Tag Archives: Concentrated Breathing

A “New” Brother

The feeling I’m feeling is like when a little girl is expecting a baby brother for the first time and she knows she’ll have much responsibility in raising the kid right, but then as the due date gets closer and closer, the little girl starts to get erratic – shouting her excitement, sleeping in the new baby’s crib because it used to be hers, clinging on to any normalcy – because soon, it will all change.

It will all change soon enough, so her parents tell the little girl to calm down and to enjoy Mommy and Daddy solely for the last time in the next few weeks. The little girl nods her head and smiles while reaching in for a double hug with her two favorite people. All she knows is this consistency. What’s to come in the next few weeks is somewhat like a tornado swirling with questions, sadness, and a bit of happiness.

She should expect the attention to be turned from her to the new baby, and the doubt of her existence to match the importance of his. She should expect to hold him once with a pillow under her elbow for protection because he’s fragile. He’s so fragile. She should expect to be counted on in a more adult way than her years dictate because she knows more than the little baby and because “her brother depends on her” to “be a good role model” and to “love him unconditionally”.

Sometimes parents get the other sibling a gift to shadow the horror of what’s going to soon change her world so drastically. She will need a distraction from it all. The distraction will only last a moment – a couple days, tops – and then be thrown into the toy chest with the other dolls she’s practiced on since she was old enough to grasp. This change is so big that the little girl will probably cry over it more than smile. Little girls don’t know how to accept change. A change like this is life altering. And that’s not being dramatic at all. That’s the truth.

So as I sit here about to be a “big” sister for the first time to my older brother of 31 years, I compare myself to this because it is what it is. At least, it’s the closest metaphor for you to accurately understand how I feel. I go through bouts of panic, excitement, horror, and emotions I haven’t let myself feel in years. What does someone do when they have forgotten how to be a sister? More importantly this question entered my mind on my commute home from work today: What does it mean to have a brother in your life? (And I’m not being dramatic. I want to know.)

In a few weeks, in less than month, in a number of days I can count on my fingers and toes, my brother will be coming home from seven years in prison for vehicular homicide because he drove drunk one night. He will be coming home to our childhood home, back to our mother to be reunited with life after a brother-sister relationship death. Our relationship died.

Because I have committed to wiping the slate clean, to start over anew, I have committed to being excited about his return. But it’s awfully hard to accept all his faults when I don’t know how this brother is or what changes will come to my life I’ve built over the past seven years. I’ve built quite a comfortable one.

I’m wrecked over it on the inside, confused as hell in my heart, but trying to think positive in my mind. I’m trying to talk my body into being ready for this change, this new baby brother shift in my family dynamic.

I will teach my “older” brother many things. I will teach him about Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Gmail and flat screen TVs and iPhones, and Blueray players and e-readers and tablets; the list goes on and on. I will teach my brother the appropriate ways to pay for things now and reinforce good behavior. I will notice when he’s trying, and pep him up when he’s lost steam. I will protect him from bad habits, such as his kicked addiction, alcohol, and from some friends who are still bad influences. I will have to drive him places, and even sometimes hug him to remind him I still love him.

Sometimes I will need him to hug me to make sure I know that he still loves me.

After all this time dreading, wondering, and anticipating, I hope having a new brother was worth the wait. 


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Decluttering Chad – Chapter in Concentrated Breathing

Note: This is a chapter that falls in my memoir, Concentrated Breathing. Read from the beginning here, which links you to the next chapters at the bottom of each post. It’s been awhile since I’ve written about this. 

By Jennifer Dryden © 2013


I find a card taped to my mirror in my bedroom upon arriving home from Chad’s sentencing. I picture myself approaching it slowly. If it were a movie, it would have been one of those dramatic darker scenes where the background of me standing in the doorway is fuzzed, out of focus, while the card is in the foreground clear as day, waiting for me to notice it. The audience wonders what the message reads inside. There’s probably some instrumental music, setting the mood just right and the girl (me) walking toward the card, carefully retrieving it, flipping the tape backward so there’s no stick, and stalling while she slips in to a flashback before she pulls the card from its envelope.

But it isn’t like that at all.

I don’t even notice it right away. I discover it as I’m getting dressed the following morning. It’s not even a card in the envelope; it’s a picture of Chad and me. It has a note written in his horrible handwriting on the back – a typical male script: tiny letters upon crooked lines. I read it, look around me, and let myself cry. I cry out of frustration and exhaustion, and out of the loss of my brother. The fact that it’s his fault our lives are like this. It’s his drunken fault. And at the same time… I miss him.

“Brother and Sister for Life,” it read. I’ve noticed a trend in his writing; he capitalizes words of importance to him. It followed with, “Love ya! Your brother, Chad S. Dryden”. He always signs his full name. It drives me crazy. I know who you are. You didn’t even have to sign your name. Some things never change, while others do nothing but.

It’s like he died. It’s like my brother died on me. One minute he is here, the next minute he is gone. His cologne is still in the downstairs bathroom and a new bottle is waiting for him after that one runs out. His shampoo is in the shower. His favorite pasta is in the cupboard ready to fix for dinner; no one else eats it. His bed stays downstairs, made; sheets tucked in and a wrinkle in the comforter probably where Chad sat and thought about the next time he might be home. His yellow and orange cat, Kitty, sleeps curled up waiting for him to return for her nightly pet. I walk around, trying to rid the place of my brother because our mother can’t stand the sight without tears or a lowly sigh. I rearrange the downstairs a bit, store whatever I can in his empty dresser out of sight. I close the curtains, blocking out the deceivingly sunny, October day. Although Chad prepared the house for his departure pretty well by stocking the back bedroom with his possessions – game consoles, TV, clothes, DVD and game collections, everything – there are still signs of my brother’s existence everywhere.

I often catch myself wondering if it would have been better or any more devastating to our family if he had physically died in the car accident. I quickly avert my thoughts to confirm my preference of the current reality, but I often falsely compare the drastic cut off from sibling rivalry and brotherly-sisterly love to saying goodbye to a soldier going off to fight a war. I never talk to Chad. I never talk about Chad. I never see Chad. I catch myself forgetting I have a Chad. It becomes routine after a couple of weeks, months, eight years. But at this point and time, I just try to fix everything that’s broken around me, which mainly refers to my mother.

She can put on a happy act like a professional. Her smile, if no one knew her, could fool every time. I, on the other hand, know better. It’s interesting playing the role of mother to your mother at 19. It’s a bit more tolerable and digestible than at 11 when she lost her husband to a divorce and me, my dad to another house and eventually a different state most of the year. It is just Mom and me. So mainly it is just me. So now I’m decluttering the lack of brother in the house because it’s logical and heals, I think. I don’t actually know.

The next days blur together as I return to work at a childcare center part-time and college classes full-time. I am taking a class called Art Appreciation with a bunch of my new friends. We call ourselves the “Smoothie Tuesdays” because we go to Mac’s Café in Carroll every Tuesday for… you guessed it, smoothies! I always get a strawberry one because I can’t branch out. Anyway, every Tuesday and Thursday at the beginning of Art Appreciation, our ancient professor has us draw something in our collage journal about what’s going on in our lives right now; I am allowed to draw anything. Lately, it’s been about Big Brother All-Stars because I’m obsessed with that show and this little baby boy Oliver who will only sleep if I’m holding him at daycare. I drew his star blanket yesterday.

Today is different though. I start drawing a folded up piece of white paper, an envelope, and squiggle words on the paper to signify a letter. On its envelope I write “To: Mom and Jennifer” and in the return address part I write, “From: Chad”. We received Chad’s first letter last night, which made Mom cry, but she claimed “happy tears” because we were waiting to see where the state placed him. IMCC stands for Iowa Medical and Classification Center. It’s over in Coralville, Iowa – three-and-a-half hours away by car. Far enough away so the expectation for me to visit him regularly is low. Good, I thought last night. I draw it, date it up the letter’s side, and set it aside. No one notices the small words on the envelope and I don’t point it out. It’s embarrassing, but it’s what’s happening right now in my life.

I immerse myself in my work at the childcare center. Who knew two-year-olds could keep a person collected? These kids keep me sane. My bosses know what’s going on because after the accident happened two years ago, I had to “inform my employers” because there was a drastic change at home and with me being a teenager “I may have to leave suddenly” to “support my family”. I told them the day after it happened, “My brother was in an accident. It’s pretty bad, but I don’t want to cut back my hours because I’d rather be here than anywhere else.” That job was my escape. It still is. I am coping and work is my method.

I came home from work to dinner being made and the phone attached to my mother’s hip. “He said in the letter he might call soon,” she said with a smile, something that held an unrealistic amount of hope. I can’t remember, but I think he didn’t call for another week. I begin to pray for him to call just so the routine could return to normal for a little while. The calls were never good though.

“You gotta get me out of here, Jennifer!” Chad says.

“I can’t, Chad. You know that,” I reply with little sympathy, still enraged at his behavior and torn between sugarcoating responses to calm him like my mother does or not caring as usual.

“You don’t know what it’s like. Put Mom back on,” he signs off with 5 minutes remaining in his 20-minute allotted call. Mom paces frantically, stressing over her son’s current reality, helpless too, while trying to sooth him with her motherly voice.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Testify the Truth

Note: This is a scene inside my memoir Concentrated Breathing. This is the day I testified for my brother, Chad. Read the other parts before if you aren’t familiar with it. There are links at the end of each post that will lead you to the next. Some names have been changed on purpose.

My cheeks are red hot and I think steam is coming out of my eyes because my vision is blurry. Every which way I look, my eyes feel like they are soaking in a foggy Jacuzzi. My hands are set together in my lap as I subconsciously swivel from left to right in one of the ten leatherback chairs in a conference room inside the fourth floor of the courthouse. Mom, Aunt Norine, Grandpa, and Grandma Barb are all here with Chad, his lawyer Jay McGuire, and me. Everyone is gathered around the table like we’re about to be served a feast, but really we’re just waiting for the judge to get here. Everyone who’s anyone in this case is testifying today, including me.

My stomach lurches up toward my throat – the same feeling I got when I was a kid spinning on a merry-go-round at the park; I told Mom my tummy was tickly – as I make myself snap into reality and stop spinning. I put my elbows on the table and let my head rest in my hands as Jay McGuire goes over the plan one more time.

“Now, Chad and I will be sitting to the right of the bench, you all will come in one-by-one and will swear in using the Bible.” He projects in an outlined fashion, making eye contact at everyone individually. “I’ll question you first, then,” he pauses. “The county attorney will have his turn.” My stomach turns with this transition. We’ve all heard numerous times how this specific county attorney is hard core, a dick to anyone he thinks has wronged him, his client, or the world.

I’m the youngest person testifying and a key witness in our appeal that the nurse didn’t get proper, legal permission to take Chad’s blood alcohol level in the emergency room on the night of the accident. Not to mention, I’m his little sister and he’s my big brother and even though I can remember all of our childhood carnival games and Christmas mornings of wrapping paper tube fights, and that one time he stood up for me to that boyfriend I’d rather not claim, when I get on that stand nobody else knows these things. And frankly, I don’t think they care. I can either save him from prison or throw away the key.

Jay McGuire turns his attention right on me because I need to be treated gently because of my age, I guess. “Now, Jennifer, you remember what we’re going to talk about up there, don’t you?”

“Yes, I remember,” I begin with caution and a clear memory. “I’m going to tell about how the nurse in the emergency room didn’t ask Chad to sign the document and how he was over the legal age to be signing it himself. Then I’m going to tell them about how Chad was not in a conscious state and was drugged up on pain killers and could barely make sense of the words that were shooting out of his mouth let alone understand his rights or what he was consenting to.” I’ll also tell them to go to hell and leave my brother alone. Or I could tell them that he’s still a jerk and hasn’t learned a damn thing.

“That’s right, Jennifer.” He says my name like I’m special and four freaking years old. I’m 19, I get it, Mr. McGuire. “Just get up there and tell the truth. That’s all you need to do.” My mom looks at me, with the continuous nodding head after everything Jay McGuire says. I don’t buy this act; this attorney is pissing me off.

Mom repeats his words in a chipper voice, trying to protect her children from the reality of this day. “Yup, just tell the truth!” I wasn’t planning on lying, people!

Chad gets it. He looks over at me and pats my back. I glance up as he smiles his big brother smile I haven’t seen in awhile and says, “Don’t worry, bud. Just do your best.” It’s everything reassuring, but I know deep down he and everyone else are depending on me. Breathe.

Grandpa, in his own religious right, volunteers a family prayer. We all scoot close enough to hold hands. We close our eyes and bow our heads. I peek an eye open to see how Chad’s reacting. He usually shuns religion because “it just doesn’t make sense.” He’s not bowing his head like us, but it doesn’t look like rebellion as I’d first assumed. His head is tilted upward and his eyes are pinched shut, lips a thin line. It looks more like a plea to God. Amen.

All the witnesses are sequestered in this conference room off to the right of the courtroom so we aren’t swayed or hear the other testimonies. When it’s exactly 2:00 p.m. a random clerk pokes her head in the door that leads to the courtroom, announcing for Chad and Jay McGuire to head in. Aunt Norine, who is not testifying – just there for moral support and to make sure my mom doesn’t die of heart attack, or more appropriate heartbreak – goes in and takes her seat in the row of chairs lining the back wall. “All right, we’ll see you out there,” Jay McGuire says as if he’s leaving the dugout for a baseball game. I feel like I should high five him or that there should be some slapping of the asses with team spirit. How professional.

The room thickens as the attorney exits. We are left to think in silence. Grandpa moves closer to Mom and I hear her going over her story again; practicing with him. I know what I’m going to say and I’ve heard it a million-and-one times from Jay McGuire, my mom, and my dad, who happens to be absent today, enjoying his life in sunny Florida. His reason was a cocky, “Well, I wasn’t there that night so why do I have to be there for this?” Hmm, I could think of a few reasons. Let’s make a list.

–       He’s your son.

–       I’m your daughter.

–       This was a family you once chose to have.

–       Courtesy, support, encouragement, love

Need I go on?

I can never understand why my dad does these things. I wonder how he can logically justify his absence. I wonder if he tells himself this because he knows Linda won’t want to come, or because he can’t face his wayward son. I remember when he was driving me back to my mom’s house after I had supper at his house one night following the conviction notice.

Dad turns off Allen Jackson and puts both hands on the stirring wheel like it is his stability. His speed slows to near ten miles per hour. My mom’s house, the house he used to live in with us, our home, isn’t too far away and I think he wants to say something to me.

“Chad got himself into a pretty big mess, huh?” he starts with glossy eyes that don’t blink. Where’s your mind at, Dad?

“Yeah…,” I answer, solemnly, leaving it open-ended. I don’t think he expects an answer.

“I just don’t know what to do anymore, Jennifer.” His lips come together in a sympathetic way and he slightly shakes his head. “I can’t save him. I can’t take this away. I can’t buy his way out. There isn’t an amount in the world…” He trails off into his thoughts. Chad in court. Chad behind bars. Chad in handcuffs. His son a failure.

I’m silent because I’m not sure if my dad is crying. I don’t know how to handle this. This is the first time I’ve ever seen him like this. Is he crying? I come to the conclusion that if I weren’t around, he would be crying. He’d be letting his vulnerability show and his emotions melt out of his authoritative eyes. I see water puddles in the rims of his brown eyes; the same eyes I have, too.  It’s okay, Dad. It’s not your fault. I want to say this, but I don’t.

But I’m still mad that he’s not here, but I get it. I get it because I was there that day when he almost let a tear spill from his Dryden eyes. Every Dryden has the same brown, sunk-in, beautiful eyes. My late Grandpa Dryden called them this. It’s special to all of us. Grandpa Dryden is here with us today just as much as much as my other grandpa except he’s our angel. Please Grandpa, bless us today.

“Diane, you’re up first,” Baaaaatter up! Jay McGuire says through the small gap of the open door. As my mom stands, I wonder how her heart is breaking right now, how much pressure she feels even though it’s not her fault at all. This is her one moment to help Chad, her only true moment to save her baby boy of 24. God, please make her strong. I worry more about my mom than I do about Chad. Chad will be all right; Mom, on the other hand, may not.

With a down-to-business tone, my mom states, “Okay,” and enters the courtroom. The door shuts. Small talk presumes and I answer the quirky questions my grandma has to ask about my college classes.

About 15 minutes later, Jay McGuire pokes his gelled head in and summons his next batter. Me. As I stand, my head spins and I close my eyes to try to gather my thoughts that have escaped my crowded brain. Get it together, Jennifer! This is it. Just tell the truth. Wait; wait! What’s the truth again?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who Knows

Play this song as you read a page, that hasn’t found its spot, in my growing memoir.

Sometimes, I forget I have a brother. The same brother I’ve had for my entire 23 years, 8 months, and 2 days of life. How does this happen?

It’s been so easy.

Then, my phone will ring in his tone and an invisible fist takes a cheap shot to my stomach that slowly turns into heartburn acid and ends up as bubbles in my throat. Then inside my brain a circuit triggers a complete guilty feeling that I… again… have forgotten Chad.

I force myself to listen to this one song, “Who Knows” by Avril Lavigne, from the night of the accident. It was stuck in my head like The Andy Griffith Show whistle and was the one thing I clung on to for my sanity that night.

I try to make myself immune to it, to him, to the feelings, to the tears. First, I feel nauseas and then my cheeks turn pink. And finally, goose bumps rise off the top of my head, almost like I placed my hand on one of those static electricity balls at a science museum. I don’t get to the point of tears and heaving in the bathroom like the years right after Chad’s accident. I call this progress.

It’s kind of like getting over a dead relative or friend; you never really do, you just learn to adjust to a life without them. And then eventually, you forget.


– Start reading Concentrated Breathing now!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

One Step From Rock Bottom

Note: This is part four of my growing memoir entitled, “Concentrated Breathing”. If you’re a newbie to this, read Concentrated Breathing, Subconscious Resistance, and A Prison Hug first. If you’re a regular reader, here’s the next chapter.

One Step From Rock Bottom

(c) All Rights Reserved 2011

Halfway home I speak for the first time. “Chad’s beard looks dumb.” It’s nonsense talk and I know it. We silently want to talk about our impressions of prison and how we really think Chad is doing, but we don’t; neither one of us wants to darken the day anymore than the clouded sky has. Our hearts are heavy and so are my eyes, so as Mom tilts her head in halfway agreement, I lean back for a nap. A nap is the only thing that cures a ride home like this one.

I attempt to fall asleep to the country music channel Mom always plays once I’ve given up custody of the radio. She sings along half-volume. I try to think of a normal life. That normal life I used to have where the only thing Chad and I fought about was who got the TV remote Saturday morning or who’s friends got the downstairs basement on another night of nothing-to-do syndrome. Sometimes we mixed our friends up and we’d all hang out once we got to that appropriate age where we were both rebels without a cause. We shared some friends even though we were all five years apart in age. This was before the younger sibling passed him up in maturity and ditched the bad attitude.

My mind circles back to the most recent fight, well the most recent fight that wasn’t going on in my head, silently. It was seven months ago when he had the court date in three weeks. Another screaming, drunk panic attack that left him apologizing at 3 a.m. at the foot of my bed.  Something about “You don’t know what I’m going through!” and “I’m the one suffering and going to prison here!” and a bunch of curse words I frankly am too used to and tired of.

My mind goes back even farther to the middle of my junior year in high school, before this entire situation began, the last step before he hit rock bottom that June night. It was the first sign that Chad had a problem with alcohol. I sigh as my eyes shift focus into nothing but black air.

In the midst of a winter weather advisory, the house phone rings. It only rings twice before I awake to my mom’s frogged and panicked voice. My clock’s red numbers read 2:48. I roll over to check if my phone was turned off, it wasn’t. Why is Chad calling the house phone? I roll over assuming it’s just another one of his drunken calls… I’ll let Mom handle this one. I tune the one-sided argument out.

The light flips on outside my room. I sigh, infuriated with this tradition. “What is it this time?” I groan, pissed off but curious, squinting through the heavenly-lighted hallway. I stretch my eyes open to stare diagonally into my mom’s bedroom where I notice she’s still on the phone. Her nightgown is wrinkled, her shoulder-length brown hair is matted from her pillow, and a blue tissue is clenched in her fist. “He’s lost,” she says to me covering the phone with her hand. There it is. The reason he didn’t call me. I wouldn’t put up with this. I’d leave him high and dry. She’s babying him. Just what he wants.

His belligerent remarks reach my ears and I lose it. “Mom, just hang up.” My voice is stern, making my lips a straight line as my teeth grind into each other. This is why I handle it, all of it. I hate it when my mom cries. Her tears fall and I approach to take charge. My mom is an over-the-top mom, always going the extra mile for her kids. She just can’t put her foot down and is overly obsessed with sugarcoating reality. Surprisingly, this time she speaks clearly… and rationally. She mirrors exactly what I would say. Maybe I’m rubbing off on her, or maybe I never give her enough credit.

“Chad, I can’t come look for you in the middle of the night. It’s dark out. You don’t even know where you are. It’d be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” she says, bucking up but silently breaking inside. I hear Chad rebut with “I’m on a gravel road, just come find me!” Ha, wow. Really, Chad? There are a million gravel roads in rural Iowa. Mom hangs up the phone then pushes “Talk” again so the monotone duuuhhhhh… fills the thick, silent air. Good move. He would have just called back.

I stare at her narrow, bloodshot eyes for some answers. “He ran out of gas on a gravel road west of Carroll somewhere. He says he’s cold and there’s nothing around him – no farmhouses or barns – and he’s by himself. I’m not going to look for him at three in the morning. He’s drunk… he’ll just have to wait it out until the sun comes up.” Her voice is forced, it doesn’t rise and set like usual. She’s worn out. I want to hug her or take away the guilt she feels for not being able to save Chad. But I don’t really think my hugs help anymore. I go back to bed.

Mom hangs up the phone again because the robotic woman keeps repeating “Please hang up and try your call again.” This makes it ring every thirty minutes with the same drunken brother on the other end. “I’m so cold… I’m shivering… I’m gonna die out here… This is your fault.” None of this is anyone’s fault but his. And, I know, as I lay there pretending to sleep, those sniffs coming from my mom’s room aren’t because she has a cold.

The sun peeks through the opening in my flowered curtains in my bedroom. As promised, Mom and I take off in search of Chad. Overnight, he miraculously noticed a farmhouse just a few yards away and asked the elderly farmer’s wife for her address. Red-cheeked with embarrassment, my mom and I drive thirty minutes east – the opposite direction of where Chad thinks he is – to a white farmhouse in Jefferson. My mother apologizes and thanks the woman for letting her drunkard son warm up in her house. I wouldn’t have answered the door if I were her. He’s lucky, but ungrateful.

I drive Mom’s car back after filling Chad’s up with the three gallons of gas we brought with us in a red funneled jug. He sits shotgun and embalms the car with a stench of hard liquor… again. He should invent new cologne; obviously, he likes to wear it a lot. I want to hit him… and hit him hard. He’s going to kill himself or someone else eventually. All because of a habit he can’t kick, a stench he can’t wash out, and a boy who won’t grow up. This is my brother.

I awake as the car slows and the clicking of the rhythmic turning signal repeats in the dead silence. Mom’s country music is off now. We’re home and I reach for the lever on the side of the seat to erect myself to face the partly sunny sky and the opened garage door we’re pulling into. I breathe a little easier when Mom offers, “Want to order out tonight?” with a smile on her face.

KEEP READING: Testify the Truth chapter

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A prison hug

Note: This is a continuation of my memoir. I’m not sure when I’ll cut off postings and keep it personal until the someday publication. Maybe I’ll self-publish if all else fails? Who knows! If you’re just jumping in on my memoir titled, “Concentrated Breathing” read these first: “Concentrated Breathing” and then “Subconscious Resistance.”  This continues right after Subconscious Resistance.

(c) All Rights Reserved 2010

By Jennifer Dryden

A bulletproof, white-painted metal door clicks loudly and jerks to the right as it slides open, allowing my mom and I to step through into the search and seize area. The area isn’t much bigger than my room at home – ten by ten or so – and it echoes, unlike my carpeted room.

“Shoes off and everything out of your pockets,” a gruff woman in a green IMCC uniform instructs with a deep voice. If there were a conveyor belt with tubs to place our valuables I would almost assume this was an airport. The two women who enter with us are probably there to see their loved one, already have their shoes off. Must have been here before. I slip my Pumas off and dig in my pockets, retrieving only my driver’s license. I hold it tightly in my hand until she points at me and says, “Next.”

I step toward her with hesitant steps and my shaky hand gives the officer my ID. “Is that all?” she asks in that same deep voice, except this time it’s much louder and right next to my ear. “Yes, that’s it.” I say in return, a little too quiet. I don’t think my voice could get this low, but I’ve never been as ashamed as right now. “Spread out your legs and arms,” she bulls my way as she slips on a clean, green pair of rubber gloves.

As the officer feels each arm and leg, my sleeves and pant legs ripple, reacting to the grip of the gloves. I can smell the latex and automatically remember the chalky feel after peeling off the cursed rubber gloves. I shiver. No need to be a teacher and drag your nails on a chalkboard, just wear rubber gloves and rub your fingers together afterward; it gives you the same effect. A finger pointing to my Pumas on the speckled, tile floor replaces my unrelated thought. “OK, you’re clear.” I breathe in another shaky breath as my mom’s socked feet step into my warmed, invisible footprints on the floor. Her arms and legs reflect a mirror image of mine.

I slip my Pumas back on without untying and retying them again. They fit loosely and I could care less if they look perfect. Who’s going to judge me here? No one. The other two women are standing side-by-side by the next bulletproof, white-painted metal door and I assume that’s the way to the visiting room. The one woman is wearing black sweatpants and a Winnie the Pooh-face sweatshirt; she looks to be in her late forty’s. Her shirt is stained around Pooh’s left ear and in my mind only I gag. She has wrinkles around her mouth, replacing her probably-once special dimples with smoker winkles. She let’s out a croupy cough and my assumption is confirmed. The other woman, a little older than my age of nineteen, is wearing torn jeans – and not because they are in style – and a black too-tight top that barely clears her waistband. Her hair is stained black from an inch above her ears down to her shoulders; her roots are blonde. Gross. These are the people who know the routine of a prison security and soon, I’ll be just like them: shoes off, arms out, legs apart. I won’t be like them. I won’t. I declare this goal in my mind and secretly hate my brother even more.

My mom is standing by my side now with her shoes on. She always unties and ties them again; that’s how she takes care of them. I guess I’m just a college kid who doesn’t care about her shoes. Or maybe it’s just a mom thing. I half-smile at my mom as we look at each other. She raises her eyebrows as if to say, “Welp, here we go!” The door clicks again and the same echo stings my ears as our cemented feet become antsy footsteps, advancing towards door number three.

This time the door is already ajar and we step right through it, letting the others go first. It’s called manners and my mom and I have some. She raised us right – Chad and I. This hallway can only fit two people comfortably side-by-side. There’s fogged windows to my right and a brown and gray painted brick wall to my left. I look up and there’s piping and vents all painted the same brown-gray as if the purpose was to blend in, for everything to blend in. I notice because the environment threatens me. I notice because I’ve never been to a prison before. I notice because this is where my brother lives.

My attention turns to the door leading into the visiting room and my heart sinks, my eyes well, and I stop. Our eyes meet and I don’t breathe. He sees me here. I want to close my eyes and be alone for a minute, compose myself, catch my cool. My mom’s three steps ahead of me, probably assuming I’m right behind her like I have been for the past two hallways. But I’m not. My mom’s hand raises and waves at the scruffy and bloated man standing behind the bulletproof wire window. I see her ears raise slightly and I know she’s smiling now. Her heart probably aches like mine, but I bet she’s just relieved to see her son after so long. One more breath, Jennifer.

I inhale one more breath and resume walking, picking up the pace to catch up to the now-open door held by the gruff-voiced officer. “Thank you,” I barely, but surely, project to her and shoot her a half smile in appreciation. I enter the last and final door to come face-to-face with Chad. My brother. My brother who’s in prison. My brother who has gained weight. My brother who has grown a beard? Gross, a beard? Really? Note to self: tell him it looks dumb.

My mom envelopes him in a long and, from what his red face tells me, a tight hug. I’m next. I stand waiting patiently, staring at my brother’s crunched face on my mother’s shoulder. My blank face creeps a big smile when Chad releases from Mom and opens his arms to me. “Hey, Bud!” Chad says, tailing the greeting up an octave. I open my arms freely and enter into his chest where I cried so hard three months ago in the courthouse. My head hits his chest and I break. I cry because I don’t know what else to do. He looks at me and repeats our conversation from last night, “You have to be my ears and eyes, Bud.” The officer reaches for Chad’s hand still wrapped around me and we lock eyes. “I love you, Bud,” he says before we release. “I love you, too.” I snap back to reality as he releases me back into the prison visiting room. I look around to stable my thoughts.

There are knee-high square wooden tables scattered in five rows from where the white tile ends and the thin blue-gray carpet begins. We step onto the carpet from our stance in front of the on-duty officer’s desk. “We’re at thirteen,” Chad states, naming the table number. “I picked this one because it was closer to the vending machines and more private.” “Private” is a joke because no matter which table you are sitting at, each person is about a foot away from the other. A foot away from pedophiles; a foot away from former drug dealers; a foot away from life-sentencing criminals; a foot away from a bipolar maniac who could lose it at any moment. I try to shake the claustrophobic nausea I’m feeling and focus on Chad.

As Chad sits, he motions with his hand for us to sit down too. My eyes linger to the yellow chair in front of me. It’s just like the ones I had in fourth grade. Four black metal legs and a yellow wooden seat and backrest. I hope these are cleaned regularly. Doubtful. I sit down and declare I don’t care anymore.

There are vending machines – some candy, some soda. There are a few other tables taken in the visiting room and Mom mentions the scarce population. “There are not a lot of people here.” Her voice is extra peppy, trying to lift the clouds of this situation. “I hear it gets crowded on Saturdays,” Chad responds without a clue. We are his first visitors. I sit silent, hands together in my lap, listening and watching. “So, how are ya?” Mom says again high-pitched and alert. “Well, it’s prison. I’m great!” Chad says sarcastically with an eye roll. “I don’t belong here…” I tune out once I figure this will last awhile. The gloom and doom life of Chad Dryden. It must be rough making bad decisions and paying for the consequences. My zero sympathy for him makes my own eyes roll.

My ears tune back in when I hear my name. “So, Jennifer, what’s new?” Chad says with a sigh, shifting his body my way. Both of their eyes are on me and I know I have to say something so I just say, “Not much, just going to school like before.”

“Oh yeah?” he responds. “How’s that going?” Another question?

“It’s going well, Ty and I have a class together: Marriage and Family.” I give a little laugh. “It’s sort of funny.”

“You going to marry this guy?” Chad asks seriously, but at the same time joking.

“Oh, you know it!” I joke, but honestly holding no clue. We all three laugh and it feels nice. The air thins a bit. I’m tempted to mention his dumb beard, but I hold back and let him guide the conversations. I’ll write it to him in a letter.

The topics change from family to how the cats are doing to politics to prison life. It comes full circle back to family as we stand to leave after two hours. Two hours is the time limit on visits with a newbie. Because Chad has only been in here for a few months, the hourly visit is at its minimum. I guess eventually we’ll get five-hour visits. What would we ever talk about for five hours? I silently dread those five-hour visits already.

My mom embraces in a good-bye hug, or as she likes to call it, a “see-you-later hug” and I, again, stand behind her waiting my turn. This time I am in tune with reality and notice how tall my brother is compared to our mom. I laugh to myself and a smile bridges my face revealing my inner thoughts of hilarity. I remember Mom’s last doctor check-up. “Here, I thought I was always five feet, four inches tall, and he said I was five feet, three. I told him to measure again.” Oh Mom. Then as they release, I step up and take my turn with hugs, I notice how I’m almost taller than him, if not taller than him by a couple centimeters. He thought I’d always be shorter than him. Ha! He gives me a really tight squeeze and then releases, changing his grip to my upper arms. “I love you, Bud. Thanks for coming! I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too, Bro. Love you, too.” I say, meaning it, but slightly lying. I’ll always love you, but right now, I don’t miss you. The door buzzes and Mom and I exit, only looking back once, noticing Chad’s already gone.

To continue reading, the next chapter is “One  Step From Rock Bottom“.


Filed under Uncategorized

Subconscious Resistance

By Jennifer M. Dryden (c) March 2010

Note: This is the second part to “Concentrated Breathing,” a non-fiction piece that is posted a few posts down. Click here to read the first part: http://wp.me/pEbtR-M This is a chapter… where it falls within the book I’m writing, I don’t know yet. Please realize this doesn’t follow right after Concentrated Breathing, but does rest within the pages of my growing memoir.

My tear-stricken mother locks eyes with me on her third attempt to make me look at her. “He’s your brother!” she pushes the words out of her mouth with guilt laced through as if she took acting lessons from a soap opera actress. Her hands grip at her hips, grinding into her bones; that always symbolizes she means business. If my mother could even mean business. My dry eyes stare into her moist ones, emotionless and empty just like she accuses my heart of being toward Chad.

“I’m not going,” I say matter of factly, diverting my eyes to my cell phone. I text my boyfriend, Ty, and tell him I’m coming over.

“You haven’t seen him in six months. It’s time to go. He misses you.” She unzips her coat as if she’s making this conversation last until I cave. I won’t cave. “Would it kill you to fake it?” I laugh under my breath. Whatever.

“I’m not going,” I push from my gut this time, repeating my answer one final time before turning my back and mumbling, “Drive careful.” I notice my mom wipes her cheeks with a blue tissue, the ones from the upstairs bathroom, and I hear keys jingle in her hands as she retrieves them from the side pocket of her purse.

“I’ll call you when I get there,” her voice is sullen now, no power left to talk me into a three hour drive to an overly chilled, blindly white-painted cement block visiting room, where I sit for four hours on yellow metal chairs around a two-foot by three-foot knee-high table, talking about sugarcoated reality and how the cats are doing. It’s just old and fake and no, I’m not going to be fake with Chad. He’s the last person on Earth that deserves a false reality. He’s in prison for a reason. “I just don’t understand why you won’t go see your own brother, Jennifer.” She’s back to this question again? Are you kidding me, Mom? He’s in prison. I want to say this but I don’t. She knows my answer and the only reason she asks again is so I “think about it” and hopefully “come to my senses.” I don’t want to start her tears again and frankly, I just want to be alone. I kiss her cheek to get her out the door faster. I retreat to my room where I gather my things for Ty’s.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m full-speed-ahead to anther day with the Heuton’s – the normal family I depend on way too much. Ty’s family has a married Mom and Dad, a spoiled shihtzu named Kali, and two sons, Ty and Nathan. Nathan is just a year younger than me. Ty is a year older than me and I prefer it that way. Ty and I have been dating since April 6, 2005 and so that makes it two years and a few days. He remembers Chad’s sentencing day but only by my story version because my family thought it “should only be a family thing,” so Ty couldn’t come October twelfth.

The usual three and a half songs play over my Panasonic car stereo until I park my black 1993 Eagle Vision by the mailbox of my second home. I grab my purse, slam my driver’s door and walk up the driveway. I step back and glance at the house’s perfection – white with tan trim and maroon accents, ranch style with a basement for only Ty’s and my eyes. I step onto their front porch, which spans the length of the house’s front and open the door without knocking. The door’s squeak triggers Kali’s tapping against the hard wood floor. The grey and white shihtzu turns the corner to stare at the front door intruder. The first two months, she would run and bark at my heels, sometimes even jump up to my knees, but now she stops at the kitchen, turns and trots back to the den, where the Heuton’s traditionally sit watching television – Tuesday through Thursday it’s American Idol. Ty meets me halfway in the kitchen and embraces me with his long arms; the same arms that keep me stable. They embody my confidence.

“Hey you,” he says, kissing me before playfully pushing me away. I smile half a smile back. “What’s wrong, Jenn?” His face wrinkles and eyes lower as he looks at me inquisitively with concern.

“Mom’s just trying to get me to go see Chad again…” I say, trailing off into an eye roll.

“Oh, well why didn’t ya go with her?”

“Ty, seriously?” I say through tense teeth. “You know I can’t go there… not yet.” Definitely not ready. I just calmed down from the last visit. He nods and gently leads me into the den.


I sit passenger seat in Mom’s red four-door Grand Pre as we track our way through Google map’s directions to our final destination of Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Oakdale, Iowa. We take exit 240 on I-80 east and turn left on Coral Ridge Road heading north. “It says to go about a mile on this road and we should see it on the left side.” I point my finger to my brother’s new home on the magnified map we printed out. “Mom, my stomach hurts.” My eyes stay glued to the map but my heart races and my stomach lurches forward as we stop at the final stoplight.

Mom looks over at me with sympathetic eyes. “It’s okay to be nervous, hunny.”

“It’s just so weird. I mean Chad’s in prison… isn’t it weird to you?”

“Yeah,” she says, nodding her head. “It is.”

“I don’t want to go in.” My fast food breakfast inches upward and I cough, tasting the syrup from my hot cakes and sausage. I take a drink of my McDonald’s orange soda, which is watered down from our three-hour drive from Carroll, to try and calm my butterflies. “I’m scared.” This confession seeps from my buttoned mouth as I try to be as much of a grown up as a freshman in college can be. I shouldn’t have said that… it’ll just make Mom more nervous. Breathe. Calm down.

“The paperwork we filled out was approved so we shouldn’t have any problems getting through security,” she says referring to our three-page visitor’s form we penned in after Chad’s first letter explaining he was okay and where the state had placed him. “We’ll just see how today goes.”

We turn left into the parking lot of a sectioned series of three-story buildings – some parts are brick but most are gray with concrete. There are two sets of barbed wire fencing about two-sizes of my five foot-seven height but with the added loops of barbed-wire wrapping the tops of the double-Jennifer fence, it stands about two-and-a-half of my heights. A flagpole marks the entryway to the prison and the American flag and State of Iowa flag whip in the wind, banging against the metal pole like it means to hurt it. The sounds remind me of a windy day on the playground at school. Two places to find flagpoles: schools and prisons.

“Just bring your ID. Leave everything else in the car. Here, give me your purse, I’ll put it in the trunk with mine,” my mom instructs, probably comprehending the IMCC’s rules for visitors sheet we received with our approval letters. I do what I am told. Standing in silence outside the car, I glance over my brother’s new home. Prison. Wow. Never thought I’d be going to see my brother here. I let myself feel sad for a second before Mom steps to my right and motions toward the flagpole and the door into the prison lobby. One more refreshing deep breath and we enter the double doors, meeting four rows of plastic blue chairs.

The plastic blue chairs introduce us with other visitors like us, but they’re not like us really. We don’t belong here. Chad doesn’t belong here. I’m embarrassed. I shake my head to myself and try to accept reality. I won’t sugarcoat reality. I won’t turn into Mom. Believe what you see; it’s life. I suck it up and place my ID, which has left two lines engraved in my palm from my tight grip on it, into the box along side my mother’s. A chesty male voice echoes out of a speaker into my right ear as the guard behind the tinted glass speaks, “Who are you here to see?”

“Chad Dry-den,” my mom answers too loudly, saying our last name in two chunks so the guard understands. I look around to see if anyone was watching us but the four strangers scattered on random blue plastic chairs don’t move. My cheeks go pink as my sweating intertwined fingers tighten around each other. We don’t belong here.

“Sign in on the yellow sheet and take a seat. We’ll call you when he’s ready,” the guard speaks at us. When he’s ready? What does that mean? My mom nods and we enter the first row of blue plastics and sit side-by-side. I cross my legs lady-like and place my hands together in my lap. My mom sits with her legs together, hands just like mine. I read the shiny black plaques on the cement wall to my right. One has a dead police dog named Beck on it, awarding him eleven years of service with the police department. Below it there’s a plaque of the current police dog with “2006 –” on it. Just waiting for that dog to die too, or what? There are other plaques lining the wall including some officers’ names and awards for various sections of the force but twenty minutes later, my eyes snap back to the tinted window when the same loud voice echoes, “Dryden, you may go in.”

Keep Reading: Next chapter


Filed under Uncategorized