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“.