green like old milk

you know how they say that when people get out of jail, they go outside and are overwhelmed by the incredible amout of  s p a c e  there is?  it’s true.  as i walk out to the car with my dad, plastic bag of personal effects in hand, i begin sobbing again for what feels like the thousandth time.  the sun is just beginning to set, the sky tinged with pink behind the wavering trees.  as my dad unlocks the passenger door for me, i look at the car window and can see the reflection of my mottled face, my dirty hair, the squat green building behind me, the sky behind that, outer space.

my bail bondsman is reading john steinbeck.  i sit across the desk from him and blow my nose into a paper towel while he finds my papers.  “did you like of mice and men?” i whisper.

“it was okay,” he says.  “i’m reading cannery row right now.”

“just okay?” i say.  “i really liked it.  ‘tell me about the rabbits, george.’ ”

i fill out the papers, writing my own history in addresses and identification numbers, car license plates and personal references.  steinbeck asks me if this was my first time in jail.  “can’t you tell?” i say, trying to smile through a thick layer of mucus and tears.

on the way home in the car i stare out the window at everything.  every person building car traffic light billboard grocery store what if i have to go back what if i have to go back what if i have to my dad on his cell phone with my mom, “we’re coming home,” he says to her, “and i guess we’ll pick up something to eat on the way.”  i look at him and shake my head; i don’t want to go anywhere.  “we don’t want to pick up something to eat,” he says into the phone.  “do we have stuff for sandwiches?”

we take the freeway home.  there’s where i used to work where the old church is that hotel with the duck pond inside the place where i went to day care.

all i eat is half a grilled cheese, even though i haven’t really had a meal in over twenty-four hours.  my mother makes it in the old skillet, flipping it over with the spatula she half-melted on the stove by mistake one time.  i sit on the counter.  she offers me strawberries, an apple, maybe some of the cheesecake pudding she made today?  “i don’t know,” i say.  “thank you.”

“it just tastes like vanilla anyway,” my dad says, waving his spoon at me.

the water is cloudy with soap, shampoo, bubble bath, me, the me of a thousand other inmates.  using my parents’ bathtub was a treat when i was little.  it’s large and oval and sunken, and the edge of it is crowded with my mother’s collection of bath beads and salts, which i always liked to try out.  i am in there forever, washing everything twice, my fingers wrinkled.  my mother knocks on the door.  “just making sure you were okay,” she says.  i am, i tell her.  but what if i’d had to take a shower in there, with all those other women?  the drain tangled with blonde brunette red?  the soap harsh?  the towel threadbare?

i wake up on the sofa in the living room, my hair still wet.  my father’s snoring lightly on the other couch, my mother’s sitting on the hearth, on the telephone with my aunt.  “jim’s asleep on the couch here,” she says into the phone, carefully not mentioning that her broken daughter’s there, too, that the one with the depression and the health problems and the trouble in school has now been to prison.  has made her parents’ lives even harder.  i’m grateful she doesn’t tell her.

she takes me upstairs to my old room and turns down the bed for me.  she knows that i’m just like her, that i always get sinus headaches after crying, so she hands me two sudafed along with a sleeping pill.  i ask her to leave the door open a crack.  after she leaves, i make sure to open a book and read at least a paragraph before i fall asleep, as part of the brand-new nightmare prevention program.

when they let me out of the green walls into the waiting room at the jail, i told my father, “i wish i were dead,” and i meant it.