At 9:17 am on Thursday, February 5, 2009, the telephone rang.
With no other warning, and none of the social graces, the voice at the other end asked, “What are you doing?” Certainly a bit abrupt, clearly not the friendliest way to start a conversation-at least in my mind- but once I identified the voice and realized who it was, I had to accept that there was nothing particularly unusual about the greeting; that is the way Tom began all of our phone calls. I had to entertain the notion that perhaps my irritation was coming from me, and not necessarily the rude caller at the other end.
“Watching TV, eating breakfast, why?” I asked. I had not more than one minute earlier finished preparing breakfast and had just sat down to eat. The television monitor had just booted-up when the phone rang, and that’s how I knew the exact time.
“Just called to see if everything was ready for tomorrow,” he said. Over the past few years, Tom had grown from a necessary evil – a mouthpiece – to what could only be described as a friend. Tom was genuinely concerned and I knew he was asking from his heart, but I allowed for a very long, uncomfortable silence before I responded because I had been expecting – and anticipating- calls of this nature all week.
Tomorrow, Friday, February 6, 2009, I was scheduled to surrender at Solano County Jail; clearly the source of my irritability. I had expected this call from many distant acquaintances- feigning concern but really soliciting gossip, but Tom’s call at 9:17 AM was a bit strange if for no reason other than his usual calls occurred around noon, during a time when there was a break in his day. A call this early, at the start of his day, meant that he had been wrestling with the issue, the burden of my going to jail, all through the night.
I did my best to reassure him that I was fine – and I was. The fact of the matter was that I hadn’t even given it a thought. I had become quite adept at controlling the focus of my mind and going to jail wasn’t something I was going to worry about, at least consciously, until I was there – and once I was there, I was just going to focus on something else – like this book. About 90% of what goes on in anybody’s life is good and about 10% is bad. If you truly want to make yourself miserable, focus on the 10% that’s bad and ignore the other 90%. That is what I believe intellectually, and that is how I have tried to live, but even with that, I was definitely feeling the pressure.
Tom’s call served to confirm one of my biggest fears: it wasn’t my state of mind that would be the issue; it would be the inability of the people who truly cared about me to control their thoughts, which would create all the drama. I knew the majority of people couldn’t, and wouldn’t, control the focusof their minds. I was going to be forced to think about jail because that’s what they would be thinking, and calling, about.
Tom was easy to handle despite the fact that being a lawyer had taught him to over think everything. Some well placed silence would allow him to conclude with absolutely no encouragement from me that he was worrying too much. “I’m fine,” I said. “I’ll write you when I get there and get settled.” Then, I simply hung up the phone.
My mother was another matter. Over the past few days she had become increasingly quiet and introverted. I could physically feel the moments when she would stare out the kitchen window deeply in thought, going through the process of conjuring up all sort of demons in order to make herself miserable, followed quickly by quiet sobbing, and trips to the bathroom. That hurt most of all. There just wasn’t anyway for me to shield her from her own feelings. Nor could I shield her from other people’s intrusions, especially my own lawyer. The kindling for this particular episode wasn’t Tom, but quickly followed his call in the form of Jason Louis, the paralegal with the firm of Cardoza Law Offices, Inc., my representation in Northern California.
Michael Cardoza is the antitheses to Thomas Byrne in every regard – except the fact that they participate in the same profession. Michael is gregarious and aggressive. Tom is quiet and withdrawn. Michael seeks out the media. Tom avoids them at all costs.
Jason’s call was to inform me that Michael would indeed be present at my surrender the following morning, though a month earlier he had informed me that he wouldn’t. The caller ID on the phone screamed Cardoza Law Offices with every ring and so by the time I hung up with Jason, my mother was standing in front of me with her litany of questions. “Who was it? What did he want? Why?”
Her concern was motivated not so much by Michael Cardoza, but rather by her fear of the process. The average American, particularly the honest ones, fears his government although it should be the other way around. To make matters worse she had visions of every media outlet in Northern California present in the courtroom, and the whole world present to watch her son chained and carted off to prison. The fact that Cardoza had now changed his mind and decided to show up at the surrender was proof of that. What other reason could there be for his change of heart. Nonetheless, the thought that TMZ would be running a video of me being chained and shackled, over and over and over again, broadcasted to the world- and her church congregation-was just too much for her to take.
I reassured her that that would not be the case, but nonetheless, a few hours later, I found her sitting at her computer, staring out the window, crying. I gave her a hug and left it at that. Any more conversation, regardless of its point, or its tone, would have only served as moisture and hot air to continue to fuel the storm. I hoped to spare her of that, but ultimately I realized I couldn’t. Moms, I guess, are worriers by nature.
Later that night I did not bring up the next day’s festivities either. I could see no point to it. In a sense I also found a bit of shameful delight in deflecting her attempts to initiate conversation about it. I skillfully deflected them all. “Let’s just leave tomorrow’s events for tomorrow,” I thought. At any rate, when she had had enough of mindless TV, she finally retired to the comfort and solitude of her bed to work things out in her own way.
I followed two hours later and was asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. I didn’t move – remaining just as I had lain down – until I woke to glance at the clock on the table next to the bed: 3:44 am. I did not concern myself with the hour. I thanked the Gods for the four hours of peace. I stumbled to the bathroom, emptied my bladder, drank of glass of water – failing to wash my hands – and returned to bed. I lay there nodding in and out until 5:00 am, contemplating the coming day, my trip to the courthouse, and then off to jail.
At 6:00 AM, I could hear my mother’s alarm penetrating the darkness – and the solitude – and I listened as she began to stir. I decided to get up and get going immediately. I didn’t want the worry of being late being added to the mix.
I had suggested we leave that morning at 7:30 am, and she agreed on 7:15. She had taken a bath the night before – a thing that I simply could never get comfortable with for myself. It seemed to me that it defeated the purpose. I had to shower just before putting on clean clothes and as I got into the habit, I could not do otherwise – even to minimize the morning rush. I therefore began by turning on the bath and directing my attention to cleaning my mouth and brushing my teeth.
Before I had settled into the tub, my mother was at the bathroom door inquiring as to what I wanted for breakfast. I bit my tongue – as I considered it an intrusion to interrupt my quiet morning ritual – and assured her that I’d be ready on time.
As I descended the stairs fully dressed at 07:14 am, I could hear her calling from the garage. My breakfast, which consisted of yogurt, a banana, and an apple, was already in the car. I grabbed a bottled-water, took a look around the house, and then hobbled to the car.
“You’re not taking your crutches?” she asked. “No,” I said, “they’re not going to let me use them anyway.” The crutches were the result of an ankle fusion three months earlier; and it was also responsible for my surrender in February, rather than in October following the trial.
My recovery from the surgery had been torture. Ankle fusion surgery required that I remain nonweight-bearing for three months, that’s 13 weeks without being able to stand or walk. (Try peeing under those circumstances.) I spent the entire time on my back with nothing but my own thoughts, and my own physical discomfort which added a whole new meaning to the notion of pain.