I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day I got out of jail. I barely got any sleep the night before. I just sat in my bunk and imagined what I was going to do with my freedom. While everyone else was sleeping during the night I packed all my stuff out, cleaned out my locker, took a shower, and rolled up my bunk. When six am came along I grabbed my stuff, went down to the nurse to grab my meds, signed the paperwork and walked out the door. The CO that handled the meds gave me a stern warning.
“I’m going to tell you the same thing that I tell all the guys I like: if I see you back in here I will stick my boot up your ass,” he said. I wanted to make a remark about how oddly specific that warning was, but realizing I was still in jail and not wanting any more trouble for myself, thought better of it.
I walked out to my car and threw my bags on the passenger’s seat. I didn’t savor the moment of finally being free I wanted to get the heck out of dodge. I do remember feeling so unbelievably free when I was driving home. Granted, I had three years of probation to clear, but considering what I had been through I’m not sure I could have felt much better. When I got home I snuggled with my dog for a little while and then fell down on my mattress. I slept in my clothes. I didn’t care. After you’ve been sleeping on basically a half inch pad for a month a nice mattress feels spectacular. I hadn’t even noticed that my parents had bought me a new one. For the first time in a month I slept – uninterrupted – for hours.
I had made up my mind in jail that the first thing I needed to do when I got out was eat a decent meal. I had determined that it needed to be a steak at the bare minimum though I felt like I could eat a cow in its entirety. That first day out felt like a birthday to me; I could do whatever I wanted. My dad took me to buy a suit. To this day it’s still the best piece of clothing I own. I remember picking it out and in the process actually listening to the salesman. He explained how to wear a suit, which buttons to button when and why, as well as the importance of shoes; man did this guy like to talk about shoes. It was odd when I left the store because I realized that for the first time in a long time I had actually listened to someone. I was never good at listening. That’s part of what landed me in jail to begin with. The fact that I was able to listen to the salesman who sold me my suit set forth a series of revelations in my mind. I realized that if I wanted it bad enough there was nothing that I couldn’t do. Why? Because when I truly slowed my brain down and really listened I could learn and remember things. It was like the light switch finally went on in my head.
I did have a tough time filling my time when I got out. My mother suggested I take a creative writing course since I started writing when I was in jail. This was an offer I wouldn’t take her up on for a little while, but when I did it made all the difference between where I was then and where I am today. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but telling stories was what I was good at. It was the one thing that helped me make friends in a place where someone like me should have no friends. Just having the ability to talk one on one with people had allowed me to survive my stint in jail. When I started writing down my stories there was no particular order or logic governing how they were arranged. I had virtually no writing style to speak of. If anything my writing style was more of an oral style of writing. I used a lot of filler words and commas. The significant thing that happened in my life besides my realization that I had a skill I really cared about was the realization that my grandpa was dying.
When I started in my creative writing class I wrote poetry, a little fiction, and stories about my childhood. Most of these stories about my childhood revolved around Grandpa. People in class told me I needed to write a book so I did. I wrote it as a series of essays. They were short seven hundred and fifty to eight hundred word pieces that revolved around a theme. Writing these stories and assembling that book allowed me to put the past together with the future of my life. Putting the book together was a struggle that lasted well over six or seven years. As I became a better writer I started writing longer pieces which didn’t fit with the shorter stories I had started the book with. It was tough to break these pieces down because there were so many moving parts and because I had started to put more and more of my story in there as I began to understand more about myself.
The book didn’t come together until I went to assemble my writing sample for grad school. I had known ever since I went back to school that my grandpa stories were the best pieces of writing I had. Though I’ve written essays and even series of essays that are better technical pieces I don’t think I’ve ever put forth something with quite as much emotion and confidence as I did with my book about Grandpa. I ultimately reduced my one hundred and eighty-five page book down to thirty pages. I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or sad that the product that I wanted to put out there was thirty pages. Eventually, I realized that it was a good thing as it meant that the book was not yet finished. There are significant gaps in the book and I don’t yet know how to fill them. There are stories that I haven’t had occasion to remember and even stories from other family members that I haven’t heard that must be included in the book. Often times we see the end result of finishing something as a triumph, but I remember finishing the editing process and feeling sad that I had nothing more to add. It was then that I realized that this was just another step in my journey. I hadn’t finished writing the book and that is okay because I am not yet the kind of writer that I need to be in order to tell that part of the story.