July 4th, Independence Day

This is my last post as a prisoner’s daughter. Sort of.

As I walked back to my dorm, the sounds of fireworks popping off around me, the smell of the sprinklers charging the dirt with water, I realized I would be picking her up in the morning. I drove up to Fresno for this summer arts program and it was the first time I’d been on the drive in two years almost. I told her I didn’t want to visit her anymore in the institution because she would be out so soon and other family was going, but mostly because it’s the most emotionally painful thing I’ve ever really done. It literally feels like a hot iron has been glued to your heart and as it’s pulled away, pieces of yourself get ripped back with it.

So I drove to Fresno for this arts program and cried the whole way.

Tomorrow morning, less than 10 hours from now, she’ll be free.

Tomorrow morning, less than 10 hours from now, I’ll be free.

I’ve been forced to keep her at a distance, keep my feelings at a distance for so long. Tomorrow, I won’t have to do that anymore.

I have so much more to say and yet, right now, that’s all I keep thinking: how foreign and alien the concept of closeness and vulnerability (with regard to her) is to me.

I can’t wait to wake up.

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4 more days

I’m dying here. It’s so close. She’s home in four days and I’m so excited. My brother agreed to come on the drive. Never thought he would. We’re not telling her. She’s going to cry so much.

2006 and two more weeks

Kids have weird ways of coping with disasters. In my case, my biggest coping mechanism seemed to be escapism through video games and movies. I was a pro at extracurriculars, academics, and friends. From the outside looking in, I was totally normal and I wanted it that way. Smiling has always been my strong suit.

I say this because as a result of that escapism, I also became a pro at compartmentalizing. They say that the most successful CEOs advocate for a little bit of compartmentalization. I read one article in which a man described it as the only means to success. I wonder if that’s true. For most, I bet it is.

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I think about disillusionment a lot and how things really aren’t what they seem. Like Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman. Mostly, I’ve been experiencing a lot of “full circle” type moments leading up to my mom’s release. It’s pretty wild. Sometimes it feels like I’m all-in. Other times, I’m watching from a stranger’s window. That balance is required.

Netflix recently recommended a movie to me from 2006 The Covenant. I think it was a 96% match. In 2006, I was obsessed. So no, Netflix, you got that one wrong. 100% match. My mom went down that year I think. Might’ve been 2005, I’m not positive. I saw that movie and all I wanted to do was go to boarding school. I think I saw it a dozen times. In the great ol’ days of AIM, I somehow found a kid about my age who went to boarding school. He lived in Massachusetts and I genuinely believed I would be leaving California to go off to some prep school in the middle of the countryside. I wanted to be anywhere but home. We talked online for hours about absolutely nothing. It was great.

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I told my dad I had a headache or a stomach ache probably every other day so I could stay home and play the Sims. I was never an architect in that game. My designs were always so vanilla. I’m at artist so I feel like I’m qualified to say that. Even now, when I rev up the game and play for a couple hours, my designs and layouts are mediocre at best. Something about computers make me literally think in boxes and grids. It helps me focus.

Imagine, I’m at the front doors of puberty, fantasizing about a boarding school boy in Massachusetts living the life I imagined would be perfect. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my closet -because that’s the only place in my room where I wanted my computer- eyes actually glazed to the screen, playing the same DVDs over and over and over until the theme songs and words became ingrained in my mind. My sister and I shared bunk beds. There wasn’t much privacy except in that little computer closet of mine (even if the doors weren’t on it). I would sit there after school (or during school if I was pulling a “sick day”) in my uniform, blast AC, turn on the Sims and watch the same movies on repeat for what felt like forever. Everything else was on, but I was totally switched off.

One of those movies was The Incredibles. I think I watched that movie hundreds of times, even if I was just listening and not really watching. The main menu theme song played about 7 times in a row before I realized it had ended and I’d start it all over again. I don’t know why I remember 7. I think I must’ve counted it from the other room.

At school, you can’t really turn to the kid in line and update them on your mom’s prison sentence without things getting a little heavy. So I kept it light. I played sports, board games, computer games, everything that was a game, I was in on. Even when I did my homework, my friends and I played games or competed to see who could get through algebra 2 the fastest. Private school was surreal. I hopped from one bubble to the next. I never had to interact with the real world at all. It didn’t even matter that I had no idea how to dress myself because we were all in the same colored uniforms. That kind of routine was exceptionally helpful for me. The only times I had to feel anything was at visiting and I stopped going very often after a couple years. I needed the world to blur again.

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I made an art project once and flashed people with an electronic flash from my camera. I described my life as a series of bright white lights. The time between those were just as important as the flashes, but I remember the flashes for their contrast and intensity. You can’t just slam someone in the eyeballs with bright lights all the time, you’ve gotta give em a break.

Today, I saw The Incredibles 2 with my dad and my sister for Father’s Day. It was the best one we’ve had so far. There’s been a lot of emphasis placed on the amount of time they took between the first and the second movie and every time someone brings that up I think, ‘14 years feels like a lifetime ago.’

When I was watching it, I kept thinking, ‘I’m so glad they waited. The content is so much better now than it could’ve ever been if they’d made it sooner.’ I think that parallels a lot of my feelings right now. That it’s opening weekend coming up and I’m stoked to see what the plot line is, who the villains are, what the solution is. I’m not really afraid or anything because it’s definitely happening no matter what and in many ways I need it to happen.

In visiting, I always walked by the glass walls filled with women on LWOP (life without parole) sentences. I saw them talking to their families through the glass. I could literally watch them living out their lives in a fishbowl. They were always really young. Maybe prison makes you look younger sometimes. I don’t know. But I always reminded myself that no matter how long it was going to be, she’d be coming home one day. Maybe that’s why they keep the LWOP ladies in with the general visiting population. It keeps you quiet, humble, and grateful all at the same time. Two more weeks. 

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The concept of time as I understand it

I just got off the phone with my mom and she said two things that when held together, represent how I feel about time.

It’s her 50th birthday today. She just told me that she has officially outlived both of her parents.

I will be 25 in about a month. That means she has been in prison for more than half my life.

When I think about time in a conceptual format, wrestling with these two things befuddles me. If time is a string, it begins to become more elastic, depending on my perspective. To me, it does not seem that much time has elapsed but really, it has. More than half my life has been spent with her behind bars.

The sum of her life, eclipses the lives of both her parents.

Time is weird.

Disneyland

I’m not sure why I never finished this draft. It was a long time ago. It seems finished to me.

I went to Disneyland on Wednesday. My mom was really into Disney as a kid and I haven’t been there since the Christmas right after she went to prison.

It was weird being there. It was like a strange disillusionment being back there. Not only was I an adolescent at my last visit, but I was also probably in a state of shock. Before we got there, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about the park, its layout, anything. The minute we started walking though, it was like muscle memory. Except that I realized how much smaller everything was, how much closer together all the different “lands” are. I also thought, how can anyone come here more than once a year?

No offense to any of you season pass holders. I know how much people love disney. Some part of me wishes I did. But another part of me sees all the consumerism and the hyperreality of everything and in all honesty, I kept thinking to myself “thank god I’m not a disney person”. I will never be a diehard for anything but nature and even then, I live in the city so how “diehard” can I be?

But all the smells and the sounds. They reminded me so strongly of the person I could have been. I don’t wish I was that person or anything and I doubt it’s just me, but there are definitely times where I allow my mind to wander to the possibilities. I let it roam to places of “could haves” and “should haves” and I guess that’s okay and healthy. I don’t feel anything about it one way or another but being there at Disney reminded me of that for the first time in a very long time while simultaneously reminding me to be extremely grateful for who I am and where I’ve been.

 

Early release

I’m trying to look at things a little objectively right now. My boyfriend has been reading into stoicism and sending me bits of advice via “remember…situations are neutral. It’s all about your reaction that determines whether they are positive or negative.” I don’t really know if that’s stoicism or not but I’m going to take a page from his book right now.

What are my fears about my mom’s release? Well it probably breaks down into a few categories. I think I’ll focus on the ones that are closest to the present.

One big fear is that my sister and I will butt heads. She’s very controlling and I’m nervous my mom may flock to that sort of authority. I don’t think she needs people controlling her life once she gets out. But I’m also most afraid that she will be forced to pick sides. Seeing as my sister are constantly in competition with each other (as dictated by her, not me), I don’t actually care if she picks her side just to save face. I do care if she picks sides with her because she doesn’t want to make her own choices and she’s afraid to see how she actually feels about things she wants to do. I can see how it would happen. She’d come to me “hey bugg, I’m thinking about…” and we’d launch into a conversation and she’d come to a conclusion and then she’d talk to my sister about it and my sister would go “well obviously that’s the wrong choice. Do this.” and because she’s so fragile right now, she’d just follow blindly.

I don’t know if that’s a rational fear or not but it’s in my head.

I think the other part is how to introduce her to people. How do I explain her absence. Do we lie? Do we only lie to certain people? I’ve always had my “PC” version of the truth, will we need to implement it? How do I introduce her to the people in my life who already know the truth?

My other fear is that I won’t want to pursue the same things anymore. I’ll be dealing with actual real life stuff. I’m a fixer. I’m a conflict resolver. I’m a person who jumps 200% into helping people and when I’m doing that, I forget to care about the stuff I like to do. I’m afraid a piece of myself may disappear when it shouldn’t. But I’m also prepared for the pieces that aren’t relevant anymore to evolve. So I think that falls under the umbrella of the “unknown” which is fine. I can’t focus on those without more information.

My other fear is that she’ll be really inappropriate in social situations. She doesn’t have a filter for some things and I’m not sure how being institutionalized has affected her tendency towards aggression. She was never really a physically aggressive person, always a psychological one. Will she regress? Or has she already evolved?

What activities will bring her peace? What activities won’t?

I know I can’t carry her burden for her but I want to help her transition the right way and I’m totally freaked out that I will give her the wrong advice one day and she’ll be thrown into a situation where she can’t handle it.

I’m afraid of the rescue phone calls. I’m afraid of the midnight ones where she can’t sleep. I just want to get her a cat.