Only Money

December 11th, 2019

Joanna sent an urgent email on Monday evening. She told us that a local migrant family needs $3000 to pay for their immigration lawyer by Thursday, which is tomorrow. This is a problem.

Joanna is the de facto leader of our group that went to El Paso/Ciudad Juarez back in October. Fourteen of us went through a five-day-long immersion program with Annunciation House. We saw the tent cities in Juarez where hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants are stranded. We stayed in a shelter that housed migrants who had somehow managed to get into the United States. We witnessed a massive amount of suffering.

Near the end of our visit to El Paso, the head of Annunciation House, Ruben Garcia, encouraged us strongly to GO HOME, and to help migrants in the Milwaukee area.

That’s exactly what we have done. Father José hooked us up with a family that is seeking asylum in the U.S. In the brief time that we have been connected with this family, members of our group have provided them with warm clothes and money. So far, so good.

Now the crisis hits. The family has to pay a total of $6000 to pay for a legal services. They only have half of the money. This not because of a lack of effort on their part. They simply have not been able to earn enough, and time is running out. They need the lawyer. If an asylum seeker goes into an immigration court without legal representation, the migrant is almost guaranteed to be denied asylum. That’s just how it is.

I contacted Father José yesterday. He asked me to bring a check to the cathedral downtown. I would have rather avoided the drive, but there is a deadline looming.

I wrestled with what I should give. My wife and I are frugal. This comes from years of practice. For decades we struggled to make ends meet. We reviewed each and every expenditure. We still do that. We don’t buy much for ourselves. However, we do open our wallets to help others. It’s only money.

Over the years, we tried to be generous, and it always worked out. We were never impoverished by giving to somebody who was hurting. We have always had enough. Sometimes karma works like that.

I wrote a check before I left home. I thought of an amount that I could afford, then I doubled it. Giving has to sting a little bit.

I drove to cathedral, and parked on Van Buren. I went into the office, and spoke with the receptionist.

I told her that I wanted to see Father José. She thought for a moment.

“I’m not sure that he’s still here. He might have left already. Let me make a call.”

She did.

Then she said, “Father José is with some people discussing a funeral. What did you want to see him for?”

“I have a check for him.”

“Does he know you? What’s your name?”

“I’m Frank. We went to the border together.”

The woman smiled, and said, “Oh, that’s so nice.”

I frowned a bit. “Well, I wouldn’t say that the border trip was nice.”

She replied, “Of, yes, of course. But it means you have a heart.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

She asked me, “Do you want to leave the check with me? I’ll make sure that he gets it. Or, you can go upstairs and give it to the pastoral associate.”

I handed to her. “You can have it.”

She smiled again and said, “Thank you so much.”

I went out and got into my car. As I drove home, I started second-guessing myself. Should I have given more? Did I hold back?

That’s a bad game to play. I did something. Something is better than nothing.

Joanna told us that she is praying for a miracle for the family.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll get one.

 

 

 

Only Words

December 10th, 2019

He’s a quiet man. Well, he is most of the time.

John tends to be soft-spoken and a bit reticent, at least among strangers. He tries to feel people out before he opens up. He seems to be an introvert by nature. He is the kind of man who is cautious in his speech until he feels safe.

Then the dam bursts open.

I first spoke with John early on a Saturday morning. I was tired and wired. I had been up until 3:00 AM talking with Sarah and Sean about politics, religion, and general nonsense. We ended the conversation mostly because we had run out of whiskey. I went to bed in the attic, and I slept fitfully for a couple hours. I was not feeling my best when I unexpectedly met John.

John was staying in a bedroom at Voices because he had been recently evicted from his apartment. When he wandered out of his room, I was sitting at the living room table, trying to write some lame Christmas cards. John sat across from me. He wrapped himself in a shawl or a blanket as he sat down. The way he draped the cloth around him had a very Buddhist touch. It gave me an idea of who I was dealing with.

John is a bit younger than me, which means that he is still rather old. He has his hair cut very short. He’s lean, and his movements are graceful. He wears glasses, and his left eye seems to be just slightly askew. He exudes a quiet gentleness. That sort of thing always worries me.

He opened up after I opened up. I generally open up quickly, mostly because I don’t often care what other people think of me. John followed my lead. John spoke with the urgency of a man who has been lonely far too long. We had a long conversation that morning. John is a connoisseur of different religious traditions. I can identify with that. John is currently a Hare Krishna. I was unaware that those people even existed any more. He had been a Japanese Buddhist for twenty-five years. He had also been a Catholic and a Wiccan. As he explained it to me, John has been “around the block”. He has seen and done many things, and somehow he is still in the material world.

John is a seeker. So am I.

Somebody told me, many years ago, that there are two kinds of spiritual seekers. One kind only looks for answers. These people want to absolute answers to irrational questions. They find some things that kind of work for them, and then they make these answers into a dogma that can never be questioned again. I have met these people. Scary bastards. Other seekers never stop searching. These folks want answers, but the answers are never adequate, so they never stop learning. These individuals are often more interested in the questions than they are in the answers. Their hearts oscillate constantly between faith and doubt. They somehow feel all right in that grey zone between right and wrong, between truth and lies.

I live there.

So, John and I look for something that we will never find.

That’s okay. The path is the goal.

John and I talked about talking. We had a conversation about conversation. It was kind of like a Seinfeld episode. Any conversation that is worthwhile requires the exchange of ideas. There has to be a cross-fertilization, a transfer of soul stuff. Our present culture does not encourage any exchange of thoughts. Discussion in our society implies some kind of attack and defense, a zero sum game. You win or you lose. I want conversations where it is possible for every party to get…something.

John is a giver of gifts. That’s what he does.

He gave me an apple. He said,

“You need to eat.”

I ate.

Later, he gave me a framed picture of the Buddha. He didn’t need it any more. I didn’t need it either. Well, maybe I did. It’s hard to tell.

The picture is on my wall.

 

 

Invisible

December 9th, 2019

We emerged from the underworld.

The Red Line has a stop near the corner of State and Lake in downtown Chicago. Sean, Sarah, and I got off the train there. We went through the turnstiles, and climbed the stairs to street level. I immediately lost my bearings. That’s what I hate about subways. I always feel disoriented when I surface.

Fortunately, Sean and Sarah were there as my guides. Sean quickly put up an antiwar banner, and then posted himself across the street, near the Chicago Theater. Sarah and I stood in front of the Channel 7 recording studios. We proceeded to hand out flyers.

To be more accurate, we proceeded to attempt to hand out flyers. The pedestrians who passed us by appeared to be less than interested. Sean, who has experience with this sort of thing, designed the flyer to silently scream “Stop the war in Iran!”

It was a simple message, although confusing to at least one individual. A man with a long, drooping mustache walked past me as I held up a copy of the flyer and said, “I didn’t know there even was a war in Iran.” Well, yeah, that’s true. Americans are not yet actively shooting or bombing people there. Our government is determined to destroy the Iranian economy, which is a sort of warfare. However, to the casual observer, that does not look like war.

I hate being invisible. For many people on the sidewalk, that is exactly what I was. I had to be impressed with the effort that many a passerby made to ignore me. Some of them looked away from me when they were still several feet away, and they stared into the distance. Perhaps they were suddenly fascinated by some pigeon droppings on the ledge of a building on the other side of the street. Maybe they just wanted to avoid eye contact at all cost.

Some people did make eye contact with me. That was apparently painful for them. They would give me a small, tortured smile. Some of them would nod.  A few of them with voices would politely say, “No, thank you.” It was awkward at best.

I did, in fact, give out some flyers. That was always a welcome surprise. One woman stared at the flyer in my hand and immediately whipped out her phone. She said,

“I want to take a picture of this.”

I told her, “Uh, there is more stuff on the back of it.”

“Oh.”

She paused, put away her phone momentarily, and took the flyer from my hand.

Sarah got into a long discussion about Iran with a homeless woman. She told me about it.

“I talked to this homeless woman for a while. She was quite well-informed. I also talked with a friend of hers.”

In a way I am not surprised by this. The homeless people are our kindred spirits. Nobody pays attention to them, and nobody pays attention to us. All of us are invisible.

Sean rushed across the busy street, effectively dodging the the chaotic traffic. He was excited. He told us,

“I figured it out! I have combined the war in Iran with Merry Christmas!”

Cool. Whatever works.

Note: Sean loves to cross in the middle of scary streets. Perhaps it is part of his struggle against fascism. Maybe he just likes to tempt death. It’s hard to tell.

I have thought about why I failed so miserably to hand out antiwar flyers. I suspect it that has to do with my appearance. I tend to exude a sort of hobo chic. As my wife, Karin, told me once,

“You look like a vagrant.”

Indeed.

It is very possible that some of the festive Christmas shoppers assumed that I was handing out flyers simply to get them to give up their spare change. I don’t know. If I had stood on the sidewalk long enough, then perhaps somebody would have tossed me a crumpled dollar bill, and that would have confirmed my hypothesis.

We spent an hour on State Street. We were islands of stability amid a swirling mass of humanity. It is possible, in fact likely, for a person to absolutely alone while being surrounding by other humans. A person can cease to exist in a crowd.

I wanted to exist again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Echoes

December 1st, 2019

“Work is the curse of the drinking classes.” – Oscar Wilde

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” – Jay Gould

Stefan and I get together at times. He’s our youngest son, and he works as a welder. He never wanted to go to a four-year college. He knew early on in his life that he wanted to work with his hands. He knew that he wanted to make things. Stefan took every shop course that was available to him in high school. He was never comfortable in a classroom, and he would never be comfortable in an office.

Stefan is only twenty-five. However, he’s already done many things. He worked as a auto mechanic right out of high school. Then he went to Texas, on his own, and worked in the press room of a newspaper in Bryan. He returned to Wisconsin, and he worked in a body shop. He worked in a place that refurbished old furniture. Eventually, he went to a local tech school to learn welding. He joined the Iron Workers Union. Now he walks on top of steel beams one hundred feet up, and does welding in the snow and the cold.

Stefan works hard, and he makes good money. His work is difficult and dangerous. In his profession people get hurt. He told me about one of his co-workers who had his leg crushed by a forklift. That got my attention. I had my right leg crushed by a forklift ten years ago at work. I know exactly how that feels.

Stefan is working class. He has the virtues and the vices of that tribe. He runs with a rough crowd, because the men (they are almost all men) who are Iron Workers are by necessity kind of rugged. Stefan once told me,

“Everybody on my crew has a felony rap, an addiction, or an OWI (drunk driving)…except for me.”

This is nothing unusual. When Stefan was working in the press room down in Texas, he got into a heated argument with a co-worker. Apparently, the other guy accused Stefan of being lazy. That is not one of Stefan’s shortcomings. The argument turned into a screaming match. Eventually, they wore each other out.

Later, Stefan found out that the man had done time for murder.

Stefan’s current compatriots are of the same mold. These other Iron Workers may not be murderers, but they have led interesting lives. These are men who have probably just done the things that most of us are afraid to do. They have lived on the edge. The edge is an exciting place, but rather unforgiving.

Stefan told me,

“We all went out to breakfast one time. First, the guys wanted to order some Bloody Mary’s, then they wanted to get some beers. Then they said, ‘Hey, let’s go to the titty bar, it’s open by now! Fuck, I didn’t even want to see what worked there on that shift.”

That made me remember.

I was in the Army in 1981. I had just finished flight school, and I had been assigned to a helicopter unit in Germany. I arrived in Hanau in December, and I knew nobody. A couple pilots took me under their wing, but I was alone when Christmas came.

A couple guys from the unit found me on Christmas Eve. Their idea was to take me to the red light district in Frankfurt. Frankfurt, like many other European cities, had decided that it was best to keep sexual vice within certain geographical limits. I went there with these other soldiers. I had never been to a place where prostitution was legal, so there was a perverse sort of excitement.

We went into one of the houses. It was actually lit with a red light. The women there were not particularly attractive. Well, maybe they were physically attractive, but the fact that they were selling their bodies like used cars made them seem ugly. It made me feel ugly. I felt dirty being there. I didn’t buy anything. It felt wrong, way wrong. It had nothing to do with love. It hardly had anything to do with sex. It was just a business transaction.

That is what I remember.

“Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint”

from “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones

My father was working class, but he tried so hard to move up in the world. He spent his entire life with a chip on his shoulder. He wanted so much to prove that he was as good as, or better than, other people. He failed.

My dad pushed hard to send me to West Point. I got a scholarship there, and I did well. However, I never became the son he wanted me to be. He was could never decide what he wanted me to be. Sometimes, he would yell, after I went on a drunken binge,

“What is wrong with you? I thought that they were going to make you into an officer and a gentleman!”

They did make me an officer. The gentleman part was always optional.

Then, at other times, when I showed off my education, he would say with bitterness,

“So, you’re a big guy now? Are you better than the rest of us? You forget your roots?”

Now, It’s my turn.

Sometimes Stefan tells me things that a parent perhaps should not hear. It’s okay. I don’t mind. He’s honest with me, and that is all that I want.

Stefan is rough and crazy and street smart. He is also loyal, compassionate, generous, and brave. He is a good son. He is a good man. I love him as he is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juarez

November 30th, 2019

“I keep reminding the young people that come to work with us (at the Catholic Worker House) that they are not naturalized citizens. They cannot get away from their privileged background. They are not really poor. We are always foreigners to the poor. So we have to make up for it by ‘renouncing all compensations.’ Simone Weil does not talk of penance, she does not cry out against self-indulgence. She says, ‘Renounce’.”

from Dorothy Day

It’s been over six weeks since I made I made the road trip to the southern border at El Paso. Distance, whether it be in terms of space or time, can give a person more perspective. It is possible to see more of the bigger picture. However, that is not without loss. Seeing the bigger picture means that a person sees less of the details. The details are what wake me up in the middle of the night.

I am have been looking at a postcard that I sent to Karin while I was on the trip. I love to send postcards. I was fascinated by them even as a kid. I know that it is a totally retro kind of thing. Most modern people send selfies, or post some crap on Facebook. I like to send things by snail mail. I like to give a person something that they can touch. It seems more real that way.

I am looking at the postcard now. In a way, it s a truly wretched picture. It shows part of Ciudad Juarez, with El Paso looming in the distance. It shows the border crossing. The card appears to be an antique. The cars on the street look old even by Juarez standards. Most postcards show something marvelous, something to attract other wanderers. A postcard from Paris might show the Eiffel Tower. I remember sending a postcard from Cairo that showed the Pyramids of Giza. This card shows a desolate neighborhood in Juarez that borders other desolate neighborhoods in El Paso. It is a scene that is very real, but not inviting, not at all.

I remember when I bought the postcard. The fourteen of us were in Juarez, and it was after we had a meeting with a some kind of official of the Mexican government. The meeting was in a building right at the edge of the border. We met in a room that was way too small, and we listened to people who talked way too much shit. I’m not saying that everything they said was nonsense, but at least some of it was. The official spoke about the migrants who were stuck at the U.S. border, and he said that Juarez welcomed them, because they needed the labor force. He insisted that there were jobs available for these refugees from Central America, and that the city was eager to have them stay. Yeah. Maybe.

While in Juarez, our group saw the tent city on the street near to the border. It was not a pretty sight. There were women and kids living in hovels. The men were either trying to hustle some money to survive, or they were sitting on the curb with empty eyes and empty hearts. All of the people in this conclave were in limbo. They couldn’t go back home, and they couldn’t go to the one country where they might feel safe. They were utterly lost. Anyway, that is how they appeared to me.

I cannot know much about these migrants. I did not speak to them. I don’t know Spanish well enough to converse with these people, and why would they want to talk to me anyway? The fact is that I don’t know any of their stories. Even if I did hear about their experiences, I would never really understand. There are some things that cannot be learned vicariously.

These people, these migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, are destitute. They have nothing. They left what little they had behind. They left their homes in desperation and fear, and now they linger on the edge of the Promised Land. Most of them, because of the cruelty and callousness of our government, will eventually leave the border and fade away. That is the stated goal of the U.S. government, that these hopeless and harmless people just go away. They will. A few of them will find a home in Mexico. A few of them will try to make their way back to their homelands, where the gangs are actively trying to kill them. Some will die.

We don’t care. We just don’t care.

After the meeting with the Mexican official, we all wandered along a main street in Juarez for a while. We stopped at a mom-and-pop restaurant for some lunch. I think it was called “Sabor a Cuba”/ “Burritos Meny”. We stood in line to order. I asked our guide, Chris, if I could go back a block and buy some postcards at a small shop.

He said, “Yeah, go ahead, but take somebody with you.”

I yelled to Alex, a member of our motley crew, “Hey, Alex, I need you to hold my hand for a while! I want to go to the store down the block and buy some postcards!”

Alex was a good sport. He agreed to walk with me. We went into the shop. I thought about trying out my Spanish with the owner, and decided that it was too much of an effort.

I asked Alex, “Can you ask the guy something for me?”

“Sure, what?”

“Ask him if he takes dollars or pesos. I got no pesos.”

Alex, being a a truly good guy, did what I asked.

He turned to me and said, “He takes dollars.”

“Cool.”

I sighed and said, “Okay, I want ten cards.”

Alex translated for me.

I bought the postcards. We walked out and went back to the burrito shop.

Chris greeted us when we returned.

He said, “Let me know what you order, so that I can pay.”

I got in line and ordered a Coke, in terrible Spanish. I finally made it clear that I only wanted the soda.

Chris came up to me and asked, “Did you only get a Coke?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“I’m not hungry.”

There is a point there.

I was not hungry. The truth is that I have never been really hungry.

I do not know what is like to be truly poor. I grew up in a struggling, working class family, but that doesn’t mean anything. We ate enough. When raising my own family,  I laid awake at night worrying about how to pay the mortgage. I never laid awake wondering how I would feed my kids.

I cannot completely understand the suffering of these people on the border. I don’t want to experience what they have gone through. I don’t want to know all that they know.  Maybe that is wrong, but I have my own stuff to handle, and I often am overwhelmed by that.

As Dorothy Day said, I will always be a foreigner to the truly poor.

I can understand them a little bit. That’s all.

That will have to be good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holes in the Wall

November 27th, 2019

I could hear the sound coming from the front of the house. It was rhythmic, like somebody was tapping on the wall with a small hammer.

“It must be that damn woodpecker again”, I thought.

I got up from the computer and walked to the front door. As I opened it, I saw a flutter of wings as a small bird flew away from the cedar siding near the front windows of the house.  It was the woodpecker. She was clinging to one of the stalks of the elderberries.

The front of our house is riddled with holes. For some reason, the builder used cedar to make the post that holds up the porch. He also used cedar to surround the big front windows. Back in 1991 that seemed like a really good idea. Now, not so much.

The woodpecker has been attacking the cedar for two years now. She keeps drilling holes in the post and into wood near the windows. I keep filling the holes with wood putty. From a distance it all looks okay. Up close, you can see a variety of mottled colors. Eventually, there will be more wood putty than wood in front of the house.

I have tried to use bad-smelling chemicals to ward off the bird. Nothing seems to work. She keeps coming back. The woodpecker is smart, and has a very strong survival instinct. She is remarkably persistent, actually relentless. I would find that admirable if she wasn’t damaging my home.

I looked at the bird as she looked at me. The woodpecker is quite beautiful. She is mostly white with black wings. She is an amazing creature.

I have thought about killing the bird. I’m not sure how I would do that. I don’t own any guns, and, even if I did, it would be unwise for me to use a firearm in my neighborhood.

Thomas Merton said once that all animals are saints, because they only do what God wants them to do. They cannot sin. I thought about that as I looked at the little bird with the destructive tendencies. The woodpecker is simply doing what woodpeckers are supposed to do. I wish she would do it some place else, but the bird is doing nothing that would justify me killing it. I would feel remorse if I did kill the damn thing. It would be wrong for me to do so.

Eventually, the woodpecker will die. So will I. We will see who goes first.

In the meantime, I will fill holes in the wall.

 

 

 

 

Hold the Line

November 24th, 2019

“I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me through the fear
San Jacinto, I hold the line
San Jacinto, the poison bite and darkness take my sight, I hold the line
And the tears roll down my swollen cheek, think I’m losing it, getting weaker
I hold the line, I hold the line
San Jacinto, yellow eagle flies down from the sun, from the sun

We will walk on the land
We will breathe of the air
We will drink from the stream
We will live, hold the line
Hold the line, hold the line
We will live, hold the line
Hold the line, hold the line…”

From the song “San Jacinto” by Peter Gabriel

The guard buzzed me through the entrance of the cell block. He knew me. I had been there to visit often in the past. The guard was a tall, young man. He had shaved his head, and he had a beard that was long and red.

I walked up to his counter. He was busy signing into the computer. It was the start of his shift. He barely glanced up as he greeted me:

“Hi. How are you tonight?”

I answered him, “Okay. And how are you doing?” I hung up my coat on the rack.

He was still looking at his screen when he said, “Oh, as well as can be expected. Thanks for asking.”

I pulled out my drivers license and laid it on his counter. I looked for a sign in sheet, but I found none.

I asked him, “Do you want me to sign something?”

He shook his head. Then he asked me, “And who are you seeing again?”

I gave him the girl’s name.

“Oh yeah. Got it. She’s quite the artist. Really talented. She’s always drawing pictures.”

I thought for a moment. “Yeah, she’s gifted that way. She has a degree. Actually, she has a lot going for her.”

The guard punched at his keyboard, and said, “She could really use that talent. She could be working a booth at the State Fair, and drawing people’s pictures at $25 a pop.”

“Yeah, I guess she could be doing that.”

Then the guard looked up, and said, “Okay, let me give you a token for the lockers. Hmmmm, there aren’t any. Uh, I got to go to the main building to get some more. What do you have to check in?”

I laid my cell phone, car keys, and wallet on the counter.

“Hey, tell you what. I’ll keep your stuff back here. You don’t need to put it into the locker. Okay?”

“Sure.”

I had to go through the metal detector. I laid my bag of change on the counter before I went in. The thing beeped anyway.

I told the guard, “It’s probably my belt. Do you want me to take it off?”

He shook his head. “I’ll use the wand.”

He waved the wand over my body, and said, “You’re good. Go on through. I’ll call for her.”

He buzzed me into the visitor area, a small room with a few chairs and tables, and a couple vending machines.

I went to the vending machine and pumped some quarters into it. I selected a Kit Kat bar for the girl. I placed it on the low table as she walked into the room.

We gave each other a clumsy sort of hug. Hugs in prison have to be very brief.

She was dressed in her teal green uniform. She wore thermal underwear beneath her shirt. Her brown hair is getting long. She looked good, but edgy. She has always looked edgy. Her hands went to the Kit Kat bar. One hand was redder than the other, the result of a bad burn several months ago.

She started talking business. That’s how we do things.

“Because there’s a holiday this week, there is probably not going to be anybody in the office on Thursday or Friday for me to place an order. Can you put some money into my commissary account by Wednesday, at the latest?”

“I already did that. I did it before I forgot about it. I think I put the money in there on Friday.”

She smiled a bit as she bit into the candy bar. “Well, then, never mind.”

The girl trusts me to take care of financial matters for her. I don’t do other things very well, but I can do that much.

I asked her, “What did you do today?’

She munched on the candy bar. “We had group and independent study.”

“Are you still cleaning the classroom?”

“No, we’re done with that.”

“Are the crayons still organized in order, by rainbow color?”

“Well, nobody has used them lately, so I guess so.”

“How about the construction paper?”

“Yup, still in order by color.”

“And you guys earn ‘points’ for doing this?”

She put the empty wrapper on the table. “Yeah.”

I asked her, “So, what do you actually get for these points?”

“Well, we get to wear out ‘greys’ in class rather than this stuff.” She pointed to her green clothes. “Also, we get to bring a non-water drink into class. We also get to pick out a movie.”

“These ‘non-water drinks’, do you buy them yourselves?”

“Yeah, but I haven’t bought them yet. That’s why I wanted you to put money into the commissary account.”

“Got it.”

She looked at me and asked, “Can you buy me another candy bar?”

I got her another Kit Kat. She ripped open the wrapper.

I asked her, “What movies do you get to pick out? Do they have DVD’s here?”

She nodded as she bit into the chocolate.

I asked her, “Do you want me to come to your graduation from this program? I think you said it was on December 20th.”

She shrugged. “If you want to.”

I sighed. “Okay, if you want me to come, I’ll come. Let me know.”

She nodded.

She asked me, “How’s Shocky (her dog)?”

“She’s good.”

The girl told me, “I bet she misses me.”

I looked at the young woman and said, “Yeah, I think you’re right. She does miss you.”

She smiled. “I knew it.”

The girl asked me, “Can I have a Diet Mountain Dew?”

I went back to the vending machines.

I handed her the soda. “What do you do at the graduation?”

“Well, we get a certification. We also have a ‘legacy’ to do.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, it’s like a skit. We get to pick two songs to go with it.”

“You have to sing a song?”

She laughed. “No, these are songs that they can play from a machine. I want a song from the “Breakfast Club”, but they probably won’t let us have it.”

“I have never seen ‘The Breakfast Club’.”

The girl stared at me. “How can you not have seen it? Isn’t that from the 80’s? That was your time.”

I looked away. “I guess I’m not good at keeping up with the current culture.”

She smiled at me.

We sat for a while, silent. These talks always end the same way. We had run out of safe topics. There is much more to say, but it is all radioactive.

I waited for the guard to finish with a phone call, and then I motioned to him to let me out.

The girl stood all alone. I had forgotten to hug her.

We embraced for a moment. It was stiff and awkward and absolutely necessary.

I went out. The guard gave me my possessions.

He said to me, “She’s good. She has a good reputation here. She keeps to herself. Never any problem.”

The young woman is a model prisoner. Nice.

The guard was trying to comfort me. “She will get out soon.”

And then what?

I went out to my car. It wasn’t cold yet, but I felt a chill. The stars were out.

I drove home in the dark.

I felt the sadness, and the wrongness of it all. Those feelings come when I drive back home. They overwhelm me. How do we deal with this? How do we both keep going?

We hold the line. Hold the line. Hold the line.