True Parent 3
The La Quinta Inn in Bryan, Texas, is pink stucco. The Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas, is khaki stucco. The La Quinta employees wear uniforms with name tags and the customer is always right. The employees at Bryan Federal Prison Camp wear uniforms with name tags but the customers are always wrong. My brain wants similarity, continuity, recognition.
I sit on the bed next to my suitcase. And then I stand up and sit down again. I’ve just been released from a two-year federal prison sentence for selling Ecstasy. Now, I don’t know what to do with my body. We’re in the hotel room alone. Just me and my mom. I’m free.
“We should get on the road,” my mom says. “It’s a long drive.”
“I want to stop at Starbucks,” I say, opening the suitcase to find something to wear. There are so many clothes in here. It’s hard to choose because I’m wearing different skin.
She hands me a wallet, my wallet. That wallet sits on my palm like a hallucination and I’m looking at it like I’m trying to remember where I know it from.
“There’s money in there from your grandmother,” she says. I open it and there’s a crisp $100 bill tucked in the fold.
“That’s really nice of her,” I say. I haven’t seen money in a long time. It feels like contraband. I reflexively snap it shut and set the wallet on the bed. It’s all the money I have.
Lush trees fly past the car windows, they rise up heady and arrogant, purposefully erasing my memory. Bald and Montezuma cypress, live oaks. “It never happened,” the trees say. I drink six venti chai lattes. Mostly we talk about Aidan. He was 18 months old when I left. Now he’s three and a half. I’ve only seen him three times during my sentence. She tells me so many stories I can’t process. I thought I’d want to know everything I’d missed—look at all the videos and pictures. I’m now struck by the feeling I couldn’t possibly fit all of the missed memories in my brain and I might have to let that part go. I can’t concentrate. Like these clothes, I’m bulging out of the stories. I don’t know where to put them because my mental container has grown tight and small. We drive into the dark.
The screen door slams behind him when he runs, full speed, out of the house. He falls flat on the pavement, hops right up, and is instantly in my arms, his face buried in my neck.
“Momma, you came back,” he says in my neck after 30 minutes of pure contact. “We don’t have to cry about you being gone anymore. Now we can cry about other things.”
I’m wired and sick of chai, and even though I’m dying to get out of these clothes, shower, I can’t let him go, so I don’t. Everyone is quiet and shifting, it’s almost midnight and no one really knows what to say. Maybe nothing needs to be said, but the silence feels expectant. This day has been nothing but expectation for two years and here it is, just ordinary and uncomfortable and filled with silent shifting.
“We’re so glad you’re back, Meg.”
“Me too,” I say.
I wonder if anyone has moved in to my room back in prison, what the roomies are saying about them. I feel weird about missing that bed and wonder what I’m doing with my face.
That night I pull him close, and then back away so I can see him, and pull him close again. He twirls my hair around his tiny fingers and it feels euphoric. I glide my fingers along his arm until he stops twirling and goes still. I stay next to him as long as I can, but eventually, I have to get out of the bed and lie down on the carpet. The bed is too soft, too strange. I need something firmer to stop my fall.
When I wake up in the morning I realize that my little boy has, sometime during the night, left the bed and curled up on the floor next to me, his back nestled into my belly, his head tucked in close under my chin. I squeeze my knees up tight underneath him and wrap the blanket around us both. We sleep like this late into the day.
As much as possible during the time before I start working, I play with Aidan. I mean, play. As in pure undistracted playing. I gave him undivided attention, whole days lying on a blanket in my mom’s backyard, next to her raised garden beds bursting with basil, heavy with late summer tomatoes.
Aidan shouts, “Watch me, Momma!” from the swing set and slide as he repeatedly runs up and slides down. I hug him as much as he wants to be hugged. Over and over he says, “I’m so glad you’re back, Momma.”
“Me too, sweetie,” I say. “Me too. I will always come back.” We are marinating.
Eventually I get used to the soft strangeness of the bed and stop sleeping on the floor. When Aidan and I settle in under the down duvet, I teach him to say out loud with me, “I’m so grateful to have good food to eat, nice clothes to wear, and a wonderful place to live. Mom has a good job and Aidan has a good school and we have so many people to love, and who love us. We have everything we need and we always will.” He learns fast and we say it together every night.
Despite the fact that our situation is meager, that I’m starting over from the ground up, all those things we say are true every day, and I know I have nothing to lose by noticing them. I have nothing to lose by believing that if we keep saying it these seeds will grow.
Even when we don’t realize it, every single thing we think or do is a prayer, I tell him.
Getting out of prison might be even harder than going in. Reintegration is isolating, stigmatizing, post-traumatic, and unbelievably sober. I wonder if I can do anything anymore—if I will ever be able to take care of myself and my son. I have an anxiety attack at the grocery store and have to leave my full cart and go sit in the car. I cry hard until my throat hurts and my eyelids swell. The tyranny of choice. Bright lights, options, consumption, sensory overload. He asks me to hold his foot. It comforts him. I wrap my fingers around his tiny Chuck Taylor and he starts reciting our prayer.
This continued counting of blessings becomes the birthplace of impetus for us. As the years pass, I become increasingly tenacious, resolved to heal, to create, rather than destruct. I find stability beyond my imagination for me and my son.
Of course, the future remains untamed, but rich with potential. We stumble into it together.
Meg Worden is a writer, speaker, and health coach advocating for love, art, hilarity, and justice. She’s also director of strategic partnerships for A Social Ignition, an organization teaching entrepreneurship inside and outside of prison to ease re-entry and increase cultural and economic vitality in our communities. Currently there’s a crowdfunding campaign, so go and give. crowdrise.com/IgnitingTheNetwork