Paul has been in prison since October and while I consider him my husband we are not truly married. That technically makes me single. Our bond is such that I don’t want to cheat on him, but the desire creeps in. And I worry I have done something far worse than cheat on him physically. I started talking to a man online and I told him about Paul’s situation. The whole truth, the ugly truth and we talk online most nights. Sometimes he tries to talk me into sending him pictures. I tell him no. I keep him at arm’s length. But the other night I found myself genuinely caring for this man and wondering what he was up to.

Visitation last Saturday was weird. We hadn’t spoken on the phone all week because Paul’s phones were shut off. It seems a CO found a cell phone in the unit and since no one would snitch, the entire unit lost phone privileges for a week. Despite not talking for a week we spent most of the visitation just hugging in silence. What could I tell him? While you are in here by yourself I have been talking to a man online? No, I couldn’t possibly tell him how I am truly filling the lonely hours.

The physical desire to cheat is strong too. I miss the touch of a man. I miss the arms wrapped around me. I miss the warmth of a man in my bed. But I could never do that to Paul. I regret talking and letting myself get emotionally involved with another man online. We met innocently enough by playing Words with Friends. There is a small chat element to the program and he messaged me through there and then encouraged me to get a messaging app. We have been talking ever since. Some nights for hours at a time. If Paul were in the room with me I would not text this man. So I know I shouldn’t be doing it while he is behind bars. And when school starts I am probably going to disconnect the app and leave him behind. I figure I will be so busy with school and day to day work that I won’t have time to talk to him. That’s probably what I need to do. I guess I need to get a hobby.

I plan on joining a gym. I need to lose 100lbs. I would be happy to lose 75 in a year and then slowly lose the rest. Maybe if I focus all my energy on working out and losing weight I won’t have time to have emotional affairs while Paul is behind bars. I am a terrible flirt and tease so losing weight will only open me up for physical cheating. I have to tell myself that I consider Paul my husband and that while being alone for the next five years sure feels like being single, I am not single. My husband just happens to  be doing time. And I know I could never look into those blue eyes I fell in love with and explain how I could have cheated on him.

So for now I will have to live Saturday to Saturday and settle for his hugs and kisses. I need to find things to talk about to avoid the awkward  silence. I know in less than a week I will have school starting up so I will have things that I can tell him about school and the new people I am meeting. And when I join the gym I can tell him about all the people I see and the excitement of working out again and hopefully I will start to see some losses so we will have things to talk about. I know its hard for him, he tells me so everytime we are together. He just doesn’t know how hard it is to resist temptation.


Hopes and dreams

Paul is not a perfect boyfriend by any means. Being behind bars makes that painfully obvious, but I still love him. There is one woman in his life that I am tired of competing with. She occupies his thoughts when he makes plans to get out. He thinks and talks about her constantly. I am expected to check in on her and support her for five years while he is behind bars. This woman is the bane of my existence.  She has taken things from me. She is the reason we are not married. She is greedy and self absorbed. She is demanding. Her name is Betsy. And she is a Ford F-350 Diesel extended cab. And I hate her.

She was made in 1995 so by the time he gets out in 2022 she will be 27 years old. Her rear end is missing and was repaired with just a slap of metal and some rivets.  Cosmetically she is covered in dents and bruises. Her rear doors don’t open from the inside. Her windows won’t roll down. She refuses to slip into park so I have to keep her in neutral in order to start her. She is an automatic so I can drive her but I am so short I tear my back every time I get in her. I can’t open her hood without having a man to help me.

I sacrificed my Coca Cola collection for her. She was in the shop and Paul ran out of money so the guy offered a trade. I gave up items that I had been collecting for over 20 years so she could be fixed. We later found out this guy was just conning Paul out of money. He wasn’t really fixing her. After the Feds raided the house in June of 2015 Paul was out of work. That didn’t stop Betsy. She needed parts here and there and despite my urgent pleas she got them. They may not have seemed like much but $40 and $50 here and there adds up especially when only one person *me* was working. I couldn’t stop her then. Paul’s eyes would light up at the thought of crawling under Betsy and changing out her parts and Lord knows Paul needed something to keep him alive.

When Paul went to jail in October I told Betsy that there was a new sheriff in town. That didn’t stop her. I had to pay someone to come out and bring their battery charger to start her. When that failed I had to call another man to come out with an actual battery to get her to start. That’s precisely when she decided she would no longer go into park but would instead play a cute little game where it was virtually impossible to distinguish the gears from one another. Mind you Paul was on the inside insisting that I drive her once a week and start her nearly everyday in the winter. Many conversations on the phone were inquiries to her well being. I felt like I was just Betsy’s caretaker sometimes and that Paul was really just worried about her and his dog and not the fact that I was alone doing his time on the outside.

Betsy knew I needed her for one thing and one thing only. To move out of my classroom. On that day when I needed her, she refused to start. I had to pay the same man to come out and charge her battery for a third time. I got my things moved into her, which let me say was horrible because Betsy’s interior is filled with trash and I had to clean her out before I could put my stuff in her. Betsy knows she still has power over me because Paul’s belongings are in her toolbox. That is the only thing that is keeping Betsy from becoming a metal cube in the scrapyard.

My new home in Texarkana didn’t have room for Betsy. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wouldn’t have to keep her with me to torment me. Instead my dear friend Dee who lives out in the woods in Oklahoma agreed to let me park her in her yard. I assured Paul that I would visit her at least once a month and start her and drive her. I lied. I am going to use Betsy for storage. I hate her and I am going to let her die. I can’t open her hood to put in oil treatment for storage. I am not going to spend one thin dime to do as Paul wanted and buy special ramps so her wheels would not dry rot. I planned on keeping my plans to kill Betsy a secret but Paul pushed me over the edge.

On Sunday Paul called me and asked me to please Google storing a vehicle for him and to buy the oil treatment and put it in Betsy. I told him I can’t open her hood and there were no men out in the woods outside of Broken Bow to help me. He begged, get a neighbor, find someone it must be done. He spent the entire 15 minutes of our phone call begging me to care for Betsy. “I’m sorry I can’t”, was met with “You must I can’t afford to start over.” This is what made me snap. I started over in the new town with nothing. I had to sell off all of my possessions with the exception of my TVs and bed to move. I had to eat $1.66 bags of salad and cans of chicken noodle soup so that I could save money. I had to give away what couldn’t fit in the small uhaul. I had to sell my record player and my collection of records that I had for over 25 years. I had to sell the sewing machine that I worked so hard to buy. I had to give away all my fabric and quilting supplies.

I sacrificed my family for him. I no longer have either side of family. His family has disowned him and me by extension. My family has disowned me and the only one who still talked to me (my dad) is gone. I have no family to help me at all in my new town. I rely on church members and Facebook friends for advice. I am fortunate that I have two church families that love me and keep in touch with me. But as far as blood relatives go, I have no one. And I give them up because I won’t give up on Paul.

So when he called me yesterday and said he was going to try to get his dad to help me. His dad who told him to sell Betsy before he went in. His dad who really doesn’t want to have anything to do with him is going to help me with Betsy? I snapped and I told him. It was time to give up on Betsy. She will be nearly 30 years old when you get out. I am not taking care of her. When you get out we will tow her to a salvage yard. I am lucky I have someone who is willing to let the eyesore stay on her property. The only thing that is keeping her from being gone now is that I have storage in her and your stuff is still in the toolbox. You can buy a 10 year old truck when you get out. One that won’t have something wrong with her constantly. The amount of money that you would spend to have her towed and fixed after you got out you could use on a down payment for a new truck. New as in built in this century. New as in will work and will go into park. You can start over think about what I had to give up for her. She was constantly needing to be fixed. I am not going to do anything to that God forsaken truck!

I could hear his heart breaking. He kept saying “You’re right”. I know I am right. He doesn’t need Betsy. The amount of money he spent on her he could have spent on his children or on me. We could have paid bills with that money. We could have been married on that money. Betsy is dead. She is just a shell and that is all she will be. Paul is going to have to fantasize and hope and dream about something other than her. Another whole phone call was spent arguing over Betsy. As soon as we were disconnected I wrote him a letter detailing the anger that I had built up over Betsy. I mailed it this morning.

I love Paul and I know he didn’t intend to make me second place to a truck but when he gets out he is not going to be allowed to. If I have to I will never reveal where she is. He can start over just like I had to start over. He doesn’t realize that his journey after prison is going to be hard enough. That any money he makes will go back to the family instead of to the truck. It may be years before he is able to save up enough money for a down payment on 10 year old truck. But we will cross that bridge when we get there. For now I am just happy that I am the queen now. There is no more Betsy and if he mentions her during visitation I will tell him to get her to come visit him because I am no longer. I hate to lose the man I love over another woman who just so happens to be a truck but I am a new person and I don’t need to be 2nd place to anyone.

A prison of a different kind

I wanted to write an article comparing my prison visits to visits with my dad at the hospital. I was going to compare and contrast all the ins and outs of both environments. How both were equally a prison if you let them be. But then on April 9, my dad died.  And I haven’t felt like writing since. My dad was my lifeline. He accepted Paul’s fate and didn’t condemn me in the process. He would ask about Paul and worried along with me about how he was doing behind bars. We texted each other everyday until the three weeks he was in the hospital. Everyday! We were close in spirit. We both were habitually early everywhere. We both stress ate and food comforted. We loved the same television shows. And when I had cable I knew we were both watching Lester Holt. 

I’m in a prison of a different kind now. I’m surrounded by grief. My guards are sadness and depression. I live with my cell mates two dogs and a cat who have no idea why I cry but they long to make me happy again.

I’m still moving to the big city but each day finds me further behind in my quest. I do my best to make it to work and home. Then I cry until it’s time to shower and bed. So the house remains undone and I have less than a month to get it empty and moved. I don’t know how I will do this alone.

Paul calls me from the prison everyday and I do my best to pretend I’m not slowly dying. He provides little comfort. What can he say to ease the pain? His parents are alive, even if only one of them knows where he is. I visit him on Saturdays but I find it’s either awkward silence or tears there is no in between. At one time I smiled at guards and made small talk now I just stare into the abyss and wait. It’s not about being cheerful in a sad world anymore. It’s about surviving from one moment to the next. 

I now know where I’m going to live. A small duplex and I’m the bottom floor. Currently it’s empty and clean and as strange as it sounds I go visit it and walk the empty rooms and it gives me comfort. I know it won’t be empty long. This weekend I’m moving a carload of kitchen and packed items. Next week I’m moving more and hopefully soon everything but the clothes on my back and the furniture I can’t lift. I know it’s a long shot because I haven’t really packed or cleaned anything. I’ve just been throwing away or bagging up for Goodwill. My house is devoid of furniture and all that remains is memories and things that feel necessary. I’ve given away so much since Paul has been imprisoned. I eat out of one bowl. With one fork, with one spoon. I’m in a prison of a different kind. 

I’m begrudgingly doing my time. Part of me wants to fly free as a bird. But the grief and despair is like an albatross attached to my foot. I go nowhere. I do nothing. I eat everything. The cookies and chips are my poison and I gulp them willingly to numb the pain. Easter candy is in a box and I gorge on it every night before my eyes go dim and the real world seems to vanish.  I feel myself expanding with each new day a tightness around my waist a kink in my bra.  I know soon that no pieces of my life will fit again and I will be where I was before Paul entered my life for the second time.

Lost, alone and overweight just waiting for my time to make a grand exit. I keep fantasizing about the 18 wheeler that pulls into my lane too quickly. Or the train I just didn’t see in time. But I know it’s of no use. I’m condemned and I’m serving my sentence. I’m doing my time. 

My therapist said there was nothing she could do for me. That grief just means you loved someone and I have to grow the callous myself. No one can do it for me. It can’t be sped up just because I have deadlines I have to meet. That’s easy for her to say. She’s not packing and moving an hour and a half away. I am and I need to get it done before I run out of choices. That’s what happened with dad. We ran out of options. The chemotherapy didn’t work. The antibiotics didn’t work. The blood transfusions didn’t work. We had no choice but to help him die. And despite the doctors and nurses telling us we were doing the right and humane thing it still feels as though we were robbed of our goodbye. We had no choice.

I have no choice. I can’t stay here anymore. My future is on the horizon and I have to follow it. In less than 30 days I have to have vacated my home and relocated. It’s not in my control anymore. I don’t really know if it ever was. 

I have this small flicker of hope that things will be different there. I will be different there. Paul will be a secret that I keep on Saturdays. He won’t be a part of my introduction. No one will ask where he is or how he’s doing.  I will be me singular. So I’m the master of my fate. Good or bad. 

I believe my footsteps are ordered by God. I believe it was God who led me to Oklahoma not so much for me but for Paul. His charges had to be Federal so he could be brought to justice and housed in a place where I could visit him. And I believe it’s God who is bringing me out of Oklahoma. Truly I pray it’s for my good. I pray I can make a difference in my new career. I’m changing. I’m becoming that butterfly that my mom was. I have to emerge from this cocoon and I have to flap my own wings. But in the meantime I’m so scared of what waits on the other side. Scared isn’t really the word for this feeling. Imprisoned may be. 

Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly. We sang that at my mother’s funeral and then again at my dad’s. The balloons flew into the clouds and touched heaven. Maybe that’s what I’m doing. I’m shuffling off this mortal coil and soaring to new heights. But that’s not what I really need. What I need is well. It is well with my soul. It is well it is well with my soul. 

I need that feeling of well. I’m praying for that feeling deep in my soul. I know it’s going to happen for me. Till then I’m doing my time. 

Leaving Paul Behind

I let the Marshals take Paul into custody in October. I cried but I didn’t fall to the floor and beg for him the way I wanted to. I kissed him goodbye and I left the courthouse in tears but I was able to drive myself to our home. 

Every weekend I visit him in prison I say goodbye. I hug him tight and my eyes well up with tears but I don’t bang on the desk and demand that they let me take him home like I want to. I simply wipe my tears and say goodbye to the CO. I know I will be back in a week. 

But I’m doing something little everyday during the week. I’m leaving Paul behind. I have a new job starting in August. I’m emptying out our house. I’m packing away clothes. I’m giving away my belongings. I’m leaving him behind. I’m moving on with my life. Paul is living his with cellies and bunk mates and I’m going away. He can’t follow me. 

It’s a different kind of divorce. His clothes are gone. His belongings are gone. The furniture we shared with the exception of our bed is gone. I’m coming home to a shell of a house and soon to only boxes. I’m leaving Paul in Oklahoma to start my new life in Texarkana. He may be physically housed in Texarkana but our life together was in Oklahoma. He may as well be on the moon. Every week I enter his world and exit his world. But he cannot enter mine. I’m leaving Paul behind. 

I will live in a house he’s never seen. Teach at a school he’s never visited. Drive streets he’s never been down. Meet strangers he never knew. Our life together has changed. We only see each other once a week. We speak in interrupted phone calls. We write in intercepted mail. I’m leaving Paul behind. 

This time I’m not begging anyone to let him stay. I’m willingly running toward a tomorrow. There will be tears and bumps and bruises. There will be heartache that can’t be cured with a kiss and a teary goodbye. I’m leaving Paul behind and it’s going to be just fine.

Dear First Timer

So you are going to make your first visit to see your man. I know how hard this can be. You want to see him happy and attentive but you know he is in there for a reason. Prepare yourself mentally for seeing him. You can’t take him home. You can’t yell at him and demand explanations. You can’t take him in your arms and make love to him. This is just a visit.

First make sure you are on his approved visitation list. If you haven’t filled out the form that was sent to you by mail, you can’t visit. The CO on duty will send you home. No ifs ands or butts.

Next, make sure you are wearing the right clothes. I can not stress this enough. No underwire bras! No pajama pants. No shorts or Capri pants. No flip flops. You need to wear pants with a button. You need to wear shoes that slip off easy. Bring change and plenty of money in a clear bag. You can only carry in your keys and ID.

Third be prepared for the formality of prison. It’s a nice place only because they follow rules and order. You can’t have an attitude with the guards. You have to respect them even when they don’t respect you. You will be scanned. You will be marked. You may even be pat down. You are the wild card. You are the enemy of routine. You are the visitor. The prison moves at its own pace. You can’t hurry them.

I can’t prepare you for the visitation room. It’s noisy and it’s loud. Everyone talks at once but no one is listening to your conversation. Your man is focusing on your lips and what you say. Let the kids be kids. They can hug on him and jump on him. Let him hold his babies. He only gets to see them when you come. And it’s only for a little while. Talk to him about happy things. Smile. Eat. And try not to do what I do every week. Try not to cry. 

Prepare yourself for leaving. Hug and kiss him tight. Tell him you love him. Promise to visit him again and mean it. Say goodbye cheerfully. It will be ok. It may not seem like it today but it gets easier. I promise.

COs and BO

Visitation is a gamble. Some Saturdays I show up and walk right into the lobby. Other Saturday’s there is a line. This Saturday I waited over 45 minutes in line. There are three corrections officers that work the line out front. One is a blonde lady with a ponytail. One is a clean cut guy with glasses. The third guy is a jerk. No one likes him. He has a terrible attitude. Depending on who’s running the line is how fast things run. The jerk takes his sweet time. The jerk sends people home if they are not dressed right. The jerk confiscates inhalers and earrings. This Saturday he was running the line and we all grunted and groaned as he made his way through the line. I was secretly hoping he would get to smell my stinky shoes. I was sweating in line outside the door. He deserved to smell them. But when I got up to the X Ray it was the perky blonde. I felt sorry for her my feet really stunk.

When I finally made it to the visitation room it was well past 12:00. That only left me 2 1/2 hours to visit with Paul. The CO on duty in the visitation room is generally a red haired tattooed gentleman. He’s pretty nice. They rotate with another guard who strip searches the prisoners after their visit. None of the inmates like the jerk. He says rude things to them. 

But my Saturday life is just that. It’s my Saturday I try not to keep it on me long. Once I finish crying, I try to get in my car and forget. My Sunday world waits for me. My routines wait for me. I look forward to the day when my Saturday drive only takes 10-15 minutes. 

For now I drive the hour and a half. I wear my shoes that slip off easy. I don’t wear a necklace. I carry my change in a clear plastic bag. I wear plastic earrings. I wear pants with a button. I wear my happy shirts with Sesame Street and Muppets (trying to bring a smile in a sad place). I fill out my paper. I walk in the metal detector. I smile at the jerk. I do all these things because I’m doing his time.

Saturday mornings

Before Paul was arrested, before Homeland Security raided our house, I looked forward to lazy Saturday mornings lying in bed with Paul. Now Saturday mornings have a whole new meaning. I get up alone to the sound of a ringing alarm. I get dressed (after having washed and dried my hair the night before) and I eat breakfast alone. I check my Facebook and I get in my car. I drive to the next largest town in Arkansas and I stop at McDonalds and break a $20 on exactly one large coke. I do this so I can get 4 $1. I place my change in my clear plastic zippered pouch. All of this becomes very important later.

Then I drive south the remaining hour. I get on I-30 and I take two exits to get on the right drive. The prison is on the left.

I get out my license, my keys, and my clear zippered pouch. I leave my phone and purse in my car. I go inside and fill out a form. I affirm with my signature that I am bringing nothing into the prison. I take off my shoes and place them in a plastic bin, with my keys, my form, and a weight so it can go through the xray scanner. I then walk barefooted through a metal detector. I let an officer mark me with a black ink stamp. I put my shoes back on and I walk through two metal gates. I then give my form to the CO on duty. And I wait in anticipation.

Finally I am able to see Paul. I kiss him and then immediately I take my zippered pouch and I buy one Mt. Dew, one Diet Dr. Pepper and one snickers bar. I’ve done this every Saturday since December 17. I have it down to a science. And every Saturday since December 17, I have cried in front of strangers, in front of Paul. Nothing has made my trip easier and nothing prepares me for saying goodbye.

Saturday mornings aren’t lazy anymore. I spend three hours with Paul talking about everything, holding his hand and wondering what the other guys and their girls are thinking when they see me start to cry. I try not to, I really do but I accidentally say something about the loneliness and it happens. My eyes well up with tears and pretty soon I’m a blubbering mess.

He hates to see me cry and I can see what would be tears in his eyes. And suddenly surrounded by people its just us again and I’m telling myself to stop that its all a bad dream  and I will wake up soon. But its not a dream and I stare deep into those blue eyes that I fell in love with and I beg myself to stop crying. But I fail every time. Our visits end with me wiping my tears on my shirt hem.

I show my black ink mark to the CO’s black light and I hurry tears flowing to two metal gates and I walk through a metal detector and my keys set it off. I sign out and say goodbye to the officer at the desk. Usually by this time my tears are starting to dry up. I run to my car and I drive as fast as I can through trickles of tears.

I take two exits to the Wendy’s and I order a large chocolate frosty. I eat it quickly as I drive back the hour and a half to my house alone. I still have clothes to wash, floors to scrub, food to cook. Saturdays aren’t lazy anymore.