Monday, July 25, 2011

Family: Chapter XVIII- The Prison

I go to visit my brother in prison. It is late November and the leaves swirl about our feet as my mother and I enter the secured parking lot. We are on the far side of the prison, the section typically reserved for immigration violations. Her face is like ash as she speaks.
“This isn’t going to be easy, you know, …” she warns.
“I know.”
“I have done this before,” she mutters, “and I swear they make it difficult on purpose.”
“Well, I was expecting that, so…” My voice trails off.
For a second we stand outside the gate, readying ourselves. A coarse wind blows as we make our way toward the huge metal doors.
We give our names to a uniformed guard, and take our seats in a room full of frustrated Hispanics and their attorneys. My Spanish is terrible, so I can’t really tell you what has them all so worked up. My mother explains that this wing is always that way, and that most of these people are in the country illegally.
“Then why is Patrick here, instead of in the General Population?” I want to know.
“I guess it’s because of his mental state, and the fact that because of his addiction issues, the authorities felt that he would be safer…”
“Oh.” I say, although I still don’t really understand.
After a lengthy wait, it is time for our visit. I haven’t seen my brother in months, and truthfully I was not prepared to see him like this. He looks gaunt as he shuffles into the Visitor’s Area and takes his seat. A thick pane of plexiglass separates us.
I greet him warmly, but the pitiful sight of him catches me off guard. He wears an orange jumpsuit and is clearly heavily medicated. His hair looks like a bursting volcano. I wipe off the telephone by my side with sanitizer. Our conversation is stilted and uncomfortable. Neither one of us knows what to say. After exchanging awkward greetings, he leans forward.
“I had a dream,” he says. “I dreamt I saw Dad, and he was standing at the foot of my bed.”
This revelation shocks me a little. I hadn’t really come to terms with grief. In fact, I was still seeing my therapist. I was pretty sure I was crazy. Now I lean forward. Our faces are inches apart.
“What did he say?” I whisper.
“He stood there, not saying anything until I was awake. I sat up on my bed, and he looked right at me. He told me not to worry. He said to remember that we love each other, and that’s the most important thing.”
A deep chill runs down my spine. If you knew my father, this was exactly the kind of thing he said. For a moment I considered the impossible- had my father’s ghost actually passed through York County Prison? It seemed unlikely; but on the other hand, he had spoken to me from beyond the grave three times now. This was basically the reason I was seeing the therapist! Remember, I’m crazy.
“Oh my God,” I say, stunned. “That sure sounds like him.”
For a moment I see our faces reflected in the thick glass, and I swear I can see my father watching us. I experience a terrible flashback.
It is now twenty years ago. I am at a party after hours, celebrating another successful gig with my brother. I am sixteen years old. In front of me some bleach blonde expresses her admiration for my performance. Truthfully, I have no idea who she is. While she begins her own performance, I glance over into the next room. The lights are dimmed, but I can see my brother in a group of older guys. They are taking turns snorting cocaine off a glass mirror. The mirror gleams in the twilight. All four guys huddle over the white pile, twitching. An old Magnavox stereo is playing Metallica’s “Fade to Black”. The music thrums and for a moment my head swims. I blink. Why isn’t anyone watching my brother? Why aren’t I watching my brother? What the Hell is happening to our lives? After the girl is finished, I stand up and head to the filthy kitchen to get another beer.
I blink as the guard flicks the lights.
“Time’s up!” he says, and by his expression I can tell he means it. I hang up the phone. I reach out and touch the glass. My brother does the same. A man comes and leads my brother away. I watch as he shuffles unsteadily down the hall.

After we leave, my mother and I pause beside the car for what is becoming an increasingly emotional moment. The November wind kicks up and pelts us with dry leaves. She leans heavily against me, and cries until she cannot cry anymore. I place one hand on the roof of her car and brace myself against the storm that is coming.

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