This is about my 7 hours in jail on christmas last year.
You and me, we are powerful. I saw it, when you saw me and I saw you, on that dark day in that bright room. She was laying down before she came in, her broken face on the shelf along with a body she had long since forgotten. I danced to keep focus, smiled and sang to keep aim. If they took my sweater plié I knew I might lose it. My socks were fanciful, a reminder of my humanity. Humans had expensive socks that they bought on sale, and loved. They took hers pirouette she was losing it. I spun on my toes, kept form with a body I had long since forgotten. She said, I wish I had your perspective. The words came out between her sores, begetting her youth. My heart was broken before I came in, she couldn’t see my sores beyond her own, only my beauty.
I tried to see only my beauty, feel only my beauty in these cold confines of hell, tried to keep far beyond my cable-knit sweater and jail-issue pants so large I wrapped them around my waist and folded them over like thai fishing pants. What kind of safety was this to me now? I know about fashion and dance and people! Two people in uniforms watched, impressed that my hair wasn’t real was plain in their eyes. My sweeping gestures were on purpose, which is to say as dramatic and as beautiful as possible, I unclipped one long hair extension after another into a plastic bin at my feet, clink.
Hey, I am smart! I am a mother! I could feel the licks of total degradation at my heels.
Punctuated by another threatening to kill herself, over and over, she cried a sickening, bitter confession that she was back here and back here she had been! She was certain she couldn’t make it this time, couldn’t take it this time. This time would be it! I couldn’t prop myself up enough to avoid dying right beside the one on the shelf. Without a word, she told me she had died before and so would I. She wasn’t worried, she just really really really wanted help this time. This time, someone lasting. Someone to tell her what to do, is what she said, I do good when someone tells me what to do. (I believe her, why don’t we?) She faded out trembling. She tried so hard to hold herself and failed, falling through her own fingers.
I pounded the broken phone and pushed the button on the wall. Do not push the button on the wall the uniforms said. The button on the wall is to notify the people with carts to collect the dead as the uniforms defined it. Is anyone dead here? There was no effort to define it. The uniforms did not check. I pushed all the buttons until one lead to a voice who sounded willing to let me out, maybe. Did I have a credit card? Did I have someone that could vouch for me? Yes, and decidedly No. Later in morning they might help, they had to come in anyway, they would allow me to do something to repay such grace later.
There is no time in jail, no change. I waited, sat on my fear, danced on my fear; I lobbied for toilet paper. I almost forgot I Am Human, I could feel it slipping through my fingers. How? I could reach deep and grab it back but I didn’t know each time that I reached, that I would be able to. What if I was the girl on the bench trembling, already? Grasping at thin air, holding onto the nothing that everyone saw? Well, I wasn’t yet, and yet and yet.
Release from jail isn’t soon enough and comes too soon. The Lyft drivers aren’t really available so I sit on a boulder near the water in a sequins miniskirt and cable-knit sweater and eye anyone. I left my hair, socks and thai style jail-issue pants behind. The residual concern for my own appearance (10AM in sequins is for prostitutes… in the 90s… and only the cheap ones) is overshadowed by something bigger: Criminals aren’t born, they’re made. I see I am eyeing harder than anyone is eyeing me, maybe one or two people are out. The Ego is awake. I know the strangers in vicinity at once like the back of my hand, better than the back of my hand. In this moment I am alive and my aliveness pulses throughs me, a righteousness of such death/non-death I glow one thousand times greater than my great sequins mini skirt on a boulder by the bay.
The Lyft driver I get is in crisis with his gal, and he tells me all about it. The 45 minutes home. It would be shocking, the fine details he reveals about himself, if I hadn’t just gotten out of jail. He treats this ride like a walk in the park with a best friend! I would be astonished if I hadn’t just gotten out of jail. A ride home on a unicorn at this point wouldn’t impress me. I know him better than the back of my hand and he knows zip about me. I thank him for the ride just before I get out of the car. While I am thinking about not being able to make it into the house with all the grief welling inside me like, the heavy hot lava of a novice volcano unpredictability, he thanks me and asks: Are you a therapist? This question provides a break in my own insanity, one that I know I will be able to use to float on into the house. I wish I could laugh. Instead I let out a hum and a version of ‘No… maybe I ought to be’. He feels good at that. He feels he helped me. He did, sort of. Mostly he hurt my ear hairs, and I felt taken for a ride.
I got in the house and tried to shower off what I couldn’t. I began crying then, really crying. That was the end of one life and the beginning of another.
That was a year ago, today.