14 November 2007

Leaving Work

Three-thirty. A minor traffic jam as we
turn in our keys and wait
for another gate to open.

The end-of-the-day banter is light.
“Best time of day,” says a plumber.
One of the nurses agrees.
The gate clangs open and we
head down the last hallway.
Another gate.
Keys again, this time for our
various cars and trucks.
Almost out. Ready to go home.

We have backpacks, book bags,
a thermos or two, lunch leftovers.
A shadow walks with us.
He’s mine.
I recognize him.

His name is Dan and two hours before,
he was in my office.
“I heard you’ve been having a rough day.”
“PTSD,” he tells me.
Last week, in Aberdeen, his cellmate
tried to hang himself.
Dan found him, yelled for help.
The man lived.

But Dan’s aunt hanged herself on his
birthday. Hanging isn’t easy
to forget.
“And when I was seven, my father was
killed. My mom and I were dropping him off
at a biker bar.
He said something that someone didn’t like and got shot.
Half his body was in the car
The other half was on the street.”

I am breathless with this story.

I search his face.
There aren’t words to fit the silence.

He’s 19, has a 3-year-old son, and a fiancee.
“I’ve done some awful things,
I’ve been a bad person.”

He wants to be a smoke jumper;
the adrenaline rush is the best feeling in the world.
He likes to drive fast cars and race in the mud.
The dirtier the better? You bet.

He circles back to last week, finding his cellie
hanging from a sheet in their room.

“That must have been a whole different kind
of adrenaline rush,” I say.
“That was fear. I hate that feeling.”

“Suicide is the short way out,” he says.
We talk about the pain the man
may have wanted to escape.
“I’ve known pain,” he says, briefly acknowledging
the deaths in his past again.
“Your friend turned the pain on himself,” I said.
Without a beat, he says,
“And I turned it on others. I’ve hurt people really bad.

I don’t want to be that person anymore.”

We talked more and then he left.
Now he walks with me. He is 19
and he is 7.
His brown eyes are framed by impossibly long lashes.
He is uneasy, not sure what he’ll see when we step outside.

I carry his words and his tears.


Jamilah Kolocotronis said...

Hi Shannon,

You're doing incredible work. It must be very hard--even harder when you come home.

May God bless your efforts.

Take care.

Jamilah (NaNo buddy)

AnneDroid said...

I like that image of the shadow. How true. I work in two prisons. One of them is half an hour from home, the other an hour. Sometimes I drive that whole hour without noticing a thing as I'm reliving the conversations and thinking and thinking about what it is to be that prisoner.