A Few More Things

What does a girl do when she’s pregnant and she really doesn’t know who the father is? It’s much different today than it was forty years ago. Today, she would need to confirm with DNA tests what everyone already knows, that she has been a Very Loose Girl. In 1977, I did what most girls in my position did, pick the most likely candidate, or the candidate she most wanted to be “the one.” My least likely candidate was a man who had already funded one abortion, he also made it clear that was this was the preferred solution to such a problem. Since abortion was not an option for me, I felt no responsibility to involve him in any way. My most likely candidate was a young man who did not equivocate. He rejected my claim outright and made it clear he would have nothing further to do with me or my progeny. This was fine with me. I was happy to have a “he said/she said” situation that could not ever be resolved. I could hide my shame behind the uncertainty and raise my child as I saw fit with no interference from the other parent or the other parent’s parents. My love and my family’s love would be sufficient for my son. I would make up for the absence of a father. I couldn’t recognize at that point how profoundly sad it is to not know who your father is, or worse, to live half your childhood not knowing the father you have is not yours. For the first two years of his life, Micheal was loved and cared for by my family. It was only the adults involved who understood what it meant that half of his identity was left blank, leaving both Micheal and me in the dark on the subject.

Friday, 9 November 2018

A phone call comes, but it’s one I would never have expected. It’s a nurse at the hospital and she’s calling at my son’s request. She says he wants me to pass along a message to the mother of his youngest son. He’s been stabbed.

What??

The young woman shares this information dryly, with apparently no awareness how shocking, and how shockingly selfish the words sound in my ear.

Yes, she’s tried Brandi’s number a few times and there’s been no answer. He wants Brandi to know he’s been injured, but at this point it appears he will be okay.

OKAY?

I’m assuming this means that the situation isn’t dire, his wounds aren’t considered lethal.  How many stab wounds, I wonder. The nurse reports five all together. Micheal’s spleen and kidney have been lacerated, but at this point the doctor doesn’t think surgery will be necessary. If the bleeding stops, his organs will heal on their own. He will stay at the hospital for a couple of days so they can monitor the bleeding in his kidney and he can receive the antibiotics he needs intravenously. Would I pass the message along to Brandi? Sure, I say. I’ll let her know.

Fuck no, I won’t. The last thing I want is for Micheal and Brandi to reunite.

I’m at the hospital in fifteen minutes. A member of the staff guides me to his cubicle in the Emergency Room. He’s conscious, but he clearly has a drug in his system and it’s making him sleepy and dull-witted. There are two nurses in the room and they confirm he’s had pain medication. He didn’t come into the hospital this way. I can see his wounds. They aren’t actively bleeding, just oozing a bit. The knife must have been narrow, the wounds are not wide. One of the nurses points to a gash on his upper arm. It’s about four inches long and deep enough for the fatty tissue to be exposed. That one will get stitches, the nurses inform me, the others, staples. They begin to clean the wounds before they close them up. The wound on his arm has sliced through a tattoo. I wonder to myself if they will be able to keep the two halves aligned.

I ask Micheal how it happened. He says he doesn’t know. Someone just jumped him and started stabbing. But, why, I ask. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know who it was.

How can this be?

How often does it happen that a man unknown to you suddenly attacks you with a knife?

Micheal shrugs drunkenly and tells me he doesn’t know how often it happens, but it just happened to him.

Right. Sure, it did.

The nurses are about to sew him up. I tell him I’ll come back later, when they have him stapled and sewn and put in a room. At home, my head whirls in disbelief. What could this possibly be about? Whatever it is, it’s very bad. It scares me. What scares me most of all is the fact I have no idea who my son is anymore. I’m afraid for him. I’m afraid for me. I’m afraid of what I’m thinking and what he might be capable of. I am too afraid to go back to the hospital to face the possibility he may now be a violent, maybe even a murderous person.
The phone rings. It’s Micheal’s voice, trembling, like a little boy’s. He sounds scared.  “Mom,” he says, “are you coming out?”

Blindness

“Read me! Read me!” Micheal dumped several books in my lap and scooted into a spot beside me on the couch. At three years old, reading was a favorite activity. Sorting through the books, he pulled out his current obsession, “The Little Engine That Could.”

“Okay. I’ll read you, but first, I want to tell you another story. This one about your daddy.” I wanted Micheal to know and understand about his father from an early age. I planned to tell the story over and over, increasing the information as he matured. It was important to me that my son grow up with an awareness of the facts of his life. I wanted the truth to seep in slowly as his understanding became more sophisticated, instead unloading it all in a shocking revelation when he was mature enough to grasp all the implications. 

“When I had you,” I began, “the man who was your daddy, your real daddy, didn’t want to have a little boy. He didn’t want to be with us. That made me very sad, so I looked for another man who wanted to be a daddy and wanted to be with us. He is the dad you have now.”

“Read me now?” My son was more interested in the stories contained in  books than the one I was telling.

“Micheal, the dad you have now chose me and you to be his family. We love each other, and we love you. Okay?”

“Okay. Read me now.”

Even though my story was all but ignored, I considered my delivery a success. At least I had begun the dialog. I would revisit the subject every so often until it became something that was taken for granted, just like any fact of life. It was a solid plan. I was long on commitment, but short on execution. I soon became distracted by my own problems, foremost the drugs and the drama that consumed my marriage to Dave. It wasn’t very long before the biological dad, forever out of sight, was out of mind as well. He became a small, insignificant detail in the chaos of our every day, and our every day was hugely chaotic. I lived with Dave off and on for six years, three of those years we were married. Amid the drinking and drugging we moved ten times, twice to other cities in Indiana. One of those moves was motivated by a warrant for Dave’s arrest. Because of our nomadic lifestyle, Micheal attended four different schools by the second grade. “Our” son witnessed numerous domestic battles, including one with extended family. He saw the infidelities, the destruction of property, he heard the abusive language. After the father he knew was finally arrested and sent to prison for selling cocaine, he went with me every Sunday to see him, in the very place he would one day be incarcerated himself. My son’s psyche suffered a thousand cuts in his most formative years, and I was too selfish and foolish to see it.

Compounding the injuries, after a time my intention to inform my son about his father was transformed in my mind to a truth. I began to take for granted Micheal knew what I knew, and that he remembered what I had told him about his father, a man who time would reveal to be my least likely candidate. Looking back on the moment when that candidate finally appeared, it’s hard for me to judge who was more shocked at Micheal’s ignorance on the subject…Micheal, or me.

9 November 2018

I make good on my promise to call the Parole Officer. She is as hard-nosed as most people working for the Department of Corrections. The offender’s family is often treated with a brusque suspicion, and Agent McDonald adheres to this pattern. I’ve made it clear to her that I want to help my son, but I will not help him avoid taking responsibility for his actions. If he violates his parole I will help her capture him if I can. I’ve tried to make her understand if my son is victimizing other people, or putting his own life at risk, I would prefer him in jail.

I give her the few details I know about the stabbing. I tell her he will be in the hospital for at least another day while they determine his kidney is no longer bleeding. I give her the name of the detectives. I give her the number of the phone Micheal is using. I tell her it’s unlikely he will call, but I have given him her number. He has a prepaid phone and his time on it is running out. I tell her when his phone no longer works, I will give him an extra phone I don’t use much. I can locate it, and when I have an address for where he is, I’ll let her know. She asks me to impress upon Micheal how important it is he contact her. I assure her I will and later that day when I visit him I follow through.

In his room, he won’t look at me and he isn’t talking beyond greeting. I remind him about his parole officer, I ask if he has called her. He takes issue with the fact she doesn’t believe his story about the rehab. I don’t say it, but I don’t believe him, either. He was dead-set against it from the outset. To him, it seemed the same thing as being in prison. He might as well be locked up as to be there. Then, a sudden change of mind after months of resistance. Right before release his attitude changed and he became willing to go to treatment. It just didn’t add up.

I don’t answer him, and he says nothing further. We sit together in silence for many minutes. I know he’s angry with me about the things I told the detectives. I try to make small talk but he isn’t having it. I put my hand over his and give it a squeeze. He’s a big, strong man, but in the hospital gown with the IV lines and the stitches and staples, he seems vulnerable. He doesn’t want to talk to me, but apparently, no one but me wants to talk to him. None of his drug buddies have been to see him; they haven’t called. No other family save his daughter has been here. It makes me so sad I begin to weep. I recall some weeks earlier he told me he thinks he really doesn’t want to get clean, deep down. Even though he wants a better life, there’s something inside that just won’t stop. I’m still holding his hand and his face is turned away. He won’t look at me as I’m repeating our conversation, but I can see the tears coming. I tell him he lies to himself. He tells himself he really doesn’t want to stop using. I say the reason he doesn’t choose a better life is because he thinks he doesn’t deserve one.

He still won’t answer, but I see his lower lip begin to tremble. He pulls his hand away from mine and pinches the bridge of his nose in an attempt to stop the tears. When he has his emotions under control, he tells me how he doesn’t think he can get over losing Brandi. He can’t stop thinking about it, he can’t stop being sad. It’s hard for me to answer a forty-one-year old’s teenage angst, but I try to explain the steps to rebuilding a life when you’re broken…stay busy, set a new goal, try a new hobby or revisit an old one, meditate, concentrate on the positive. My advice falls flat.

Before I can tell him how much better his prospects are without Brandi, how he can’t possibly handle her mental illness, or her drug addiction, or her neediness, the surgeon comes in with wonderful news. Micheal’s kidney has stopped bleeding. He can go home.

Home. Just where the hell is that?

Foolishness

During the year of ’85/’86 we settled into our life on Willow Grove and began to feel stable. Micheal got to complete fourth grade in one school. He joined CYL and played ball that summer. I continued to work at the liquor store. Together, Chris and I didn’t have much money, but we could meet our basic bills. I could spend every penny of my $142 a week on groceries if I wanted to, and I often did.

Shawn and Brandon spent every other weekend with us. We had a routine. We had a family and we were beginning to have a life. At the end of summer, Chris and his friends decided it would be great fun to have a hog roast at a nearby pond. We chose a weekend when we didn’t have Shawn and Brandon. Micheal loved to fish, and eating pork and fishing sounded like a great time for him, too. During that day we ate, played, and drained two kegs of beer. It was late in the afternoon when Chris brought Micheal to me. He was weaving and staggering.

“What’s wrong?” My hand went to my son’s forehead. No fever.

“What do you think is wrong?” Chris asked. “We caught him sneaking beer. From the looks of him he’s been doing it all day” I was flabbergasted. My son was only nine years old. How could I have been so oblivious? I was so wrapped up in myself I hadn’t even noticed my son was getting drunk.

“Are you kidding me? How much did you drink, Micheal?” I was none too sober myself, but how could I have missed my son sneaking drinks from idle beers all afternoon?

“I don’t know. Just a little bit.” His words weren’t slurred, but his movements were slow and rubbery, his walk uncertain.

“You need to take him home. Get him out of here.” Chris handed me the keys. I put my son in the car and drove the short distance to the house. I wasn’t in good enough shape to drive, but I counted on law enforcement being scarce on the country roads. I lectured Micheal on the way home, berating him for his sneaky behavior. Once inside the house, he stumbled to the couch and collapsed on it. It was more than disturbing to see him inebriated so young. I didn’t know what to make of it, but I hoped it was an experience unpleasant enough that he would not soon repeat it. I don’t know if he ever snuck alcohol again, but in later years he would explore far more unpleasant things.

December 18, 2018

I like to wait for a week or two before I visit him in jail. He is usually sick and surly for a while after he’s gone to lockup. Sometimes it’s dope sickness, but this time he has been binging on meth so it’s way different. Before parole got him, he was becoming gaunt, but he didn’t have sores on his face. I’ve never seen him with sores on his face, though he has been on long enough meth runs to start picking himself like that. He doesn’t ever pick, he just becomes paranoid.

I set up my video account in the jail visiting area. It’s a touchscreen, and this screen has been touched far too much. There are fingerprints smeared in snot or slobber or god-knows-what. I don’t want to put my hands on it. When I do, I think to myself that I need to remain conscious about putting my hands to my face until I can get home to wash.

When I get set up, I start typing his name, ‘t-o-w-n-s…’ and that’s enough to bring his full name up on the screen. I choose him and wait to see his face. He answers the “call” and his face comes into focus. I lift the receiver from the hook, wishing I had a handkerchief with which to hold it. Heaven knows who’s been hacking all over it.

He looks better than when I saw him last. He has a few days growth of beard, not bad, and the creases in his face are beginning to fill in. It doesn’t take long for him to put on weight again. He tells me he’s been ravenous. I say I’ll put money on his commissary so he can get extra food. I know it isn’t good food, but it will at least put weight on his starved body.

Remarkably, he is in a good mood. He seems almost happy. He is smiling, and he tells me he asked to be a trustee and they let him do it. He is working in the kitchen. He says it makes the time go faster and it gives him something to do. There is reason to be optimistic, he says. Even though he didn’t stay clean, he thinks he has a better idea how to do it now. He hopes the parole board will let him go to treatment instead of back to prison. He learned that he will get a new parole officer, but he hasn’t met him yet. The officer is supposed to visit soon after the parolee is arrested. The board has 30 days to decide whether to send him back or not. He will know his fate right after Christmas.

We talk a little bit about the girl he was staying with. I’ve learned her name. She contacted me on Facebook to ask if I’d talked to him. He is curious about what we have said to each other. I don’t tell him, but I’ve asked her if he has been violent with her, if he has treated her well. I need to know if he is a good person or not. I don’t know him anymore and I want to be sure I’m not helping a bad person do bad things in the world. The girl tells me he hasn’t been violent, but he has made a point to let her know he could be. She said they used meth together, but there were also stretches of days when they didn’t use at all. She said they were happiest on those days, and he was good and kind to her then.

Fifteen minutes can be either an eternity or a fleeting moment when it comes to prison visits. This visit comes to an end in a flash. We didn’t get to complete the business we needed to attend to. Each inmate can have a visit every six hours, and I promise to coordinate my next visit with the girl. He blows me a kiss and I hang up the receiver. As I leave, I walk past other visitors in front of other dirty touchscreens. I notice the grime along the floor where it meets the wall. I smell the stale cigarette smoke that permeates the space even though no one ever smokes there. The scent mingles with the cheap cologne and the misery in the air. At the metal door, the turnkey buzzes me out into the cold.