It was pretty late, about 3am if I had to guess. I found him online and asked if he had a minute to talk. He said sure, in a condescending way. I ignored it. I took no time at all to tell him what had happened. Within a few minutes, my phone was ringing. It was him. He spent the rest of the night on the phone with me, talking it out.
He called me the next day to see how I was doing, and the next day after that, and the next day after that. Before I knew it, we were spending every night, all night, talking until the sun rose.
He was a little bit younger than me, but he was brilliant. He used to lose me in conversation when he’d slip deep into theoretical physics or the rituals of some ancient mysticism. He wasn’t pretentious about it either. He did show off from time to time, though. He made fun of himself for it and it made me love him even more.
He was an artist as well, and played songs for me on his collection of guitars, sometimes singing along. I would just lay there and drift away in utter bliss. He wrote songs, he performed songs, and played every instrument he could get his hands on.
I laughed when I was with him. His sense of humour was crippling. My sides always seemed to come away from time with him aching. He was articulate, and told me strange and eerie stories in the deepest part of the night, as I lay in the dark fighting sleep.
He was not without his own problems. He’d experienced some pretty difficult things in the short time he’d been alive. I hoped I offered him as much solace as he’d been able to give me.
We ended up friends, despite the fact we loved each other, because there was a pretty big caveat. He lived in Ohio and I lived on the West Coast of Canada and neither of us had the means, nor wanted to move. So, we settled for endless hours of talking on the internet, in emails and over the phone. We dated other people, but we still loved each other.
Our phone bills were terrifying. He insisted he would take care of them when he gets his “loot”. He was to come into quite a bit of money when he turned 21.
Years went by like this. My heart would flutter any time the the phone rang and I would dive to grab it before anyone else. I would daydream and nightdream about his green eyes. I’d say his name with a sigh, and reread his emails like they were Shakespearean sonnets. I lived for our phone calls, I longed to hear his voice again even moments after he’d just hung up.
Then, he turned 21 and he got his money. I heard from him less and less. When I did hear from him, it was about all the new cars he’d bought and wrecked, bought and wrecked. Sometimes, he seemed… unlike himself.
Calls were becoming few and far between and I was concerned, so I would email him things like, “Are you okay?”, “Where are you?” and then inevitably, the angry one ”Fuck you Ben, you self-involved little genius prick fucker!”. I guess he figured he owed me some kind of explanation because he called me up one night to explain.
“Sup. It’s the prick fucker.” Of course, I can’t help but laugh when I hear this.
“That was me being nice. You’re a colossal ass.”
“I am, it’s true.” He was quiet, subdued. I felt worry climb my spine and by the time it hit my mind, I knew I was in for bad news.
“What’s up? You sound funny.” I poked.
“Court. I’m a shitty person.”
“What do you mean? Why?” I nudged.
“I’ve been doing bad, bad things.”
“What bad things? Are you okay?” My heart was officially pounding.
“I’m doing heroin. I mean, I’m hooked on heroin. I’m a fucking addict.”
I lost my breath. This human being had single handedly carried me through one of the roughest times in my life. He sang to me, he wrote poems for me, he read to me. He had repeatedly told me through my lowest moments, that I was worth something. He’d stolen my heart from 3000 miles away, and whispered strange stories in my ear as I fell asleep. He was my most cherished friend; the one person I had been able to be myself completely with; the man who knew more about me than any other soul on Earth… and he was destroying himself.
I choked back tears. “I don’t believe you. What do you mean heroin?”
“Believe me, Court, I wouldn’t say this if it wasn’t true.”
“You’re lying!” I shouted into the phone.
“I’m not! Why would I lie about that?” His voice was rising.
“Fuck you, Ben. This is a sick joke.”
“It’s not a fucking joke! I am hooked on heroin. The real deal. I’m hooked on heroin and I had a heart attack and I just got out of the fucking hospital!”
Sobs. Straight sobs. I was on my knees on the floor. Tears were spilling onto my torn thrift shop jeans. I couldn’t catch my breath.
“Are you going to be okay?” I finally asked when I calmed down.
“Yeah, Court. I think so.”
But he wasn’t. He called a few more times after that, completely strung out, barely able to string together the words, “I love you”. Eventually, one New Year’s Eve when he called me from having just pissed away thousands in a casino, fucked up out of his mind, drinking straight from a champagne bottle, I’d had enough. I told him to stop calling me.
It wasn’t that I was mad at him, or that he was hurting me. It was simply that I could not stand to watch this beautiful human being destroy himself any longer. So, I asked him politely to please stop calling.
He did. For three years.
I didn’t stop thinking about him once in those 3 years. It took all my willpower not to try and contact him again. I wrote about him, talked about him, thought about him. He still owned a large part of my heart and I struggled through relationship after relationship with men who simply did not stack up… to a junkie… in Ohio.
During this time, I had this recurring dream. I’d be at a bus station or an airport, unsure of why I was there. I’d be standing, limply as people seemed to buzz by in hyperspeed, streaks of colour whizzing by me. Nothing would come into focus. I couldn’t tell the time, or see any faces and I couldn’t speak to ask anyone where I was. I just stood, stared, and swayed in swelling waves of people. Then he’d appear, through the fog, through the crowds, and everything would slow down. He’d step closer, then closer, and closer still until I could hear him breathe. He’d slip his arms around me, and I would be filled with a feeling greater than anything I’d ever experienced before, awake or asleep. A wave of warmth would explode in my chest cavity and I’d be so overcome with joy, tears would spill from my eyes.
That’s about the time I would wake up, realize it hadn’t happened, and talk myself out of calling him right then and there.
Few things in life before that or since have been as difficult.
After 3 years of this, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was not subsiding. It was getting worse. It was like in his absence, my love for him was growing. I finally decided I would try to see what had become of him. I tried emailing, and got a bounce back. I tried calling and the number had been disconnected. A rotten feeling was beginning to build up inside of me. What if he was dead?
I became frantic. I searched his name on Google daily. Nothing about him would come up. I set up a Google alert with his name, so I wouldn’t miss anything and sure enough, about a week after I did that, some old article popped up. It was an article in an Ohio newspaper. My heart skipped a beat as it loaded. I thought for sure it would be about an overdose or a fatal accident.
Instead, the article reported that 2 and some years prior, he’d been arrested for something stupid, and sent to prison for 9 years.
I was both elated and destroyed. I mean, at least he was still alive. Right?
I wasted no time in writing to him. It was a couple of weeks before I got a reply, but when I did, my heart tried to jump out of my chest, threatening to explode with excitement. I pulled the letter out of the envelope marked “Inmate” in bright pink letters.
I am so glad to hear from you. I’ve been thinking about you, too and even looked into finding your address, but unfortunately they don’t have Canadian phone books here in a prison in Ohio.
I’m doing okay. Been down almost 3 years, clean the whole time. I spent most of my time reading and working out. I’m okay, though. Now, more than before. I was so happy to get your letter. Write back soon,
I love you, Ben”
It was short, but those few words amounted to the greatest moment I’d ever experienced in my life thus far. This is how much love I had for this man. Three years had passed, in which he’d been a junkie, pissed away all his money, committed a crime and landed in prison and somehow my heart was still completely consumed by utter devotion to him, my most wonderful friend.
Almost immediately I wrote him back. I rambled on for pages, folded them up and sent them off to Ohio. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. Weeks passed. Then months. All I could do from so far away was check his offenders database page to see if he was at least still alive.
The wait was near unbearable. Every day, I peered deep into the dark abyss of my mailbox, hoping to see those bright pink letters stamped on an envelope, “inmate”. I wondered if he was ashamed of what he had done and simply chose not to write back. I wondered if he’d been hurt or transferred to another prison and they simply hadn’t updated the database yet. I wondered if he had envelopes and money to buy stamps. Every scenario floated through my mind, as I lay awake at night, my heart aching more than I ever knew possible.
Through this entire time, I continued to write to him. I moved to a new house and sent him my new address. I wrote letters assuming something was keeping him from writing me back, because he had never been the type to just disappear without explanation… even if it came late. So, I kept sending letters, and kept checking my mailbox and kept refreshing his database page on the Ohio offenders web site.
One day, I was in the open office we’d set up for the web design firm I started a few years earlier. I was sitting at my computer, staring listlessly at lines of code, when someone dropped mail on my desk.
There it was. Bright. Pink. “Inmate”. I completely lost it. I was crying like they do in anime flicks, with the tears just about spraying from my eyes. They were tears of joy. My staff looked at me like I’d lost the plot, and I removed myself to another room, slipped the letter out of the enveloped and read, “I’m okay.”
I felt intense relief. Ben was okay. He was okay. Thank Mary mother of Christ, he is okay, no holy.
He explained in his letter that he’d been in a fight in the yard and broke some bones. He’d spent all those months in the hole. Months. In solitary.
I think it was that letter that really hit me. It was that particular letter that made me realize, I don’t know shit about prison. Ben meant so much to me, for so long. He was so often the object of my dreams and daydreams and thoughts. I credited him with helping me get through so many things in the near decade I’d already known him, and here he was, stuck in solitary for 3 months and I had no fucking clue what that meant. I had to learn. I had to know. I had to understand.
Over the next few years, in between phone calls from Ben and letters to Ben and letters from Ben, I immersed myself in every book I could get my hands on about prison. I watched documentaries, I kept up on the news and the politics to do with prison. I learned everything I could about where Ben was, so I could try to understand what he was going through.
I got to know authors and ex-cons and activists and lawyers as I pored over all the material I could find. I joined online groups and chatted with other people who had a friend or loved one in prison. I asked Ben every question I could think of about prison and he answered as honestly as he could.
In my devotion to Ben, I became an expert, and activist and an outspoken advocate for inmate rights.
When I met Godless Dad, I was still in love with Ben. I struggled with my new feelings for him and my familiar feelings for Ben. Ben and I were just friends still, but it felt wrong to start a relationship with someone else when I still had these intense feelings of incredible love for Ben. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I didn’t want to be in love with a convict who had 6 more years to serve… but there I was, in love with him.
This struggle continued as Godless Dad and I became close friends. My love for him was growing, too. I was falling in love with his daughter, and her sister and getting to know his family. I started to confide in him about everything, including Ben. Eventually, Ben began to fall by the wayside and Godless Dad’s loyalty and devotion made him impossible to ignore. I committed to Godless Dad, and after our move to Mexico, stopped trying to contact Ben. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, or that I didn’t love him anymore. It was simply that it wasn’t fair to Godless Dad, who I was now head over heels in love with. Friends or not, my love for Ben was intense and consuming and there had always been a desire for more.
I wrote to him when I moved back to Canada every once in a while, just to know he was okay, and kept it at that.
When Ben was finally released in 2012, he contacted me. I figured I’d say hello and see how he was. I was excited he was out and he seemed happy, but something was not the same. He didn’t seem to want to talk much, and I he had every right to be that way. He’d just been released to a strange, new world after 9 years. He had a right to be off. I also had a right to require more from my friends though, and I wasn’t about to be put in a situation where I had to beg for his attention.
So, I said goodbye… actually, my last words to him were a drunken text that made no sense, but It was a goodbye, in my own, special, slightly challenged way.
My sincerest hope for Ben, is that he is doing well… that he has opportunity to be creative and clever and caring. I hope he has a best friend like I’ve found in Godless Dad. I hope he has the chance to smile every day and feel loved. I hope he knows that there’s still someone 3000 miles away who thinks he deserves the very best life has to offer. I hope he knows that all those times I promised I would love him forever, that I was not lying.
I hope, beyond anything else, that he is happy.