Although this is my latest post, it is not, technically, new work. I wrote this over a year ago towards the middle of my stay at JAIL. A few weeks before this shit came out of my head, I had hit the book-cart lottery and came across a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing. It was such an amazing stroke of luck that I find it difficult to convey the excitement I felt at that time. In a claustrophobic world dominated by westerns, romance novels, fuck-books (slang for romance novels with explicit sex scenes), YA literature, outdated technical manuals (MS-DOS programming anyone?), and bottom of the barrel science fiction; finding The Crossing was the most merciful event I experienced since I had been incarcerated. However, I was about a third of the way into a novel of my own at the time and a few months later it became apparent that multiple readings of McCarthy’s work had negatively effected my own. I couldn’t help but notice that my novel had turned into a cheap imitation of Mr. McCarthy’s style. In response, I wrote this as an exercise to regain my natural voice. For lack of better terms, I would say that what came out was simply a dictation of a hallucinatory daydream and although not purely stream of conscious, I engaged in a very minimal amount of editing. I thought it was decent enough to copy and mail to a friend to see what he thought of it.
This turned out to be a stroke of luck in itself: The morning before I was released I packed all my writings and papers into the cloth sack that had constituted my bed sheet for 7 months and when the C.O. called my name I slung it over my shoulder and carried it down to Central Receiving to wait on my discharge. In a weird sense of cyclical completion, I waited for the C.O.’s to file my discharge with one of the inmates I had originally been booked in with. We attempted some small talk regarding our future plans and how much jail sucked, but mostly we stared anxiously at the C.O.’s who were taking their sweet time with our paperwork, until something, uh… odd happened.
A gang of C.O.’s materialized, slid on their latex gloves, and swarmed the Central Receiving pod next to us. They emerged with a disheveled white male in his late 50’s who they jobbed into an isolation/observation cell, all the while enduring a string of racial epithets, none of which fit any of their racial or ethnic identities. The old wingnut continued to rage in his tiny cell as a group of trustees (inmate workers) formed out front of Central Receiving. They were armed with garbage bags, paper towels, bleach, and latex gloves. And they didn’t look happy. Specifically, their faces wore a mix of raw disgust and apprehension. I had a pretty good idea of what happened but I had to ask. “That old racist piece of shit went crazy and wiped his shit all over C.R.,” one of the trustees confirmed. The other two young black trustees just shook their heads and tried to ignore the old bigot’s insane gibberish until he crossed the line. “That’s right NIGGERS! Clean my SHIT up!” he taunted through the food tray slot in his cell door. “You’re pretty fuckin tough behind that cell door you old motherfucker,” they muttered as they made for his cell. They made it only a few steps before two C.O.’s, who were trying their best to seem unamused, stepped in their way and halfheartedly ushered them in the opposite direction. “I’ll see you on the streets motherfucker,” one of them said as they stooped down to pick up their cleaning supplies.
After the cheap excitement faded, I stood there feeling ashamed for being the same color as the old bigot (not to mention not proud to be a part of the species as a whole – this was not an uncommon emotional experience during my incarceration) until my shame was replaced by anxious excitement when a C.O. called my name and led me to a closet of a room, instructing me to strip out and get dressed in the clothes I had been arrested in. In my excitement and struggle to fit into my clothes that were now about 3 sizes too small (I put on 40 pounds while locked up) I left ALL OF MY PAPERWORK (including the novel I had been working on and this short story) in my bed sheet sack, along with my county-issued scrubs, and handed it to a C.O.’s who then put it in the dirty laundry bin to be WASHED AT THE NEXT OPPORTUNITY. It wasn’t until I went for a jog in the late afternoon (with music!) that my thoughts slowed down enough to wander over the process of transcribing all of my jail writings to the hard drive of a computer. Immediately I felt as if someone had punched my stomach from the inside. I sprinted home and called the front desk of the jail. I recognized the voice and as far as C.O.’s go he was a relatively decent person. He made the obligatory check and about 90 seconds later his flat C.O. voice came back over the phone to inform me that all the laundry had been run through the industrial-grade washer almost immediately after I left.
Maybe it was the combination of all the feelings of helplessness that had accumulated and which I had pushed aside over the preceding year or so, but for the first time (actually… second time. I cried during my girlfriend’s first visit, but that was more for her, for us.) since this whole shit show had begun I cried for myself and it felt great. That was when I realized how much crap I had been bottling up and just what purpose crying actually serves: it was the first time I had reached TOTAL acceptance of the situation and, my god, the sense of relief felt amazing. It was sad to lose all the letters from my friends and loved ones, but as for the fiction I had worked on, I realized that it wasn’t the best of my work (Cormac McCarthy’s mark was too evident and the way it had influenced my writing constituted nothing short of a complete rewrite, anyway) and this was nothing more than the completion of a truly new beginning for myself and my work. Currently I am 4 chapters into a new novel and my friend was able to return his copy of this short story to me… if can keep my bullshit out of the way, life moves on.
Here’s the story:
It was time to leave. Anyone could see that. I could see that; even through the fog and confusion of feeling as if I had just woke up. Blacked-out. Definite signs of having been blacked-out as opposed to passed out: I was standing, kind of swaying back and forth, drink still upright in my hand, people looking at me as if waiting for me to finish a sentence, etc… I wasn’t sure of what had caused my inebriation and subsequent loss of cognition – there was nothing with which to measure my current state against – those non memories may as well have never happened. Gone. Nothing. Clearly it was some heavy sedative. Or booze. Or some combination of the two. Maybe even some obscure internet drug without a name, just a chemical composition. Anyone could have fed me anything.
As a general rule, I try not to care (don’t get me wrong, I CARE, I have rules and standards: I refuse to touch any of the various analogs of cocaine unless I am properly drunk or opiated) and that night was no exception. I was more focused on Angelo and his appalling level of intoxication. He was standing over a female who was clearly frightened and behind him lay a trail of objects that seemed to be out of place. A fallen lamp, an upturned box of tissues, framed pictures, a few empty bottles of beer… I can’t say for sure, but I imagine it seemed to all those in witness, that the itinerant household items had been flung, bashed, pushed over in blatant disregard of the house’s owner and congregation of friends.
Despite my befuddlement I could make out a group of similar looking males gesturing wildly and shit-eyeing Angelo. It was clear they were plotting some sort of retribution as there was the unmistakable bravado of alcohol and violence in the air. This was something I understood. Had these young men been my friends I would have responded in a similar fashion to such a brazen act of disrespect. However, this was not my friend’s house. Besides, the mood did not seem right for values like decency and compromise. In a brief pause of clarity, I saw that it was more of an us versus them type of theme forming. I had seen these types of things get bad before. “Bad” as in lying on the ground in the fetal position – head covered by forearms – as the heels of sneakers and boots rain down upon you. In hindsight, it is my opinion that I had learned from previous similar situations and acted accordingly:
The contents of the bottle were pouring out on the carpet before I noticed it, neck in hand. It was useless as a melee weapon, no one within arms reach had yet to show any outward signs of aggression. In a horribly impulsive and misguided attempt to rectify(?) the situation I let loose and sent the bottle flying. I lost sight of the bottle as it crossed the room, but it became clear that I’d missed my intended target when the back of a young woman’s head opened and shards of glass showered the humans and the wall behind her.
I did not rush to console her. I did not know her and I was very confused. I’m not a total piece of shit, though. I thought about and wanted to help her.
Then all hell broke loose.
It’s difficult for people like me to imagine attending – at anything less that a solid stumbling drunk – any celebratory social situation consisting of large congregations of humans, but apparently these people exist, and they were the only ones consistently landing punches. The rest of the party seemed to be reeling about, one eye open, throwing wild hay-makers. Here and there, someone would catch one on the jaw and crumble in an unlikely mimicry of sleep. The rest of us seemed too piss-ass drunk to hurt or be hurt. The blows to the back of my head fell as dull thuds on the exterior of my skull. My brain sloshed around in its casing but seemed to be unaffected. Who was back there? The initial rush of excitement faded. A deep boredom and overall sense of impotence replaced it. I flailed about, losing the sucker puncher at my back. The young woman still kneeled there, clutching at the coagulated blood dried purple amongst the dark black of her hair. I could see her chest heaving through her back. I felt a deep longing to lay in bed next to her or any of the girls I’d known. We could just talk. Then came the sirens. I’d have to fight my way out. Find a bush to sleep in. There was always next weekend.
(Drugs and Culture)