«EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Marisa Fein CONSULTING EDITOR Robert Johnson COVER DESIGN Carla Mavaddat TEXT DESIGN Sonia Tabriz BleakHouse Publishing 2016 Ward ...»
So, she began to wear more clothes. It wasn’t hard—it was cold out and she needed the extra layers. Sweaters and jeans, fuzzy socks and gloves, more and more covering until the only brown that she or anyone else could see was the brown of her face. There was little that she could do about that. She courted the thought of passing as another race, any one of the ones that had brown people, but figured that the only truly safe color was white.
V She should have straightened her hair.
18 The thought is in the forefront of her mind as she watches the police car inch slowly forward, her heart picking up speed as it nears. The tag of her hoodie tickles her neck, just beneath the natural curls that she had liked so much only that morning.
She should put her hood up, hide.
No. She shouldn't.
That would only make her look suspicious. Or more suspicious, at any rate. It is late out and she is black;
suspicion has already been established.
She wants to become even blacker at the moment, until she is as dark as the night and blends in with the sky, her eyes as bright as stars. She wants to step into the world of fiction and borrow an invisibility cloak that she can wrap tightly around herself. She has her own You-Know-Who to hide from. She can hear what her mother would have to say, hear the notes of reproach in her voice, the exasperation as she tries to instill some confidence in the girl. The girl looks for it now, somewhere in the crushed leaves and the yellowing grass but all she can see are her own footprints. She stares at the ground as if she has forgotten the glow of the moon and the stars in the sky or the glare of the headlights too close for comfort.
When she blinks out of her reverie it is to find the cop car parked beside her, its passenger side window slowly inching downward as her own anxiety mounts.
She must put on a smile for the people who kill men like her father and boys younger than her brother.
19 "Are those donuts for us?" they ask. They are smiling.
They seem friendly. They are only campus cops. She does not make any sudden movements.
"No." The girl keeps her smile in place, hating herself.
Yes, she wants to say. Take them and please don't shoot me. "But you can buy some. My roommate plays rugby and they're having a fundraiser."
The men in blue nod, even chuckle a little. "Have a good night," they say, dismissing her. She goes. On her way up to her room she throws the box of donuts in the trash.
My daughter's smile weighs heavy on my heart So heavy that I'm sitting here crying in the dark Repeatedly telling myself, "Twon, you should have tried harder" "Twon, you should have been a better father" I mean I was so into the street life That I couldn't see how my actions were affecting my child's life Was I that caught up that I forgot my own daughter's worth?
You see I know I messed up and it hurts There is no excuse I can give her to explain my absence Yet I still need for her to understand all that was happening From my hungry days to my lonely nights I want her to get a good picture of my life In the hope that she will believe my truth and not the world's lies I am not afraid to say that Sometimes I cry 21
Symphony Prosecutor strides up “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury” Grips the podium And begins.
— A symphony unfolds Clarinets sob shrill cries “The suspect’s innocent, my son’s a good boy!” But this piece is already written — Trumpets scream out Drown the cries “HE DESERVES IT” And the drumbeats grow louder.
— Gavel strikes the cymbal 20 years sentenced in a grand crash The prosecutor sways in rapture, The symphony concluded.
I should’ve loved her better and her absence is a constant ache to my soul but even when I try, I can’t forget her.
She was always there, morning, noon, and night, and her presence alone was tender love and care.
And still I took it for granted as if she’d always be there.
Thinking she’d love me unconditionally and listening to that old cliché had me mistreating her foolishly.
And mistaking her compassion for ignorance, I continued to treat her stupidly but she has standards and rightfully demanded more of me.
Still I left her, she didn’t abandon me but she’s smarter than you think and won’t take me back so easily.
But I swear that I’m a changed man now because of this tragedy, becoming what she needed and wanted badly, if she’d have me.
I no longer want to be apart. I want to be one and promise to be dedicated and upright if you’d only have me… Freedom 23
I've never been one to gaze in the mirror. I have friends who can do it for hours. Maybe they have high selfesteem, or maybe they are vain, I can't say. I used to look in the mirror and see only my flaws. I didn't like my hair, my teeth, my eyes or some other part of my face. Don't get me started on the ways I was dissatisfied with my body.
But that was all before I committed my crime. That is when my simple dislike for myself became pure selfloathing.
The first part of my incarceration was spent in the state's forensic hospital, Clifton T. Perkins. There aren't any real mirrors in the maximum security wing but I would still occasionally catch a glimpse of myself in a piece of safety glass. “I hate myself” was the first thing I would think upon seeing any part of myself. I often said it out loud. I wanted to disappear and I tried, but the staff at Perkins diligently prevented that. I can appreciate that now, but back then I was only angry.
An even more reprehensible version of my would appear on the Plexiglas encased television in the dayroom.
Seventeen years later, I can clearly remember the feeling.
Nearly every day the news report would misunderstand me, that a perpetrator suffers is not wrong but it should not be from a truth that festers inside of her. Not when that truth can bring healing to a victim or help rebuild a community. We have to do better. I have to do better.
Now I look at myself in the mirror and see someone that is real and I do not hate her any more. In reaching beyond myself and trying to heal victims I have found a 24 way to heal myself. The more I heal, the more I can give.
And I will.
Sometimes, it sounds like rain, a downpour, torrential that leaves my eyes sticky with sleep.
Last week, it was the sound a body makes when it slams into watera crack and a flood.
Tonight, it is this:
metal on metal, a guard who yells “welfare checks!” every half hour Every half hour.
I am suspended between this reality of rain and glass, a car crash without impact.
In this cell of exhaustion, I am a prisoner of their metal induced insomnia.
On a warm summer evening, when I was twelve years old, my dad said to me, “writing’s for pansies and the pretentious, Anthony boy.” My dad had a way of conveying his own brand of parental wisdom with such certainty that I wanted to believe him.
He passed me the piece of paper I’d shown him, a poem I’d copied out at school that day, with a kind comment and a gold star from my English teacher, Mr. Carter. My dad un-tucked his shirt from his jeans, kicked off his slide-sandals and collapsed on the couch letting out a long breath, like air bleeding from a car tire. He took a bottle of Budweiser from the ice bucket, broke the cap off with his teeth and spat it onto the floor. Mr. Carter taught poetry and stories with irresistible passion and believed that anyone could be a writer. So, that evening, I told my dad that I would be a writer, if I got enough gold stars.
After I told him, I folded the poem in half and wedged it between the couch cushions beside a stolen watch and a few dollars of some kid’s lunch money. I don’t recall my dad’s reply. Some parts of my childhood I remember clearly, but not enough to create a complete picture. The memories I have retained are the days I spent with Tiffany swaggering around town like the law was our foe and we were the righteous. But that was a long time ago.
It was a few years after I was lawfully grown, when the temperature was edging towards a hot summer, that I found myself sitting with three other inmates in the prison education facility. The room we were in was gray, with metal desks in lines, facing a flip chart with no paper to flip. There was a mustached correctional officer sitting on 27 a plastic chair in the corner, dressed in blue, arms crossed over his bulging belly, bored as hell.
O’Leary, the only inmate I’d taken a liking to, talked me into coming after I happened to mention I made up stories and poems as a kid. What’d you got to lose? he’d said.
O’Leary had a voice that was soft and slow, as if he put the weight of the world onto every word. He was small, pale and stringy looking. His teeth were rotten to the jawbone, which he would complain about night and day.
He told me his appearance was a permanent affliction caused by a childhood of chronic neglect and an adulthood of everything that was unlawful and unholy.
After my first few months at the penitentiary, I didn’t need to ask what kind of life people lived, I just had to see the marks on their skin, the look in their eyes, the way they walked and talked. I knew them before I even met them and they knew me.
I sat on a desk next to O’Leary who was trying to break the flexible prison pen the officer had given him. I couldn’t remember the last time I wrote something, maybe a telephone number or a signature for a bank loan. Usually, in prison, the only ink you saw was on your fingertips.
I wrote my name at the top of the lined paper. Tiffany used to sit next to me in school and she’d write her name with curly loops that sat on the line, the tip of her pen gliding against the page. I wrote mine with hard capitals, like rigid sticks.
28 I stared at my name: ANTHONY WARNER. I drew stars around it because I wanted to be reminded that stars still existed.
“Hi, everyone.” The woman that walked into the room was short and fat, with a face that smiled too much. Her hair was so unnaturally coiffed you’d have thought she’d just walked out of the hair salon. She was wearing everything black except for a pair of pink-rimmed glasses, which dangled from a gold chain around her neck and swayed from the cliff of her large breasts. “We have another writer joining us, today,” she said.
I wondered who this other writer was until I noticed the woman was staring at me.
“Welcome, Mr. Warner.” She smiled.
“I’m Ms. Bishop. Who can remind us what we talked about last session?” Her voice was high-pitched, like one of those little yappy dogs that rich city women carry around.
“What makes a good piece of writing,” O’Leary said.
“Correct,” Ms. Bishop replied.
Jackson started cracking his fingers.
“If you keep popping them bones, you’ll get the arthritis,” Ramos said, his bug-eyes sticking out like a bloated toad.
“My abuelo got the arthritis,” he added.
29 Ms. Bishop handed me a course booklet.
Ramos continued: “His hands got all claw like and ugly looking. It was so bad, he couldn’t even pick up a pen.” Ramos held his bendy pen above his head and slammed it on to the table. Jackson stopped cracking.
“Thank you, Mr. Ramos, maybe you’d like to write about your abuelo in today’s class, because we’re going to be exploring characterization.” Ms. Bishop put on her pink glasses, licked her right index finger and flicked through the pages of her booklet.
“Turn to page 4,” she said.
There was a list of questions writers would ask themselves to help them work out their characters. Ms. Bishop read
them aloud. There were stupid questions like:
What does your character have in his/her refrigerator?
What does he/she have on his/her bedside table?
Unless you were writing about what someone’s got in their refrigerator, or on their bedside table, who’d give a shit.
After Ms. Bishop finished reading, she glanced at the clock on the opposite side of the room. “You have 20 minutes to write about a character or someone you know using the questions to help you.” Ramos began to write; his pen made quick ticking sounds.
Jackson cracked his fingers, wrote a sentence, cracked a finger, and wrote a sentence. Cracked his neck: left crack, right crack.
I turned to O’Leary; his handwriting was neat and loopy.
30 I wasn’t comfortable making up a character and the only person I could write about was Tiffany. Tiffany and I are the same age, born in the same town; we grew up together. She has pale skin and doesn’t go out much in the sun because she’d cook like a cracked egg on a hot sidewalk. Tiffany would have half-eaten candy bars in her refrigerator and a pile of books on her bedside table.
“Ten minutes left,” Ms. Bishop said.
My hands were hot and sticky against the rubber body of
the pen. Under my name and the stars, I wrote:
TIFFANY. The more I looked at my writing the more I realized I shouldn’t be here. I drew stars around Tiffany’s name.
“Eight minutes,” Ms. Bishop said.
I drew stars along the rest of the line.
“Five minutes.” I kept drawing stars; they got bigger and bigger, darker and darker, until the whole page was filled with the damn things.
“Pens down,” Ms. Bishop said.
Ramos slammed his pen onto the table. Jackson cracked his wrist whilst turning it in lazy circles. O’Leary continued to write and I covered my paper so no one could see what I’d done.
The chatter at supper in the dining hall rose to what sounded like a baritone of barking and snarling dogs.
31 Ground beef with brown gravy, dry mashed potatoes and canned sweet corn was on the menu that day. Two inmates across the hall started to push each like big kids fighting over an ice pop.
“What’d you write about?” O’Leary asked me.
“Nothing much.” I shrugged.