Despite my ability to control the focus of my mind, there were times when melancholy and a sense of sadness would overtake me. It generally occurred in the night. I could neither read nor write any longer because all the power had been shut off from the guard tower; no power, no lights; no lights, no reading.
My “view” of my garden with its well trimmed hedges and brightly colored flowers – roses, tulips, and irises in different shapes and generations of growth in the window of my mind had been hidden by the darkness. I could no longer see the rolling hills of green with cattle silently grazing in the distance.
It was generally brought on – my melancholy – by the mechanical sounds of the building at night when the cessation of activity allowed for the grunts and groans of the buildings’ interworkings to be heard over all the silence.
Nighttime brings a strange inhabitant to Solano County, one who unleashes the anger and pain inside each of the inhabitants. There are assorted grunts and coughing, and the occasional scream, as someone struggles to take in air; there are the screams and torrential banging of the mentally ill – those who would be best served by an asylum and not a jail, and there is the weeping of men who have simply given up. Their noises are the most unnerving. And when they can take it no longer, they are joined by a chorus of others – equally as pitiful – joining in like howling dogs in the night – howling at what, only their inner demons know.
This is the background that forces one into introspection – where one turns inside to take inventory. It is here that I am most concerned as my melancholy turns to anger. And I am angry at myself and my fellow man.
I am mad at each of us. I am mad at you for trying to force me, and I am mad at me for not having fought sooner. For in my delay, in the name of taking the loftier path, I have bottled up what I feel and now it is screaming to be free. My mind races to thoughts of where it feels I had been wronged. I fight not to engage in rationalization. I struggle to deal with the truth. For it is not me who is locked in here, I have chosen to lock you out.
I speak directly to relationships in my past, for it is the losses that haunt me now. It is not my crime, nor a blight on my character, that ten years after your divorce, your ex-husband and you cannot sit in the same room. I applaud him his successes, and I pray for yours. Rid yourself of your own baggage for I am over-loaded carrying mine. No longer direct your anger at me, it is not mine. I did not earn it.
If your ex- husband has wealth untold and hires hookers monthly to sleep in his bed, I grant you your pain. I accept your sorrow, but not your meanness. It is not mine. I did not earn it.
If you came to Hollywood to be an actress and I offer friendship and love – but Hollywood does not, I accept your frustration, but not your meanness. It is not mine. I did not earn it.
If you had surgery and your husband continues to cheat on you, I accept your sadness, but not your meanness. It is not mine. I did not earn it. Your husband’s cheating is not malpractice, its selfishness, but it is not mine.
If you are in the same profession as your nephew and his star shines a little brighter, I accept your envy, but not your meanness. I understand it, but it is not mine. I did not earn it. I did not earn for you to appear on TV and demean me. For it was me you came to when your wife died. And it was me you came to for eye surgery.
If you are in a social club or a guild, and your club is forced to watch me, a nonmember, talk about your business each week. I accept your jealousy, but not your meanness. I understand your jealousy. But your meanness is not mine, I did not earn it.
If your aunt died as a result of negligence on the part of your nephew or cousin, I understand your need to lash out, but not your meanness. It is not mine. I did not earn it.
If you are a member of the press, and you wanted to own a story that could make your career but got it wrong, I accept your error, but not your meanness. It is not mine, because I did not earn it.
I accept your anger, pain, sadness, frustration, envy, jealousy, need, and ambition because I hope to get it all out. Use it up on me, all of it. I accept it. Reach inside; gather together all your hate, and all your pain. I accept it. Call your friends, your enemies, your relatives, your in-laws; put all your meanness in a bag, I accept it too.
I accept it because I want it all. I want it all until there is no more. I want it all to end. For if by accepting it all – even that which is not mine – gets us there, then so be it. If I am to experience meanness, I want the full experience.
And when it is all gone, perhaps then Israelis won’t have to fear Arabs, and Arabs won’t have to fear Israelis. Perhaps there will be peace in the Middle East, and the hatred, and the bombings, and the killing will stop.
Perhaps there will no longer be genocide in Rwanda, or Darfur.
Afghanistan and Iraq, along with Iran can pursue the interests of their people. Five thousand US soldiers won’t have to die, and neither will 250,000 Iraqis. Give me your meanness so that all that is left is kindness. I will accept it though it is not mine, I did not earn it. So understand that I will not be a victim, but I do recognize that your treatment of me is a scream for help. I offer what I have.
Those thoughts (and the people who know their meaning) were with me during my times of melancholy. They were there because I was tolerant, when perhaps I should have been dismissive.They were there because at night in this place misery always shows up.
A new guy, an older white gentleman, was brought in to E module two days ago. As was our way, my colleagues and I, would nod, or give a brief hello when we passed him in the day room during “unlock”. He seemed a lot sadder than the rest of us. His face carried lines and wrinkles that suggested a hard life.
Maybe it was because he was new. Fresh arrivals always have a hard time adjusting. The worst for me was to watch him stand alone at the door in front of the guard tower for the entire hour, waiting for whatever and who knows what to transpire.
The guards ignored him and we gave him his space. But after about 3 days of this, as I walked past him on my strolls around the room, I could take it no longer. His ship had already sailed. “What are you waiting for? I asked.
He offered some garbled, disjointed lecture on the guards messing with him. That he was not supposed to be here and that they, the guards, knew it. They were holding him up.
So he stood there, day after day, for an hour, with his bedroll – consisting of a tee-shirt, underwear, socks, and a towel – waiting for some ship that apparently never came in. Periodically, a guard would come to the door, conduct some business with another inmate, and ignore him as he stood there. It seemed so mean to me, but I guess their priority was running a jail, not catering to the hallucinations of some old guy.
My talk with him must have served as some sort of invitation because a few days later I was sitting at a table alone, and he took the seat next to me.
“How are you?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” I said reluctantly. Why I’ll never know, I wasn’t fine. But neither was I in the mood to discuss it.
In that distinct Boston accent that I remembered from college, he began to tell me his story: he was born and raised in Marshfield, Mass, a town across the bay from Cape Code and Hyannisport. He had been married but his wife had died. He was now living clear across the country in Vallejo, CA. We did not talk about why he was here – or why I was here – and our conversation was interrupted by great periods of silence. He seemed to be struggling with details and I afforded him time to complete his thoughts.
Jason, another of our colleagues, walked by our table and my new friend was immediately distracted by him. “Is he a street dancer?” he asked me as he pointed to Jason. In order to demonstrate what he meant, he began to work his hands as if he were a robot. I called Jason over and although he was not the character to which the old man was referring, Jason knew exactly who he was talking about. He referred to the mystery dancer as Riddles – and knew exactly where it was that Riddles danced. I guess Vallejo isn’t that big of a place.
Jason though was a story himself. He was a younger kid, good-looking, and spent every unlock doing two things: shaving with an electric razor to reshape his beard, adjusting the length of his sideburns, mustache or no mustache, and taking a shower.
The shower, as I noted earlier, was in the corner of the day room across from the guard tower. It offered no privacy – but it really wasn’t privacy Jason was interested in. Jason was interested only in the fact that from the shower you could see into the shower area of the adjacent module, that is, if you were willing or inclined to look. Jason took that opportunity to communicate with his friend in F mod. Did I mention that Jason was obviously gay? He had apparently been arrested for drugs – along with a friend. Jason and his friend would signal to each other from the showers and from the look on Jason’s face it served as a joyful time. At the end of his sessions he would convene to a locked door between the modules and assure whoever was on the other side that he loved them and missed them.
At any rate, he was quite harmless and amusing and his antics helped pass the time. It was interesting to watch him enlist converts and hear them giggling in the showers.
When they, Jason and the old man, had finished discussing Riddles, Jason headed for the showers and the old man and I continued our conversation in silence. I guess he really didn’t need to be anywhere. He just needed someone to listen, and that is perhaps what we could all use: somebody to listen, or at the very least, what I gave the old man: someone to sit beside and listen or not, but just someone with whom to feel connected, if only for a better part of an hour of “unlock”.