“Friendships” by student-offender

Some might say that I never had any real, true friends left when I came home from the war, and they were probably correct because after I went to prison, they were nowhere to be found. “True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it is gone,” wrote Charles Caleb Colton, and I understood his analogy.

True friendship should never be confused with acquaintances. True friendships are cultivated, matured, and if necessary, tested over time by fire. They are known by their staying power- their willingness to stay when the bottom falls out of a friend’s life. In life, very few true friendships are ever realized. Henry Adams knew this when he wrote, “One friend in a life is much, two are many, three are hardly possible.”

In prison, I met men from all walks of life with different characters, crimes and personalities. They remain, of course, acquaintances who I kept at a distance. But I developed a close friendship with one prisoner named Jay T. Jay had a life sentence, too. We walked the prison yard routinely, and we discussed nearly every aspect of our lives. In prison, Jay met his future wife. When the parole board paroled Jay, I shared his joy. Even after Jay left prison, our friendship held together until Jay died of a heart-attack as he played with his boys on the front lawn. Once again, I felt abandoned.

Jay’s death hit me hard like losing close friends from my Marine Company. During that time, we developed a closeness. We covered each other’s back wherever we went. Since I joined the Marines at the age of seventeen, they became my first adult friends in life. Most of them died in Vietnam in “Operation Star-lite” on August 18, 1965. I tried crying them back into existence.

People who I don’t even know call me friend. In most cases, I don’t even know their names, but they know mine. They hang around like lost puppies, which makes me suspicious. Have people in the 21st century become so overwhelmed with loneliness, I wonder, that they will attach themselves to anyone? I understand that people need a steady diet of closeness to other people or their persona may fade in time like an old pair of worn blue jeans. People need each other to make life work, but they should seek out the few friendships meant for them.

It has been seventeen years since Jay’s death. It seems like yesterday we were walking the prison yard together.

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