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A smiling man puts his arm around the silhouette of his best friend in prison.
Photo illustration by Teresa Tauchi. Source: iStock

I recently heard that song you hate, “Wagon Wheel” — the one from Darius Rucker, the guy from Hootie & The Blowfish. Every time I hear it, I think of you. 

I missed you so much I started to cry. I thought about all the good times we had. How we kept each other alive in that awful place; how you were the first real friend I had in a long time, the first person I let in since my teens.

Then I thought about how I used to make fun of you for saying “hippie shit” all the time, even though I’m a hippie too. And how other people, outside of our “island,” would never understand us, never understand how you were a Deadhead, a Traveler kid, a Slipknot kid, a hippie, a metalhead. I understood because we contained multitudes. 

I have felt worse without you. 

I have tried not to cry, but I can’t help it. I’ve reflected on the time I told you I didn’t want to get close to you because everyone betrays me or abandons me.

You said you never would, and I believed you. 

But you did. You abandoned me. You got out of prison, and your mom offered you money. She told you to stop associating with criminals. Well, blue-collar ones, anyway. So you grabbed the purse strings and abandoned me, your brother. 

I didn’t forgive you until I heard you had died. You fell back onto the needle, and it consumed you. I told you to stay away from drugs — you were better than that. You are not John Coltrane. You don’t need it.

I reflected on the little things. How your hair always fell partly in front of your eyes. How when you were bummed out, you’d get that reflective, sorrowful look on your face. How you worshiped Shakespeare. And poetry — even though you were terrible at it, and you knew it.

I thought about how hard it was for you to have a Turkish father and Ukrainian mother. Two totally different worlds. You never knew where you belonged. I felt the same way. I suppose we all have.

I also thought about that story you told me. How you had a motorcycle crash and a doctor in Hawaii had turned you into a junkie by prescribing you opiates then cutting you off. 

I thought about the good times and the funny times, like when you made me stay up for 36 straight hours to drink “Turk-strong” coffee. Or when you dropped a hard-boiled egg in the toilet. You pulled it out, looked at me and said, “Well, you clean the toilet really good,” then ate it. 

“Dude! Aren’t you worried about getting sick?” I had asked.

To which you replied, “Dude, I shoot black tar heroin into my veins.”

There was that time you asked me, with your long sigh and reflective face, “So, how do you like living in a cell?” “It’s great, I love living in a bathroom,” I had answered sarcastically. We both burst into laughter.

I have better memories with you — in a little cell in a little unit in a piss-ant town in California — than I have with my childhood friends, cousins and other family. 

I know that if I had been out there with you, I could have picked you up and kept you clean. I’m a better person for having had you in my life. I carry our memories like a torch that brightens my days. I hope we meet again, my best friend.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Daniel X. Cohen is a comedy and drama writer and is currently working on screenplays and short stories. He serves as a facilitator for self-help groups. He is currently incarcerated in California.