Friends I’ve known, lost, and taken away
I want to be as good a friend as I can be. This is important to me. In the whole span of my long lifetime, nothing else has ever been so important. I have my reasons for feeling this way. If I put these reasons into words within the confines of this column, I’ll experience actual acute physical pain. The pain will not pass quickly, and my stomach is already beginning to tighten.
In the past, I haven’t always felt the same. It’s not that being a friend wasn’t important to me, I just didn’t think about it because I was too wrapped up within myself to worry about others. Before I continue, I think we had best take a look at what exactly a friend is. As defined in the dictionary, a friend is a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.
If we look at that definition, it appears to be split into two different parts or ideas. I think we’ll will agree on the first part of the definition of a friend. The second part deserves a little thought for clarification. I think the point is that sexual partners and families are much more than “friends.” I guess I agree with this in principal, but I always say that my wife is my best friend.
Anyway, back to my story.
The one constant in my life was my brother Michael. He was my brother so that makes him more than a friend. There’s nothing I have ever said in my life that is truer than this: He was more than a friend. Except for our time in Vietnam and some few years we were separated in St. Joseph’s Orphanage, he was always with me. He died a few years ago but he is with me still.
The first night in the orphanage, the nuns took him away and it was years before I saw him again even though we existed within the walls of the same old military hospital turned into a children’s home. After that I kept everyone at arm’s length except for Fat Phil, who the State of Arkansas rescued from a molesting father, and he found himself in the bunk next to mine at St. Joseph’s. Fat Phil became my brother.
I vividly remember the last day I saw him. When his father regained custody of him, I asked him why he would want to go back because his father made him do nasty things. He said, “It’s better than staying here.” Then he was gone.
The next friend I had as a boy, Butch King, died when the cave we were digging in a large sand pile caved in on him. His was the first dead body I touched, so I knew that he too was gone. Neither he nor Fat Phil ever came back.
Years later, my brother Michael found himself in Vietnam with the US Marines. He wrote that he was not having fun. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I joined the Army and went to go get him. The same week I arrived in Vietnam, he was shipped out because you cannot have two brothers in a combat zone at the same time unless, like me, you sign a waiver giving up that right.
Now we get to the gist of my story. I won’t go into the details — they’re too horrible — but it has to do with the killing of innocent civilians. (Here comes the pain!) When these people were killed, I took away any friend they may have had or any friend they were ever going to have. They will never know what I have with my friends.
That’s what I know, and when I think about my friends, I do the friendship thing for those that I left lying on the ground in Vietnam.