from high school. I grew closer to one than the other and on the day of my arrest, after knowing him for close to six years, he held the distinction of being my longest continuing friend relationship. A few days after my arrest I talked to him on the phone and he seemed full of concern, support and caring. He said he would visit on the weekend and drop off some books for me. It has been fourteen plus years, and I’ve yet to get those books or see his face. I’ve reached out to him, and some of my other friends, but to no avail. My best friend track record is disastrous at best.
Friendships found in prison are somewhat different. The elevated stress levels behind prison walls create a kind of permanent foxhole situation where bonds are formed swiftly and are deeply felt. There is common ground, namely the pain and shame of being excommunicated from family, friends, and civilized society. It can also be said that we all feel like we were abused in some way by the criminal justice system.
Having been entrenched in the system for going on a decade and a half I can attest that it is a broken system. Whether an individual is completely guilty, wholly innocent, or caught somewhere in the gray area spectrum, which includes varying degrees of culpability, it is true more often than not that abuse on the part of authority has most certainly occurred. This reality tends to breed an attitude that it is us against them. Inmates versus all authority. However, for my friend BD and me, it was a mutual love of the music of a certain Mr. Robert Zimmerman that both instantaneously began and cemented our friendship.
Dylan Fans Unite
I haven’t come across many Bob Dylan fans during my incarcerated years, and certainly like BD, who could converse with wit and intelligence on the life, times and genius of Bob Dylan. This topic turned out to be merely a foundation for a deepening relationship. Brick by brick we added to it with a shared passion for an abundant and diverse amount of musical tastes as well as common levels of both reading and creative writing.
Our personalities meshed rather wonderfully, and we each became the person the other could go to if any baggage or psychological garbage needed to be unloaded. We grew to depend on each other. What began as a tentative talk around Bob Dylan designed entirely to gauge one another’s degree of devotion to the enigmatic troubadour eventually blossomed into a full-fledged and fully invested friendship. BD could always be counted on for a thoughtful and intelligent dialogue on a wide array of subjects. This is a rare and precious quality in the environment of a prison. I have seen and spoken to BD nearly every single day for the past four years. Now he’s leaving me.
My Back Pages Revisited
I’ve had several good buddies while locked up. They all leave me. Most go home. It’s bittersweet to say the least. I can’t be sure if it’s due to the depth of our connection, or an accumulation of each and every loss I’ve endured, but this time it’s more keenly felt.
When someone goes home I have no contact with him. Can’t call. Can’t write. To do so would be a violation of his parole agreement which could land him right back in prison. Sometimes rumors work their way around that are of dubious veracity at best. There’s a strange dichotomy which occurs because I’m happy to see him get out, and wish my friend all the best, but I’d like to see him again. Unfortunately the only way to see him is if he gets in trouble and comes back.
I must therefore languish in the land of incommunicado and move on with prison life, trying all the while not to let these losses create a callous over my heart which prohibits me from caring about the next person who comes along. Whether he’s a Bob Dylan fan or not. Although that could be a deal-breaker.
After all: I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.